22 April 2008

Coke Goes Commie?

This could be another sign of the apocalypse, evidence of how poorly educated Coca-Cola's ad execs are, or just more evidence that capitalism can coopt anything, even communism. Coke, a major sponsor of the Beijing Olympics, is using the ad slogan "red around the world."

Of course it's only coincidental that Coke's can is the same color as "red" China, but in this context it sure seems as though the Coke people are either ignorant of, or simply ignoring, the political symbolism of the color. The Foreign Policy bloggers aren't too amused, and when we remember that the "People's" Republic has killed over 70,000,000 of its own people.

Of course capitalism does have a great ability to coopt nearly anything, but in doing so it tames what was radical (e.g., Lou Reed's "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" being used to advertise the yellow pages). But what happens if we "tame" communism? Will capitalism undermine its innate hostility to human rights, or will we just come to think of communism as something cute and quaint that they do over in China, and downplay its abuses?

I suspect I'm overreacting, but this does bother me. And what really bothers me is the suspicion that nobody at Coke is having trouble sleeping at night, even while China imprisons anyone who would dare to question the idea of being red around the world.


James K said...

It does strike me as very poor taste.

I really don't know how China will turn out but I have 3 scenarios in my head base don recent history:

1) China as Estonia. China liberalises politically and economically. IMO, this would see it become the pre-eminent global economic power.

2) China as Singapore. China becomes liberal economically, but not politically. This would make it a bit less successful, because I doubt any country could liberalise completely in the economic sphere without giving the people a vote.

3) China as Russia. China's authoritarian sentiments pull it back down into the mire. China becomes another backwater, not as poor as Africa, but not rich.

James Hanley said...

Yes, I think those are the three plausible alternatives. I do have some hope for at least 2, if not 1. A few years ago I was at a conference, and a political scientist from the PRC was there, and he said there's a lot of economic liberalizing going on at the lower levels--particularly, a lot of privatization of land out in the rural areas.

If 1 happens, I would expect it to perhaps follow the S. Korean model, where economic liberalization and enhanced educational opportunities leads to rising expectations and demands for participation.

James K said...

Yes, I'd call South Korea a part of the Estonia path, just a bit slower.

Scott Hanley said...

You're showing your age, remembering when "red" meant "communist." The folks who came of age after 1990 probably recognize the connection when you mention it, but I doubt it pops into their head spontaneously.

Still, someone at Coke must have pointed this out. I suspect communism seems a bit more benign because it's not taking over the world and it's only Chinese who are being oppressed.

The Chinese authorities seem to be aiming for #2. If they can't control expectations, then yes, there'll be a push for #1. Only if order falls apart, as in Russia, does #3 then become likely.

The pragmatic Chinese seem willing to compromise ideals if it keeps them from being a backwater. As long as they can provide bread, circuses, and "Survivor," it will be easier to continue with economic liberalization.

James K said...

Personally I'm betting on 1 or 2. The Chinese government relies on economic growth to retain power. IMO #3 means mass revolt.