Kendall, Pepsi, and a can of worms


“If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi”, Bernice King daughter of American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr.

“She did it guys, Kendall Jenner cured racism”, Twitter user Talmage Brown.

And my favourite: “South Africans must also stop pretending like we drink Pepsi”, Twitter user Piano Man.

These are just few responses from the tirade of tweets that flooded Twitter yesterday after people viewed the new Kendall Jenner Pepsi advertisement. 

The message? Ignorance can happen to anyone really.

In the commercial, vibey young protesters can be seen marching down a city street in what looks more like a carnival than a political stance. The camera turns to a model (Kendall Jenner) who is busy with a high profile and no doubt highly paid shoot (not unlike the salary Kendall probably received for being featured). 

Kendall, who is at first too consumed in her own beauty to notice the “uproar” taking place right in front of her, all of a sudden notices the crowd. (We’re alerted to this by her catwalk-like stance and “come to bed” eyes.) 

Then, just to let you know that it’s not only big celebrities who might be oblivious to the metaphor of unrest that’s busy unfolding, there is a montage of shots that portrays regular citizens who are living their best lives: having lunch, busy at work, playing instruments and who are seemingly unawares as well. 

Watch it here:

The message? Ignorance can happen to anyone really. 

To politicize the ad some more and edge closer to the fight for equality, a woman in hijab is driven to the streets - not to fight for her rights and the pure castigation she faces on a daily basis for being a head scarfed muslim, but rather to take some action shots. 

Insensitive to the reality of this plight? Yes. 

Meanwhile, Kendall removes her blonde wig. This is the ultimate action that galvanizes her self-awareness. Brunette, white models are more likely to stop police brutality and be taken seriously at the centre of a political protest than blonde ones. 

On her way to save the day, she exchanges a sexy stare with an Asian man. Interracial relationships are okay in the soda fountain of freedom that is Pepsi Cola. The winning shot? All is resolved when Kendall hands a police officer who is part of barricade wall of blue, with some colleagues donning riot gear, a can of Pepsi. 

Case closed. Problem solved. No shots fired. We can all go back to the land of rainbows and butterflies. Forget the teargas. Forget the smoke bombs. Forget Marikana. 

Read more: I'm not here for your #BlackMonday

All of the visual atrocities above speak to white corporates who are tone deaf and blind to the activism that is taking place around us. It speaks to the triviliasation of struggle in a way that is almost unbearable to compute. 

The commercial is a very real and honest representation of the freedom to co-opt resistance without awareness where and when a certain demographic sees fit. Not unlike the call to arms by white South Africans who have faced criticism over the past few weeks for the same reasons. 

A protest that is suitable to them, is a protest that is worthy of unity right? 

But here’s what’s wrong with that, you cannot co-opt the art of protest and demand unity when you are blind to the fight the majority of citizen face daily. The criticism is not hard to understand.  

In reality, the soda company’s advertisement is not just commercialised media. It is a reflection of what is occurring not only in white owned corporations but also in South Africa today.

In simple terms, white South Africans are aware of the fact that they need a black majority support to succeed in their fight to overthrow Zuma. And while this fight does not only belong to black citizens and it’s the country as a whole who suffers under this rule, we cannot pretend that often a white call for unity is driven by rhetoric that is housed in racism, disrespect and appropriation. 

In the advertisement, a Caucasian blonde model who checks all the boxes of the conventional standard of beauty, who is bred from wealth and a life of relative political ease is the leader character selected to represent struggle and unrest.

Similarly, in South Africa, many white run organisations are leading the protests and co-opting all the same.

In reality, the soda company’s advertisement is not just commercialised media. It is a reflection of what is occurring not only in white owned corporations but also in South Africa today.

So yes, we need to stop pretending like South Africans drink Pepsi, but we also need to look beyond a can of soda and reflect on the worms that come spewing forth when said cans are opened, even if they’re exposed with ignorance. 

Of course there is space in the fight for all South Africans.

But now is the time for white South Africans to listen instead of speak, and to appear, to show up – not at the centre but as support and to be lead, instead of lead. 

Watch: Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad: Alternative ending

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