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April 9, 2017

GROSKAUFMANIS | Flagging What Is Important

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I originally wrote an entire column on the Pepsi commercial that had premiered (and was promptly pulled) over Spring Break. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google “Pepsi commercial” and I’m sure you’ll find the ad itself, along with a thousand think-pieces and Pepsi’s official apology. And now, an SNL skit. In short, the commercial features Kendall Jenner leaving a photoshoot to join protesters as they pass by. Then, for some reason she hands a police officer a can of Pepsi and everyone cheers.

I don’t know if Pepsi set out to get political, but I definitely don’t think they intended to minimize the complexity of activism. I’d like to think that their advertising team just thought the ad would resonate, that people might find it cool and progressive. Obviously they were wrong, because the commercial was met by so much criticism that they stopped running it and released an official statement.

Many people who chose to analyze the ad thought it was tone deaf and insensitive. One of the more generous reviews simply called it harmless. My take, like many others’, was that it was a failed attempt to capitalize on current events. But, to many, an ad in which Kendall Jenner somehow “solves” citizen-police relations by handing a model-esque officer a can of soda was not just harmless, it was insulting. Among the critics was Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, who tweeted “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi” with a picture of her father being held by a police officer.

After sifting through a number of articles about the ad, I figured that just about everything had already been said, and I scrapped the one I wrote. But before that, I was given a chance to think about why I had even written it in the first place.

When a friend of mine first asked me what I was thinking of talking about in my column this week, I mentioned the commercial. Her response was something along the lines of, “Do you really think that matters?” It wasn’t rude or judgmental, it was just an earnest question. The conversation, I’ll add, took place Thursday, as President Trump was addressing the nation regarding action in Syria, people all over the world were reacting, and I was editing my thoughts on whether or not Kendall Jenner was complicit in a politically problematic soda ad. I understood what my friend meant, and yet I don’t think that I have the authority to dictate what “matters,” regardless of the political climate — which sometimes makes writing these columns kind of challenging.

If you determine that one thing doesn’t matter, you risk closing the door on consideration for other things. If it’s deemed frivolous to discuss an advertisement from a major corporation that botches the portrayal of important topics, what else do we risk writing off? Does it matter when President Trump’s son compares refugees to skittles, or when the Academy Awards showcases predominantly white artists? Does it matter when hate speech is graffitied on walls, or when Airbnb hosts send racist messages to their tenants? And if we stop paying attention to these so-called “minor” issues, where should we redirect our attention?

In a world where every breaking news alert seems to be another addition to the garbage fire that is our political climate, I think it’s impossible to delegate our attention perfectly. Pay attention to things that matter to you, pay attention to things that matter to other people, and pay attention to as many things as you possibly can. I think that if you watched the commercial and it made you think critically about activism, about the relationship between citizens and police, or about anything else, it mattered. If you watched the commercial and it offended you personally, it mattered. If you watched the commercial and you think the backlash was unwarranted, believe it or not, I still think it mattered. Fortunately there isn’t a cap on how many things we can deem important, relevant or interesting; we don’t have to choose between focusing on “small” issues and focusing on larger issues. We can do both. I think we just need more practice.

 

Jacqueline Groskaufmanis is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jgroskaufmanis@cornellsun.com. The Dissent appears every other Monday this semester. 

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