Empty spiritual calories, or The choice of the smug generation…

I was shopping at my local Wal-Mart (I live in a small town in the South. Also, I like to save money) the other day, and I noticed a display of Pepsi products by the entryway. Nothing remarkable about that, but I noticed the Pepsi cartons were emblazoned with the slogan, “Do Good,” with Pepsi logos replacing the O‘s.

Now, I’m a Coke-drinker, so it’s not like Pepsi was going to receive my money anyway, but I found myself far more peeved by this than well adjusted people should be. First of all, I don’t see this as being particularly effective: “Well, I was going to defile, murder, and eat a busload of nuns (not necessarily in that order), but then I saw this case of Pepsi…” Secondly, even I’m not sufficiently Calvinistic to think my depravity requires that I be morally hectored by soft drink boxes.

But as I kept thinking about it (yes, I think about this stuff, but no one is forcing you to read this. You get what you pay for.), I found it even more profoundly irritating. Obviously, the Pepsi folks made a conscious choice to put this slogan on their product. I seriously doubt that they expect this to hasten the Millennium. Instead, I suspect they are seeking a positive response from some target audience.

But what does all this say about that audience? It’s not as though “Do Good” directs us toward anything concrete, or anything specific at all. There’s no context. In short, what we have here is something pretty close to nullity — it’s cant. So what kind of people are going to be positively influenced toward a product by this sort of thing?

Maybe it would be the people who think that buying the product promotes some positive message, which makes the buyer part of that positive message. It’s purchasing membership in the society of People who Want to Do Good. Buying the product=being good. And if you know you Want to Do Good, then there’s a strong temptation to feel righteous indignation toward the people who don’t make the same choices you do.

But if we think about it for any length of time at all, we know that isn’t how things work. In a way, it’s Pharisaical — delighting in having the trappings of some sort of righteousness without having the righteousness itself. Martin Luther is often credited with saying, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” Likewise, buying the shoes with little crosses doesn’t make us any more virtuous. Pepsi is putting a vapid version of little crosses on their boxes. Don’t let them help you fool yourself.

Me, I’ll have an IBC Root Beer.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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2 Responses to Empty spiritual calories, or The choice of the smug generation…

  1. majormaddog says:

    I am also a Coke drinker, although I admit to a fondness for Mountain Dew (and I had an IBC Root beer for dinner last night. Zach did too). I haven’t seen this version of Pepsi in my commissary or my local Safeway in Northern Virginia. Is the ‘O’ reminiscent of the Obama ‘O’? As one of the few liberal readers (so far) in the Professor Mondo world, I’ll say that seems like it’s good solid advertising for the youth of the country who voted in large numbers for the President and who are also more likely to be attracted by the semi-liberal, pro-environmentalist idea inherent in the phrase “Do good.”

    But here’s a question. To me “do good” can be interpreted as a variation on “do unto others…” as well as “an it harm none, do what ye will (do no harm)” except maybe a little more proactive than either of these. Yet I can’t help but read “do good” as appealing to younger, more liberal types, rather than the Christian crowd. Do you folx on the Right see this as close to the golden rule and, if so, isn’t this just good advertising in that it can be interpreted positively within whichever world view the reader happens to have?

  2. profmondo says:

    I suppose it does look like the Obama O, and insofar as Pepsi has historically pitched itself toward young folks (“For those who think young”, “Choice of a new generation”, etc.), you probably have a point as to its effectiveness with that audience. I don’t question that it’s effective advertising — I’m sure it was tested before release and all that good stuff.

    But I think my larger point still stands. As you yourself acknowledged, “Do good” is vague enough to work for anyone — it’s not like the world is filled with people who are consciously trying to be evil by their own standards. And that’s the point, and the problem. If we can’t agree on some definition of good, then what you get is this sort of feeling of “righteousness on the cheap.” And I would argue that people, being what they are, would rather feel virtuous than be virtuous. Being virtuous is hard, after all. If you’re getting an unearned sense of virtue from product identification, it’s ultimately enervating.

    And I’m glad you and the Mad Pup enjoyed the IBCs. I like a drink that worries about my taste buds more than it does my soul.

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