Last week, Pepsi released — and promptly scrapped — a commercial that simultaneously glamorized and trivialized protest movements and popular uprisings. The spot stars model Kendall Jenner as a model (so plausible!) who notices a passing demonstration and is moved to join it after a handsome protester makes eyes at her. She makes her way among the masses of supposedly pissed off yet smiling protesters, who brandish offensively inoffensive signs, grabs a can of Pepsi, and hands it to a police officer who takes a sip and smiles (presumably due to the relief of dealing with a such docile group of protesters). The demonstrators rejoice.
The ad was met with immediate ridicule and outrage, prompting remixes and responses — including by Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Bernice King — that underline the vast differences between Pepsi’s depoliticized demonstration imagery and real protests as well as acts of state violence, from UC Davis’s Pepper Spray Cop and the Kent State shootings to Tiananmen Square’s “Tank Man.” Some have speculated that the ad was an elaborate troll, and that these types of reactions are exactly what Pepsi was hoping to provoke. Still, it’s hard to imagine how the company will benefit from its ad being likened to Dorothea Lange’s iconic image of destitute poverty during the Great Depression, “Migrant Mother” (1936).