Why Pepsi's New Ad With Kendall Jenner is Problematic

We currently live in a world where protests matter, where people organize movements that end up spanning across the entire world. In this day and age, resistance and demonstration are key components of fighting injustice and hate.

It was a risky and interesting move for Pepsi to include this in their new commercial.

There are shots of a large demonstration for… something; it’s not very clear on what. People hold signs that say things along the lines of “peace” or “join the movement” and other contrived, uplifting messages. However, it seems to be some pretty powerful and emotional stuff. Struggling people of color, women, and millennials are featured. While all of this is going on, Kendall Jenner, clad in fancy clothes, a blonde wig, and a full face of makeup, poses off to the side for a photographer, ironically displaying her privilege and wealth. In a very Kardashian move, Kendall decides to join the protest, seemingly making it all about her. Because, yes, of course we need another thin, white, privileged girl to be the voice of our generation, our spokesperson, our chosen one. That hasn’t been done to death, has it? Kendall wipes off her makeup, sheds her wig, and blends seamlessly into the crowd; she’s just like us! Then, in a brave effort, she hands one of the cops a can of Pepsi, and suddenly everyone’s problems are over. How sweet.

Yeah... not quite. 

There isn't enough time to explain how problematic all of this is, but let me break it down as simply as I can. The commercial decides to adopt protests as something cool and trendy, like a new fad for hipsters to try out, instead of presenting it as something necessary and vital to many key historical moments and movements in our nation’s history. Think of the Civil Rights marches in the 1960s, or the AIDS activism in the 80s. Even more recently, Black Lives Matter and the Women’s Marches. Protests and activism aren’t hip or new, they are significant and often times, much more dangerous than the ad’s sugar coated version. More importantly, the last scene, with Kendall making her way over to the cop, is all too reminiscent of the scene pictured below, in which Ieshia Evans, a real protester during one of the Black Lives Matters protests, bravely stood up against cops in riot gear. But Pepsi, in a not so genius move, decides to stick the exact opposite figure in her place - a rich, white, celebrity model, thus "exploiting the activism of Black women."

Probably the worst part of this video was the fact that someone, nay, multiple people, had to not only approve this pitch, but think it was genuinely a good idea. Even more, they decided to choose someone who doesn’t use her large, ever growing platform to actually talk about these issues. They could have chosen someone like Zendaya, Amandla Stenberg, or Rowan Blanchard - famous, young girls with actual histories of taking part in protests and activism. But no, Pepsi chose someone with the largest social media following and a famous last name, and now they’re getting the heat for it that they deserve.

 

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