Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A fizzy drink that must not be named

An omnipresent entity whose name must not be taken in vain. What is it?

I'm afraid I cannot tell you the answer directly since that would amount to taking its name in vain and a crazy robot will instantly sue the shit out of me. Hint: it is neither Our Lord יהוה‎ nor the Dark Lord Voldemort.  It's a bloody fizzy drink.

You can certainly pronounce its name if you want to buy it. Or discuss its positive role in the promotion of the American values around the world. Otherwise, the word is under taboo, which is broken only rarely by an intrepid soul. (This latter example, however, is an aberration which gets corrected in the Spanish language edition.)

The very existence of the taboo suggests that ____-Cola must have supernatural powers. Indeed, in the Mexican village of San Juan Chamula it is famously used in religious rituals. This has lead to some misplaced pride on part of The ____-Cola Company, which installed a custom-made billboard on the entrance to the village:

What The ____-Cola Company failed to grasp is that for Chamulans their drink represents the essence of evil. At the purification ceremony one drinks the Dark Liquid and the climax consists in belching, which symbolises the evil leaving the body.

The interpretation of ____-Cola as an embodiment of evil is also widespread among those Mexican left-wing intellectuals who drive SUVs, thrive on government funds and otherwise suffer from the injustices of this world. A high-ranking ex-colleague of mine at the National University once sent out an email proposing to remove the ____-Cola vending machine since the drink was (a) an instrument of world imperialism (b) bad for your health (c) very expensive. These people do not hesitate to pronounce the name of ____-Cola in vain; it must feel like some kind of blasphemy. [For completeness I should note that the opposite part of the political madhouse provided us with a President who started out as the president of the Mexican division of the ____-Cola Company. In his notable qualities he was second only to George W. Bush. A total idiot.]

An interesting evidence of the taboo on the name of the drink in question comes from the translation into English of the book "Generation P" by Victor Pelevin (in English it appeared as "Babylon"). It starts with a couple of pages dedicated to Pepsi-Cola. A few paragraphs survived the translation:

Once upon a time in Russia there really was a carefree, youthful generation that smiled in joy at the summer, the sea and the sun, and chose Pepsi.

It's hard at this stage to figure out exactly how this situation came about. Most likely it involved more than just the remarkable taste of the drink in question. More than just the caffeine that keeps young kids demanding another dose, steering them securely out of childhood into the clear waters of the cocaine channel. More, even, than a banal bribe: it would be nice to think that the Party bureaucrat who took the crucial decision to sign the contract simply fell in love with this dark, fizzy liquid with every fibre of a soul no longer sustained by faith in communism.

The most likely reason, though, is that the ideologists of the USSR believed there could only be one truth. So in fact Generation P had no choice in the matter and children of the Soviet seventies chose Pepsi in precisely the same way as their parents chose Brezhnev. 

Brezhnev! Cocaine channel! This looks so daring. Until you read the original, that is, and discover that a whole page disappeared in translation. This is what got omitted (I apologize for the possible linguistic atrocities):

Whatever the way it was, these kids lounged in summer on the seashore, watched the blue cloudless horizon, drank warm Pepsi-Cola bottled in the city of Novorossiysk, and dreamed that one day the prohibited faraway world from the other side of the sea would enter their lives.

Ten years passed and this world started indeed entering - first, carefully and with a polite smile, then with increasing boldness. One of its business cards was an advertisement of Pepsi-Cola - a video clip which, as many researchers noted, was a turning point in the development of the world culture. It consisted in a comparison of two monkeys. Of the them drank ''regular cola'' and, as a result, turned out to be capable of some basic manipulations with sticks and cubes. The other one drank Pepsi. Hooting cheerfully, it departed towards the sea on a jeep in the company of several gals who clearly didn't give a damn about gender equality (when dealing with monkeys it is better not to think of these things, since both equality and inequality would be equally hard to bear).

Thinking about it, it was clear that the point was not in Pepsi-Cola itself, but in the money that it was directly associated with. One came to this conclusion, first, with the help of a classical Freudian allusion by means of the colour of the product, and then, by a logical inference that the consumption of Pepsi leads to the ability to buy expensive cars. Nevertheless, we have no intention to study this video in depth (though, probably, such analysis would explain why the children of the sixties insist on calling the generation P "shitsuckers''). The only thing that matters here is that a monkey on a jeep became the final symbol of  generation P.

It did hurt somewhat to realise how the guys from the advertising agencies on Madison Avenue imagined their target group. But one cannot help but admire their deep knowledge of life. It was this very video clip that sent the message to the multitude of monkeys vegetating in Russia that the time had come to mount jeeps and take the daughters of men.

It would make no sense to blame this on an anti-Russian conspiracy. The anti-Russian conspiracy, certainly, exists, but the problem is that all the adult population of Russia is complicit in it. Pepsi-Cola, therefore, is irrelevant here. What happened was a part of a worldwide process, reflected in many books (recall "Waiting for the monkeys" by Andrey Bitov or "Brazzaville Beach" by William Boyd). This process did not spare the United States either, although things ended differently there: ____-Cola completely, definitely and irreversibly pushed Pepsi out of the red colour field, which for someone who undersands the subject is equivalent to a victory at Waterloo. This was due to the strong influence of the religious right in the United States. They do not believe in evolution; ____-Cola better fits their picture of the world since a monkey who drinks it remains a monkey. But we are talking too much about monkeys ... 

Let us be fair and admit that Pepsi also demands respect when its name it concerned. But at least you can say out loud that it is a gateway drug for cocaine ...

No comments:

Post a Comment