In a Q&A after Soda_Jerk’s screening of Hello Dankness (2022) at the Capitol Cinema for the Melbourne International Film Festival, filmmakers Dan and Dom Angeloro posed the rhetorical question: “Can there be satire after Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi® ad?” Ultimately, Hello Dankness grapples with answering that question in a mashed-up stoner musical, as Dan and Dom accurately describe it, among other things. The result is a political satire with a strategic fucking-up of media, that inspires and excites a demographic seeking a mix of the reflective state of things being fucked-up.
This isn’t a real review of Hello Dankness — even though the film needs a deep dive analysis of what it does to cinema (a lot, actually, and far more than any other Australian film) rather than the celebratory skimming-over that the Lazy Left accords it, who will always titter whenever Trump is parodied or maligned. And despite its hammered trope of MAGA-zombies, Hello Dankness remains superior to the lame stand-up barracking that most accept as political commentary. The film is a type of vomitory cinema, one that gulps and belches its narrative in ways that betray a depth of formal inventiveness that is of greater substance than its politicised instigation.
This ‘review’ is a consideration of how Soda_Jerk queries the effectiveness and relevance of satire, under contemporary political conditions of image-making, by specifically taking up their strategic insertion of the Pepsi® ad as a “Prologue” within Hello Dankness, to discuss broader issues of image-making and the mediascape within which both are produced. The Hello Dankness film in total is an enraged digestion and regurgitation of images from cinema and television: detourned, demixed, descored and degusted to match Dan and Dom’s personal sensation of living in and through the 2016-2021 fomentation of divisive politics in the US, where they have been based for many years. It presents the Pepsi® ad visually unedited, with unaltered audio and without any superimposed rotoscoping. This mode of full-quotation is at odds with Soda_Jerk’s normal operations, implying that the filmmkaers placed it for its discursive potential. It serves to contrast their image-making with concurrent modes of image-making — particularly advertising.
The Pepsi® ad was released on April 4th, 2017. Officially titled Jump In – Pepsi® Moments, it was part of a series of ads that PepsiCo grouped for the Live For Now campaign in 2012. As is well known, this 2’40” ad features Kendall Jenner (a vacant DNA sample from The Kardashians®) as a model on a photo shoot who, at the subtle nod from a cute boy in a protest, joins the vaguely contrived ‘peace march’, grabs a can of Pepsi®, wanders blissfully to the front of the march, hands it to a riot-police stud who drinks it, causing the crowd to break into jubilation.
In the official press release for the ad, PepsiCo states:
“The Jump In – Pepsi® Moments film takes a more progressive approach to truly reflect today’s generation and what living for now looks like.”
Clearly capitalizing on street protests connected to the then-current surge of #BLM marches and confrontations, the ad was denounced by millennial social media activist-siding users — the specific target of the campaign — with such force that PepsiCo withdrew the ad in twenty-four hours, apologizing solemnly:
“Pepsi® was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize.” In the subsequent five years, Jump In has become its own self-destructive meme, boldly and blindly representing the delusions of advertising’s self-confidence in shaping the imagescape. I can exemplify this with an Adshel, passed en route to the screening of Hello Dankness, which confirms this egotistical pride of pathetic ‘creatives’, riding high in the advertising industry. Media Federation of Australia (based in Sydney since 1997) released this ad as part of its campaign of self promotion, and is a tie-in with a risible mission-statement online video. The Adshel declares:
“We are the changers. We influence people, business, culture and the economy.”
The video has lines like “We may have to work with suits, but we don’t have to work in them” and “Our work is heard and seen by millions and millions of Australians every single day”. If that’s not enough, it finishes with nine Zoom-screen ‘creatives’ making grandiose claims about what positive change they are doing in the world (e.g., “I drive relevance for the next generation of consumers!” and “I try to normalize and help people be unapologetically human!”).
What was the response to Jump In by the advertising industry, who visibly accept the standards of this hollow depiction as morally acceptable?
Of course, they condemned the ad for all the searingly obvious reasons. But many missed the collective industry’s logic and the financial interests at play. Creators League Studio (note the flip memetic nod to DC comics’ Justice League), PepsiCo’s ‘in-house content creation arm’, produced this ad as their first. This stood out as multi-national corporations usually contract an advertising agency to work with a company (as clients with products to sell), so as to advise, guide and determine how they can best ‘reach their market’, through advertising and messaging. The advertising industry almost unilaterally chastised PepsiCo for taking control of the ad themselves, thereby blocking any objective or contrary view of their product and its potential reach and placement. But of course, the agencies were simply scared that they would start losing clients if companies took over their own campaigns.
But in reality, high-minded ‘creatives’, who believe in their own media-babble and their vacuous talent, routinely cough up politically obsequious and cynically guttural concoctions, and the PepsiCo’s Jump In ad was one amongst many. I wonder how many ‘creatives’ connected to self-promotional organizations like the MFA — prior to the PepsiCo backlash — would have seen Jump In and dreamt that one day they might make something as millennial-snaring, as Creators League Studio ’s “showcase (of) elements of the Pepsi® disruptive design program that combines icons with expressive typography to capture moments that ignite action” (as per the ad’s press release). Nor will Jump In be the last attempt at such grandiose virtue-blasting. In fact, that is precisely what all advertising is now.
The Melbourne International Film Festival offers proof, as they screen a clutch of short ads before every film. It is a truly excruciating experience. A ‘creative’ team makes every ad, under the belief that it is their chance to show the world what great cineastes they are, by offering their hackneyed, clichéd narratives — as if a producer in the audience will greenlight their amazingly original idea for a feature film. And because these ‘creatives’ are speaking to a supposedly film-literate audience (MIFF patrons flatter themselves with this myth), the ads are (groan) wry, witty and sly. For instance, Mountain Goat Beer’s ad appeals to failed hipster dads by going po-mo and staging a Hangover-style scene at the Astor Cinema. DuPerry Wine proffers faux quotes for its Premier Cru Champagne (“complex yet approachable”) to a cod-Coward piano bar ditty, as if it’s toasting Broadway at the Paris end of Collins Street. Pidapipo ‘partners’ with MIFF to present their Gelato Bar as if it’s a movie, starring a bearded dad who looks like he’s tenured at Melbourne University and has been given a cameo in a Sorrentino movie for Father’s Day. A god-awful drone-cam tourism spiel promoting the fucking Great Ocean Road for people who think it’s so beautiful. Rolex gets top honours for pretentiousness, by reciting a declaration of principles that govern the majesty of cinema, while montaging ‘quality cinema’ icons with all the tawdry pathos of a senile grandpa dry-humping his recliner to an old DVD of Amélie.
To add insult to injury, half of the ads showing at MIFF are left-leaning, do-gooder, world-changing declarations of empowerment, wellness and even civic duty. The Monthly (ground zero for the zombified intelligentsia that still props up Melbourne’s insular and stupid elite) parodies a film audience by compressing two decades worth of ABC-commissioned Working Dog-style insulting stereotypes of ‘common people’, into a gathering of ugly movie-goers, against whom The Monthly insinuates it is aligned. Then there’s ACMI’s "Goddess" exhibition (“Power. Glamour, Rebellion.”), which depicts branded feminism dazing a young ‘everywoman’ with its incredible allure, amidst sets straight out of Sex & The City boutiques. Broadsheet’s ‘membership program’ Access and its ‘curated’ experience of Melbourne promulgate the enduring lie that the city is the cultural centre of the universe. Bank Australia’s "How To Change The World In 60 Seconds" campaign interviews ‘real people’ doing good with their business. And the worst: a privileged blonde teen who tells a Mother Superior at some private school that she’s decided to go to ‘film school’ — no doubt not to make any great Australian films (of which there aren’t, Virginia) but to make pathetically boring ads like this one, by training in a “dynamic independent tertiary education college full of passion, individuality and opportunity” as Collarts brands itself.
But did the audience at Hello Dankness riot in the aisles watching these ads, as they did with Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi® ad? Hardly. They either ignored the ads, or maybe even dreamed that one day they could wrangle their own gig-economics to hitch a ride with those creatives. Maybe some of them already had such jobs, or were going to Collarts, so the prospect of self-criticality would have been extremely slim. To be sure, the audience enthusiastically responded to Hello Dankness, laughing at the jokes, identifying the clips, and getting (some of) the references. The point here is that the metaverse of the screening — that is, how Jump In is onion-skinned within Hello Dankness, within MIFF, within the Adelaide Film Festival’s commissioning, within the Australian film industry, within the global intersections of image-making, within the mediascapes of both exploitative and subversive audiovision — is the locus of where cultural capital and political economy is best addressed.
The Pepsi® Jump In ad is near impossible to track down now with its original audio and music intact. It features Skip Marley’s “Lions” (2017), playing throughout most of the ad, and providing the cathartic power chords to which the narrative’s slo-mo euphoria is tightly synchronized. The song’s producer and co-writer Savan Kotecha (One Direction, Maroon 5, The Weekend, et al) said in an interview in Music Business Worldwide:
“‘Lions’ was written for the protesters two days after the (2016) election. This is a time where artists really do need to say something. They are the voice of the people; it's not going to be the news media or politicians.”
The music video Lions was released in February 2017, two months before Jump In was released. It is every bit as politically delusional and disingenuously radicalised as PepsiCo’s dream of addicting millennials to their sugary syrup — yet no-one seemed to want to lynch the music video’s makers. The narrative centres on a quintet of young radicals dressed in black (think Pussy Riot, Antifa and rent-a-rioter for dystopian Hollywood flicks) running, jumping, graffiti-ing, and then hiding out in a dirty warehouse (think Detroit, naturally) where they cobble together radio transmission parts to ‘hack’ the oppressive government’s broadcast to (wait for it) an audience of youths identically dressed wearing white stockings over their faces and listening to a bald septuagenarian straight out of Michael Radford’s retro-style adaptation of 1984 (1984) delivering an insidious message, through headphones.
In truth, the Lions video is like Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It (1984) video mashed with AC/DC’s Who Made Who (1986) video, filtered through upstart millennial ‘new era’ movies featuring empowered rebel kids, such as See You Yesterday (2019), The Old Guard (2020), Asking For It (2021) and Alice (2022). In Lions, the ‘hackers’ finally disrupt the transmission and the audience rips off their stockings — and then fist-pumps (completely out-of-time to the music) with Skip Marley suddenly surrounded by a throng of supporters. They changed the world!
Place the music video Lions side by side with the Pepsi® Jump In ad, and there is no content difference. But context difference abounds. Marley’s songs was designed to be what I term ‘aspirationally applicable’: it testifies to the soaring human spirit in such an anodyne humanist way, that it is perfect for advertising campaigns seeking to juice their message with hyper-affective emotional moisture.
But the key culprit in all of this might simply be Effective Altruism: the hustled doctrine which ‘ethical start-ups’ (ahem, like Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange FTX) gulped down like humanist Kool-Aid. It is hard to not find a ‘mission statement’ by any company in at least the last decade who has not laid claim to being an ‘agent of change’ in ‘making the world a better place’. They always speak as ‘we’ (never ‘I’) to describe their ‘team player’ vibe, as well as infer that somehow ‘I’ am part of everything they address. Sorry – I should say, part of the ‘conversation’. No wonder the protesters acting in Jump In are carrying placards with the peace symbol, love hearts, and the insipid phrase “Join the Conversation”.
The day after the shit hit the fan in April 2017, PepsiCo initially made public comment to Adweek that Jump In “is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.” What they are referring to is the ad’s content that is less discussed. There’s the male Asian-American cellist practicing on a ‘tenement’ roof, drenched in enough sweat to put out a Californian wildfire. The ‘Middle Eastern’ young Muslim woman checking photos from her investigative report, sitting in a room inexplicably plastered with photos from floor to ceiling. Think SBS-TV idents and montages for the World Movies channel — or any company hawking diversity to broaden its consumer base. And then there’s the cast of rent-a-minority college kids in Jump In. Really, it’s meant to be 2017, but they look like they’re dressed-up for a fans-only screening of Disney’s Camp Rock (2008).
Who are those people and where are they now? Did they all truly believe they were changing the world with this ad’s message? Or are they cosplay activists who couldn’t give a fuck? How anyone could do anything for a multinational corporation like PepsiCo, and not think it is anything but unadulterated exploitation, is hard to fathom. But that might be the charm of Effective Altruism. The weird thing is that the gathered ‘Antifa-Lite’ crowd in the ad appeared only two months later IRL as the student protestors at Evergreen Community College (Olympia, WA), who followed faculty member Naomi Lowe’s push for whiteness studies to be implemented across the school. Making them seem like a cast shared by an event that is maligned and another one that is equally celebrated.
Yet the trope of ‘young peaceful protestors’ is somewhat ingrained in the American media-psyche. Kendall’s tokenistic Pepsi® gesture first appeared in two famous photos from the 1967 March on the Pentagon mass protest, organized by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Photographer Bernie Boston snapped 18 year old George Harris inserting a carnation into the barrel held by a Military Police Battalion soldier. Photographer Marc Riboud snapped 17 year old Jan Rose Kasmir offering a chrysanthemum to a flank of American National Guards. Many people still look at these images through tear-stained empath goggles. The more cynical among us read unbridled naïveté and self-centred delusions of worldliness in the actions of these kids. PepsiCo is targeting the former.
The critics and haters of the Jump In ad focussed on the ad’s narrative co-option of #BLM violent skirmishes and the impelled politics behind their formation and actioning. Understandable for sure, but the fever of those accusations has ended up pinpointing the most repellent detail of the video while muting the complexifying and implicating mediascape which both enables and embroils the video’s production in the first place.
“Can there be satire after Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi® ad?”
A crime as sizable as the ad itself was the onslaught of memes, Giphy drops and Twitterverse bleats which ‘mercilessly mocked’ Jump In. The democratized loss-of-bladder-control which modulates such reactive social media content is dumb as. But even dumberer had to be an episode in Season 3 of The Boys. The series is based on Garth Ennis’ comic The Boys (2006-2012). It’s one of an endless stream in a genre beloved by Comicon fandom: the superhero satire, filed under ‘indie/alt/edgy/dark’. The series developed for Amazon Prime (2019-2022) is, predictably, a pseudo-political satire on machismo/fantasmo heroics — as if movies like Hancock (2008), Kick-Ass (2010), Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010) or Deadpool (2016) were never made. In the middle of episode 3 (“Glorious Five Year Plan”), A-Train stops a potential clash between vapid protestors and riot squad cops by joining the march and offering the cops his own “Turbo Rush” energy drink. It’s a shot-for-shot pisstake, similar to how Seth Rogan and James Franco did a S4S-PT of Kanye West’s music video “Bound 2” (2014) starring him with Kim Kardashian. But the satire of The Boys is neither funny, sharp, outrageous nor savage. It’s just dumb.
Sizable chunks of Rogan, Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel and others pop up in Soda_Jerk’s Hello Dankness, teleported from their movie that is a S4S-PT of their own dumb celebritati lives, Rogan and Evan Goldberg’s This Is The End (2013). While the movie is pretty funny, its fuck-you Hollywood frat pack would have been among the hoards of liberals (from fresh-stubbled Bernie Bros to withered New York Times columnists) who only a few years later would be penning outrageous jokes against Donald Trump during his campaign for the presidency. For The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon even interviewed Trump, pretending to be Trump’s mirror image, interviewing himself. That was September 12th, 2015. Before November 9th, 2016, when Trump became the president of the USA. And before January 6th, 2021, the date of the USA Capitol attack. Jump In finishes with bold block font missives: “Live Bolder. Live Louder. Live For Now”. Soda_Jerk radically fucks with this by wholly accepting the insertion of the Pepsi® ad into their own metatextual film. They archive harder, mix softer, and live for nothing. That’s what you do when satire is dead.
In 1988, Ted Turner — founder of CNN in 1980, the 24 hour news at the centre of Republican bias allegations in the 2016 U.S. elections that culminated in the flash ‘Occupy CNN’ moment — notoriously advocated colorization of legacy and vintage black and white Hollywood movies as part of his monetization of MGM titles he had acquired and intended to push through his cable channels for revenue. Cineastes hated him as much as activists hated Kendall Jenner and Pepsi®. He launched Turner Classic Movies to do just that in 1996, establishing himself as a disruptor of the moving image. The colorization process was deemed the sugary coating of filmic death for the institution of cinema. The same early digital-video process was showcased in the ad for Diet Coke® in 1992, which rotoscopes colorized cine-avatars of Humphrey Bogart, Louis Armstrong and James Cagney into a glamorama cabaret shindig with Elton John tinkling the ivories wearing a tizzy fez. It’s every bit as disreputable as Jump In, but it’s also a weird schism of what could be termed ‘Occupy Cinema’: dead Hollywood ghosts inhabiting the televisual mediascape through infected legacy resolution and unethical colorization. Fuzzy YouTube® uploads have archived the ad, likely transferred from dead videotape recorders. Live Older. Live Digital. Live For Then.
Wednesday August 15th, 2023.