If there is one buzzword that characterizes popular culture today it is cynicism. No topic, historical event or iconic personality is safe from satire, mockery or derision. We live in a post-hero age in which people of substance and action are raked across the coals of social media, while — in a clear case of moral inversion — celebrities who have done little more than bask in the glow of their own celebrity soak up the adulation of the masses.
Throngs of New Yorkers would once hang out of office buildings and release ticker tape to celebrate Teddy Roosevelt’s homecoming from his African safari, Winston Churchill after victory in WWII or the death-defying aeronautical adventures of Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.
Today, thousands of people will surround MTV studios to get a glimpse of the latest reality star but, even if financially incentivized, wouldn’t show up to greet the past five winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Will the pendulum swing back towards adulation of heroes with meaningful accomplishments or will we continue to build monuments to cultural midgets?
Pepsi’s recent advertising debacle is hopefully an indicator that the future is not all bleak. Using Kendall Jenner as a symbol of social action, when she and her family represent the most depraved form of self-indulgent megalomania, is the height of irony — and an indication of how out of touch PepsiCo is with their customers. Or maybe not. Maybe art is imitating life, and Pepsi simply attempted to tap into our cultural rot and benefit from it.
Thankfully, society, through its almost unanimous censure of Pepsi on social media, rejected Pepsi’s pernicious form of cynicism. The public outrage stems from a dual recognition: 1. faux celebrities do everything to fatten their bank accounts and nothing to effect social change or help others; 2. social warriors, like the Black Lives Matters advocates, risk life and limb to pursue a cause that they feel will make our country more just and kind.
Shame on Pepsi for feeding into our worst instincts, and kudos to those who resisted and said, enough.