It wouldn’t be a Pepsi commercial, to be honest, without some sort of concomitant controversy (unless you’re the unimpeachable pre-2007 Britney Spears who prided herself on a wholesome image). So were you really expecting Kendall Jenner’s inconsiderate promotion of the product–pulled just a day after its release on April 4th–to be anything less than incendiary?
But no matter how shocked people are by KenJen’s distasteful ad, the backlash is nothing to what Madonna experienced in 1989.
M’s Pepsi commercial was the first of its kind, debuting her then-latest single, “Like A Prayer,” in the ad–setting an important precedent. While the commercial itself was innocent enough, featuring a black-haired-with-blonde-streak Madonna watching home movies of her eight-year-old self (played by a child actress that really doesn’t work) having a birthday party while holding a Pepsi, it was the music video that followed that would cause her $5 million deal to fizzle out.
The masses automatically conflated the aforementioned M commercial with the now legendary scenes of the pop star standing in front of burning crosses in between scenes of her trying to get a wrongly accused black man out of prison. It is a video that was (and remains) one of the most feather-ruffling moments of Madonna’s career. And now, here we are again, with a white girl trying her best to intervene in a political cause. Except, in Jenner’s case, it truly doesn’t make any sense as she’s never been an artist or agitator of any kind. At least Madonna is motivated from a place of provocation designed to make people think on a deeper level (regardless of what her many detractors like to believe).
Perhaps the fact that Jenner has no idea what it means to be political or in touch with reality made the premise of this commercial seem non-offensive to her, a scenario which finds her participating in a photoshoot before she decides to rip off her blonde wig and fall in with some protesters passing her by on the street holding up nondescript signs that don’t express rage of any kind. Fist bumps, high fives and empty smiles build up to the ultimate insensitive moment of the commercial’s nonsensical use of the Black Lives Matter movement: Jenner handing a Pepsi to the police as a peace offering that instantly seems to make him see reason and empathize with the crowd. Of course, this instant set off a sea of sarcastic remarks on the internet, including from Martin Luther King Jr.’s own daughter, Bernice King, amounting to the summarized comment: “Wow, if only I’d had a Pepsi to keep that cop from beating the shit out of me.”
While the Madonna/Jenner Pepsi controversies might both be steeped in whiteness, as in, a white girl speaking of things she truly knows nothing about firsthand (though this in and of itself begets a vicious cycle of derogatory finger-pointing), Jenner’s is, let’s face it, much worse. It’s Jenner acting not solely as white savior, but as a completely oblivious model who sort of just decides to “go with it” when she sees a cute guy beckoning to her in the crowd.
Madonna, at least, put a national spotlight on racism at a time when no one in that mainstream of a position was willing or bold enough to do so. In the current case, Jenner only serves to accent the already rampant opinion of white people–and girls in particular–being utterly self-absorbed. In any event, this is precisely why we should all drink alcohol instead of soda. That shit sells itself.