“America the Beautiful”: The deeply ugly truth

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Courtesy of Flickr

Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most coveted days of the year in the United States. People make sure to wear their lucky jersey, have a gluttonous spread of delicious food making their heart palpitate, while getting comfortable on the couch to watch the big game. Super Bowl Sunday would not be complete, of course, without the endless commercials — where ad agencies and their corporate clients spend $40 million a pop to try to sell their products in the most ridiculous, comical, eye-catching and creative 30 seconds they can pitch to the massive 111.5 million people who watched this year.

Many commercials elicit an array of reactions from audiences, be it laughter, sadness, empathy, or just straight-up anger. There is nothing like an overtly bigoted and anti-immigration reaction to a Coca-Cola commercial that sings “America the Beautiful” in a multilingual structure to remind you that you live in America.

The Coca-Cola commercial consisted of imagery of lustrous rustic landscape, Americans from an array of backgrounds watching movies, eating, dancing and living their day-to-day lives with a coke in hand. The controversy lies not in the song choice of “America the Beautiful,” but how it was presented and sung with the multilingual accompaniment of this immensely patriotic song. It was a more honest portrayal of America: an eclectic diversified representation, compared to a lot of other commercials that try to ideologically represent American citizens and our perceived values in a finite form of representation. Stereotypically, country music, pickup trucks, the American flag waving in the wind and a cold one seemingly is what is represented as a common “American” experience.

The message of this commercial has resonance for many Americans; an attempt to capture a sentiment of the current face of a more authentic American depiction of the array of cultures and identities that reside in these borders. Of course it’s at the expense of selling a Coca-Cola product, but corporations have an immense power in exploiting the dominant notions of heterosexuality, race, gender identity and so forth. So when a conglomerate power like Coke produces a commercial that draws somewhat outside that notion of hegemony, it’s worth acknowledging the power of such intentions. Though this commerical received generally positive responses, there is a substantial demographic that finds this commercial disrespectful, and very much ‘un-American’. Why is this so?

The commercial elicited such a reaction from a substantial amount of people; it highlights the discourse that is so intertwined in America’s value system of who is considered “American” enough. To be perceived as “American” is an ideological concept that has its root in Manifest Destiny, and the “frontierism” in the construction of the United States. To be “truly” from America is conceived from the notion of rugged individualism and pulling yourself from your bootstraps — oh yeah, and the old trope of the melting pot too.

The U.S. contains individuals with a multitude of religious beliefs, cultural backgrounds, skin colors and sexual orientations that hold a more accurate depiction of our county. In reality, an infinite range is what actually represents American citizens. The reaction was very telling that the folks who commented on the official Coca-Cola YouTube, Facebook and Twitter sites had a very confined acceptance of what is and is not American. Much of the discourse revolved around the perception that English is the only “American” language, and it was blasphemous and unpatriotic for Coca-Cola to have a commercial with seven other languages singing “America the Beautiful.” Here are a few examples of some of the responses that elicited this controversy:

“What a disgrace. #boycott coke. We speak and sing English here, ESPECIALLY one of our national songs. Coke Sux,” one Facebook post read.  “I’m disgusted by this ad. America is Beautiful!!! This ad is unAMERICAN!!!” stated another. “This Coke commercial sucked. Mexicans, terrorists, Jews and N***** are not ‘American’” claimed one tweet.

As America was a colonized land, the internalized colonized traits of having fairly pale  complexion, being “civilized,” and of course speaking English have become a significant part of what is seen to be “American.” This xenophobic response makes me explore the ideas of the American identity, an identity that is portrayed as coveted. The world and U.S. citizens have internalized that being from America remains to be seen as residing in a democratic land, where “Freedom” rings, and we all hold hands and sing kumbaya! This is further from the truth, and the response from the Coca-Cola commercial proves to be one of a seemingly infinite responses that uphold the painful truth: America may seem beautiful, but when dissected there is still an immense amount of hate, bigotry, and intolerance toward individuals and communities who don’t fit in the ideal “American” notion nicely.

What makes America beautiful, as well as communities like UCR, is that people from an array of backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives not only coexist, but thrive on the diversified communities that we created. To be American is not just this one-size-fits-all ideal that ultimately does not fit the majority of people society is trying to squeeze in. The hegemonic experiences that the individuals who find this Coke commercial distasteful and unpatriotic are not indicative of the vast majority of experiences of Americans. The forging of a representation that is visible in the public eye that includes the collective fabric of the U.S. is how hegemonic ideals are broken down. This is what the Coke commercial achieved: a portrayal of the true America as one of many identities that makes this country beautiful, complex, and eclectic.

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