Yesterday was Black Friday. But yesterday was also Buy Nothing Day, and this post in in the spirit of Buy Nothing day.
This video keeps popping up on my Facebook feed. You might have seen it.
At first blush, this is the kind of video I love. Showing that people are basically good and altruistic. But there was something that bothered me. I watched the video again. Then I zoomed in on the final shot where one guy passes a beverage to another. A Coke.
It’s a Coke commercial. And then I got angry. Not that it was a commercial riding on the feel-good factor – commercials have always done that. Just don’t try to fool me and hide your message. It’s deceptive and dangerous. When people find out, they become angry and cynical and that beautiful message that the world is a great place completely gets blown out of the water and is replace by the message that the world is full of deception. Had there been a simple logo shot at the end of the commercial saying it was sponsored by Coke, I would not have felt so duped. So stupid. So cynical.
I was tempted to go back to FB and start commenting on everyone’s feed, “Nice, but it’s a damn Coke commercial.” But, you know. Buzzkill. No one likes to be the one to pop the feelgood balloon. Who likes to have it pointed out that they have been duped?
But wait a sec. Who have I been duped by?
I started to dig around and look into the organization that had their logo tagged on the end of the video, Love Everybody (where I am seeing comments that others are suspecting the same thing I am about the Coke product placement). I was certain I would find out that they were funded by Coke somehow. But if they are, it is not obvious from their website. And then as I continued my research to try to uncover whether this was really a Coke commercial or not, I came across this version of the ad on YouTube:
Now in this version, there is a very definite Coke logo and product shot at the end. It is obvious in this version that this IS a Coke commercial and the message was sponsored by Coke. I see this version and I am okay with this. Coke has been explicit. So, why did Love Everybody edit the video to remove the Coke logo at the end that clearly showed that it was a Coke commercial? What was their motivation to do this? Did they want to use the video as a vehicle for their own organization? Try to re-edit in such a way that they would get the feel good factor out of it? Or are they really funded by Coke and have re-edited the video to make the Coke message obscure and almost subliminal? Or are they engaging in some form of culture jamming and it is actually a sophisticated ploy to use the message of a corporation to provoke exactly the kind of negative reaction and backlash to a mega-corp that I felt? Or perhaps they are funded by the state and are trying to soften the perception that constant public surveillance is a good thing?
And here in lies the problem. Going down this road has made me start questioning what this simple little message that seemed so sincere and earnest really means. The message that the world is a good place has been replaced, and that pisses me off because I want to believe that the world is a good place and people are basically good. That may be a naive attitude, but as a father trying to raise engaged kids who don’t end up living a cynical life steeped in fear, I NEED to believe that.
I like to think of myself as fairly media literate. I worked in that world, on both the commercial and alternative media sides and feel I have a good bullshit detector. But it reminds me that we are living in complicated media times where messages and media can easily be manipulated. For me, this is another indicator of the importance radical transparency in everything we do. We need transparency as a core value in our society today or risk creating a cynical society that lives in fear, uncertainty and doubt. We need to push at our governments, corporations, institutions, and ourselves, and believe that being open and transparent and making our motives & actions visible and explicit is the only option.