Mark Pendergast has written a history of Coca-Cola as an American icon. For God, Country, and Coca-Cola studies not only facts about the actual drink, but also the image it wove as representing our good times, and even representing America itself.
The book seems to be a case study of capitalism. Coke poses as the national drink of America, but is happy to sell to America’s enemies as well. If South American Tyrants increase business, then Coke is happy to ignore their death squads and to do business.
The success of Coke is not about its taste, but what it symbolizes as a token:
“The New Coke failure punctuates this strange phenomenon – that the world loves and guzzles an unhealthy beverage, but not for its good taste. Pepsi showed that in blind taste tests, more people prefer Pepsi over Coke. New Coke was tastier than both Coke and Pepsi in blind taste tests. Surely consumers would love it. Except, they didn’t. They wanted fun, hope, patriotism, and everything else they associated with good, old-fashioned Coca-Cola, not some new, better-tasting concoction.” -Jill Richardson, Alternet
In a capitalist culture we come to chose the tokens of value over that to which the token originally referred. Colored sugar water becomes a symbol of health because we see athletes drinking it in commercials. Athleticism becomes a quality we can purchase with our shoes and attire, and by purchasing the same products the real athletes do. We chose the product not for what it is, but what it represents- those aspects of life often made impossible by our tokenized lifestyle.
We can come to think of products as our friends, but this is a serious mistake.
“This is a company devoted to, above all else, making as much money as possible and selling as much Coca-Cola as possible. Period. Nazis get thirsty, too, you know. In almost every case, the company tried to please everyone and sell to everyone, without taking sides, unless it had no choice.
It’s no good that Coca-Cola did business with a Guatemalan bottler who allegedly hired death squads to murder employees trying to unionize. But that is all part of a larger pattern, a larger scandal – although there’s no conspiracy at all. The drive to increase profits and sales and market share at all cost is the company’s story, plain and simple. It took us from a 6.5-ounce drink only available at soda fountains to one available everywhere in sizes as large as 64 ounces.” -Jill Richardson, Alternet
In other words, in order to make as much money as possible, advertizers condition us to choose what they want us to want. From there is it simple to get us to choose what we want over what we need.