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The Super Bowl Coke Ad and Cultural Relativism

Don't hate the ad. Hate the multi-culturalists.

by
Joshua Sharf

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February 5, 2014 - 12:58 pm
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The Super Bowl is the premiere venue for TV commercials.  For a long time, people found the ads more of a draw than the one-sided football contests, a traditional lamentably revived in Sunday’s game.

But advertising is as much about culture as it is about the product being pitched, and predictably, the cultural messages people think they see are grounds for controversy.  In 2012, Chrysler’s “Halftime in America” ad featuring Clint Eastwood was widely seen among conservatives and Republicans as an apologia for President Obama’s bailout of GM and Chrysler.

This year, it’s Coca-Cola’s multi-lingual “America the Beautiful” ad.  It features “America the Beautiful” sung first in English, and then in a variety of foreign languages.  The tracks play over scenes of people of different ethnicities recreating while enjoying a Coke, often with some sort of Coke advertising in the background.

I saw the ad for the first time when it ran live, and I thought it was moving and beautiful.  I had no idea that it might be controversial until I saw a couple of Facebook postings by some friends decrying the translation of a patriotic song into other languages.  Others said that the ad was nothing more than a politically correct paean to the cult of multiculturalism.

I’ve seen different interpretations as well.  One friend thought it showed foreign tourists marveling at America’s beauty. Another said that non-English scenes weren’t even set in the United States.  They’re interesting, but they interpret away the core question of the ad’s appropriateness in light of multiculturalism.

There’s nothing wrong with the ad, if interpreted as most people saw it — recent immigrants praising America in their own native languages.  Only in the context of today’s multi-culti cult is the ad problematic, so it’s the cult that’s the problem, not the ad.

We have a long history of new immigrants singing praise of their adopted homeland in their native tongues.  As late as 1943, the Educational Alliance was circulating a Yiddish translation of the “Star-Spangled Banner” to honor the 100th anniversary of the death of Francis Scott Key.  Earlier in the century, Jews wrote patriotic music in Yiddish: “Long Live America,” “Long Live the Land of the Free,”  and “Washington und Lincoln und Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses, our Teacher),” which must have involved a fair amount of cultural as well as linguistic translation.

All this happened while their kids were learning English and enlisting to fight in both World Wars.  Even before WWI, in 1910, we have, “It’s tough when Izzy Rosenstein loves Genevieve Malone,” although actual intermarriage wouldn’t reach epidemic proportions for another 70 years.

New immigrants have always had questions about their loyalty — but I think it’s fair to say that writing patriotic songs in their native tongues, and translating traditional American ones, isn’t the source of those suspicions.

What conservatives were reacting against are the sentiments in this Facebook posting from a friend of mine who’s a political science professor at a major Midwestern state university:

As the child and grandchild of immigrants, who worked to make a place for themselves in this country *and* who spent considerable resources on my education so that I would be able to fluently speak the language they spoke when they arrived here, I absolutely cannot figure out why this commercial or the idea of multiculturalism has so unhinged so many people. This desperate drive to make “America” or “Americans” into a single thing that matches one’s own personal experience seems so futile, such a waste of time and energy.

It encapsulates pretty much everything that’s wrong with the cult of multi-culti and the way it’s been sold to several generations of Americans.  (By the way, this is also from a guy who has, as near as I can tell, made little-to-no genuine effort to understand the large swath of his own fellow Americans who love and care about guns, so I guess cultural relativism has its limits.)

Those who see assimilation as a sine qua non of a functioning society made up of immigrants don’t futilely want to make America (sans scare quotes) into “one single thing.”  They understand America as a broad umbrella that can contain a wide variety of differences.

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Top Rated Comments   
Without a unifying principle no nation can be coherent, and survive stress and trauma. Without a unifying principle a nation will ultimately come apart. Multiculturalism killed assimilation, and now there is nothing that makes all residents of this polity think of themselves as Americans. I live in California. I've stopped thinking of myself as American. I'm simply a stranger living in once was my land. I'm totally detached from the idea of America.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sometimes we wingnuts are a little too paranoid.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
America is beautiful in whatever language.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (40)
All Comments   (40)
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The jews are the masters of creating multiculturalism.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
my friend's ex-wife makes $85 /hr on the computer . She has been without a job for eight months but last month her pay was $16032 just working on the computer for a few hours. have a peek here.......http://www.work71.com
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
They sang America the Beautiful. Not Home on the Range. The unifying element of all cultures is language. Break that to break the culture. Coke took the song many would like to see as our National Anthem and applied the idea that language doesn't matter to our culture. We can peacefully coexist without it.
If Coke missed that message, that's their problem. They aired it on the #1 annual television event of the year and they just missed all THAT? Right.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Some people her are paranoid - but for a reason.

The ad was meant to say, "there are all kinds of different people who love America and its way of life." People misread it into saying "there are all kinds of different people, so down with the racist homophobic misoginist Constitution, evil capitalist rule of law, and disgusting imperialist English language."

Well, I don't see that in *this* ad at all, but after seeing *just that* in millions of "enlightened" textbooks and "progressive" political discussions, can you blame them for being suspicious?
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoABty_zE00

Food City video about What America really is about. Visit the site and enjoy America, Americans. Pray. Amen. God Bless America.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Huh? And all this time I thought it was just an ad for soda pop. Next up: how many times did Peyton throw to his left instead of his right? Get a grip, folks.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
What's "soda pop"? Some kind of coke?
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Heh... Welcme to the South! ("Our captain has a problem, sad to tell - he's from Georgia so he doesn't speak the language very well" - Tom Lehrer).
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
I had to read the article twice.

The author said those who object to the coca cola ad “wildly over-interprets the ad” but no detailed reasoning of the why, only a jumbled ‘multiculturalism’ and immigrants speaking different languages.

Next the author ‘over-interpret'ed an Axe ad - “inside every American is a murderer struggling to get out”. If I don't get that message from the deodorant commercial, the author won't get my dislike of coca cola commercial.

Don't get me wrong, I think the Axe ad theme naive and stupid, perfect fit for the gullible.

41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
This opinion piece seems seriously confused. The author argues that there's nothing wrong with immigrants speaking different languages in America but that there's something desperately wrong with multiculturalism, which he equates with the belief that not all immigrants must speak English. If this is multiculturalism, then Sharf is evidently a multiculturalist ... at least when it comes to the Jewish community, since those immigrants kept their language and their traditions. What's more, Sharf doesn't discuss the cost of the assimiliation he praises, namely that his Yiddish-speaking immigrants were happy their children learned English and then Jews have spent the past hundred years bemoaning the way the children and grandchildren have assimilated, turning their back on Judaism in favor of assimilation into the broader culture. Is this what Sharf insists on? Why can't he agree with the professor he quotes that not everyone has to fit a single description -- the description of the white Christian majority -- of what it means to be American? And what in the world does any of this have to do with guns, which is where Sharf concludes, or with relativism, which doesn't seem to have been mentioned anywhere in the piece other than in the title? I suppose Sharf wants to argue that there's a single, objective definition of "American" but he never describes it and his conclusion, that American can be "a broad umbrella that can contain a wide variety of differences" sounds far more like he's a relativist than anyone he quotes. What a confusing ordeal it was to read this; I can only imagine it must be more difficult to be Sharf, given that he doesn't really know whether he's tilting at windmills or giants here.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wounded Knee, etc.
Glad USA had no one west of the original 13 states in the way of Manifest Destiny. Fortunately we had slaves to work the land.
America is becoming what it was, a terrible country brutalizing people living here. I suppose Barack thinks it's great since it is Americans who will be screwed now.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Oh, and let us know how things are in Shangri LaLaLand.

41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
I grew up in Queens in the fifties and sixties. During my school years, I had many immigrants in my classes, and I never remember a single incidence of disrespect. We had international days when we would dress in the clothes of our country of origin and would bring food representing that country. I remember a girl who had escaped the failed revolution in Czechoslovakia, and another girl who had recently come from the Netherlands. At first, both struggled to speak English, but they spoke English. My schools understood that the students came from many different countries and should be proud of their origins, but they also promoted their entering into the mainstream American culture.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
That is part of the problem now, they aren't encouraged and seemed to fight assimilation to make the American melting pot where we all are one. They come here and seem to be physically transplanted but want to stay just like they were in their home country, sometimes living in centuries past. In part that is helping split the country. Become Americans, learn English, keep you culture at home and live a good life and don't turn our country into the country you left.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
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