Love them or hate them, it’s near impossible to get through even a day without at least a murmur of Kardashian. The family is a population in and of itself, expanding almost as quickly as their business prospects. So when Kendall Jenner is part of a misguided commercial that failed in it’s effort to incite revolutionary potential in the purchase of Pepsi, anger among the public is magnified just as everything about her life is. Pepsi’s audacious move to appropriate symbols of resistance movements, all with a Kardashian (no less) as the face of their campaign, unsurprisingly sparked discomfort.
The underlying feeling of the commercial begins positively. Jenner is initially a part of a photoshoot where she is clearly not herself- a blonde wig serving as a not so subtle metaphor for this- when a smile from a stranger convinces her to join the movement that passes her. Sliding off the wig with trademark grace, and wiping of lipstick with the back of her hand transforms her into a more human character, bringing her into focus as part of the masses. Here, I understand what Pepsi were trying to do- they’re telling you that everyone is on a level playing field in situations like the one they present, encouraging an inclusive approach to protest. It is reminiscent of the recent Women’s March, where celebrities walked side by side, presenting an impressive united front. Not so bad, really.
The cringe-worthy climax comes when Jenner approaches riot police, dissolving all previous echoes of camaraderie and humility, with a can of Pepsi, and a magic resolution is reached. The gesture is an overt reference to the iconic photograph of Ieshia Evans in Baton Rouge taken during a Black Lives Matter protest, turning a tense and life threatening stand off in the name of a growing tally of murdered African Americans into a picture-perfect scene of cheers and laughter, a marketing departments desperate ploy to latch on to what it evidently views as a trend to be exploited. Not what the original protesters had in mind, I’m sure.
The anger towards the commercial comes from a place of true struggle. People are finding it difficult to relate to the trivialisation of the expression of that struggle, and fair enough. Kendall Jenner is an easy target for that anger, having kept herself completely separate from movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the past, raising questions as to why she now choses to get involved in a way that lacks any real political message or potential to add to the cause (or any cause for that matter- the protest in the ad is decidedly devoid of specific purpose).
It is not the first time that a member of the family has come under fire for aligning themselves in the same vein as those living a much harder life. Earlier this year Kim Kardashian was slated for making poverty and strife into a contrived aesthetic for her Instagram profile, a weird and uncomfortable shift from her previously lavish feed. Is it fair or normal for her to make a seemingly dirty, tired, impoverished image into something to be desired, a cool fashion trend to follow, a new ‘grungy’ existence? It seems similar to the experience of Kendall Jenner in this ad- misguided and a bit tacky, but definitely not malicious.
So where does the blame lie? You would think that, surely, having dealt with such a high profile group of people for so long, the team surrounding Kendall would have spotted the issue immediately. Perhaps it is a mark of their privilege that they didn’t; after all, it is somewhat easy for people to join a fight as “ally’s”, without really knowing anything of the suffering that underlies it all.
The phenomenon that is the Kardashian family is closely tied to publicity- with their TV show they’ve made a name for themselves by forfeiting privacy. Social media has been intrinsic to their success, as another platform to expose themselves and their business ventures. It is social media as well that is at the heart of this poor marketing decision- social media, that has been overwhelmed with beautiful footage on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat of peaceful protests and pretty girls wearing trendy outfits and has subsequently nurtured the view that the protests themselves are trendy. Post a snap of a cheeky anti-Trump quip, jump on the bandwagon and your own social standing is boosted by a few Instagram likes? While on the one hand it’s wonderful for people to share the experience of standing up for their beliefs, perhaps the message at the heart of these protests is getting lost, the Pepsi ad- case in point.
Ultimately, to place blame would be arbitrary, and only perpetuate a circle of anger that probably will do no good in the long run. Kendall Jenner is a 21 year old girl who has grown up in extraordinary circumstances and it would be cruel to expect her not to make the odd mistake. Pepsi’s repeal of the commercial serves either as recognition of, and apology for, their frankly offensive faux-pas, or simply a hurried retraction of an embarrassing slip up to save face. Either way, it seems that the message was received.