Things go better with Coke’s Super Bowl commercial

Lee A. Daniels | 2/17/2014, 9:22 a.m.
What could anyone who loves America find offensive about Americans singing one of the nation’s unofficial national anthems, America the ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

(NNPA) – What could anyone who loves America find offensive about Americans singing one of the nation’s unofficial national anthems, America the Beautiful?

Well, Coca-Cola, the consumer products giant, found out when it unveiled a 60-second commercial during the great American advertising showcase, the Super Bowl. The ad featured a diverse cast of Americans singing snippets of the song in English – and seven other languages: Spanish, Hindi, Keres (spoken by the Keres Pueblo people of New Mexico), Tagalog (spoken by a majority of the citizens of the Philippines and many Filipino-Americans), Senegalese, French and Hebrew.

Some other Americans found this objectionable.

Someone identifying themselves as Scott Cartledge tweeted: “What was that Coke? This is America. We speak American.” A Stephanie Weaver insisted: “Well, I won’t be drinking #coke anymore. We speak English in the #USA. Get over it.” And MGoBlue92 huffed: “Excuse me Coke, but your commercial is insulting, we speak English here.”

Some of the Twitterverse critics objected to the commercial including a gay couple in its panoramic scan of Americans enjoying the soft drink. But the large majority of the outraged seemed to focus on the song being sung in different languages.

That included Allen West, the Black conservative blowhard who’s been scratching for public attention since losing his Congressional seat last year. He huffed that the ad could lead to the “Balkanization” of America.

It’s worth noting that at least some conservatives added their voices to the storm of support for the commercial that quickly deluged Twitter in response to the criticism. Influential blogger Erick Erickson rebuked the critics, writing, “People, the Coke ad was well done. This is so crazy that there is outrage over it. E Pluribus Unum isn’t English either.” (The phrase is Latin.) And the Heritage Foundation tweeted, “Did anyone else like the @CocaCola commercial as much as we did? What a beautiful nation we have!”

But it was clear that for its critics the Coke commercial had stark and unwelcome demographic and political implications. Conservative Michael Patrick Leahy wrote revealing gibberish: “When [Coca-Cola] used such an iconic song, one often sung in churches on the 4th of July that represents the old ‘E Pluribus Unum’ view of how American society is integrated, to push multiculturalism down our throats, it’s no wonder conservatives were outraged.”

Many no doubt caught the unintended irony of Leahy’s praising the “old” way American society was “integrated” – when, of course, the old American society was rigidly segregated – as a counterpoint to America’s multiracial and multicultural society of today.

In other words, Coke’s America the Beautiful commercial is just the latest in a long line of flash points that constitute part of the intense national debate about the changing demographic character of the United States.

Make no mistake about it: Coca-Cola, the capitalist powerhouse, was acting in its own bottom-line interests by appealing to growing “emerging markets” of consumers within the USA and abroad. But, as the modern history of consumer capitalism makes clear, one consequence of corporations’ unceasing search for greater profits can be their helping to socially empower the people who make up the emerging markets.