Coke-A-Cola did a famous ad back in 1971. I did not have the pleasure of being born yet, but fortunately there’s youtube where any piece of historical multimedia is available at the push of a button.The piece was done on top a hill in Italy, where a group comprised of different ethnicities and dressed in an assortment of cultural clothing, assembled and began singing about that wonderful crisp beverage, Coke. Interestingly enough, you’ll notice that lyrically the song has really nothing to do with a soft drink or more less any particular product. It’s a peculiar jingle, and I jingle I think quite relevant concerning theory in international relations.
Today, the United States has all the old traits of hard power in characterizing itself as a hegemon on the international scene. Respectively, it has an economy that comprises one quarter of the world’s GDP. Its military capacity, most particularly its navy and air force, surpass any other nation’s on earth, even combined. It has plenty of natural resources for its own self-sufficiency. And it is perhaps no coincidence that on account of its physical geographic characteristics, America too enjoys a robust political system based on checks and balances, and a decentralized federation.
Yet, despite basic principles which have been the blue print for hegemony since the conception of the nation state, these ones mentioned do not comprise the true reasons as to why the United States enjoys an unprecedented global influence. That reason lies in its dynamic culture.
McDonald’s, Paris Hilton, Apple computers, and Nike shoes may all be held in discontent by our European predecessors who regard themselves as culturally superior in comparison to America, but what American culture has that great cuisine and cobble stone roads can’t compare with- is the sheer brilliance of American ambiguity. What is it to be an American? What does an American look like? What is the American way of life? These question are left open ended on this continent, while a ways away in Europe, these question have well defined, and very old complex definitions.
The French know what it is to be French, and when a gentleman immigrates from Turkey to live in Paris, he will never be a Frenchman, he’ll always remain a Turk, a foreigner, an outsider i.e. “not one of us.” But in America that Turk is an American. He may be a “visible minority”, or barely speak english, but in the eyes of the state he is a citizen, and an equal.1 He is not assimilated, but rather through adopting a way of life through a subtle manor, a synthesis of cultures takes place. He is no longer a Turk living in America, but a Turkish American.
This continent is the only place on earth where that idea is embraced by the state as a fundamental virtue; the idea being you are not born what you are, but you are who you become, and that is truly a beautiful liberal virtue. America gives the world a sanctuary, it gives the world a home
In the technocratic age however, the world is changing. Of course there is nothing new under the sun, but different contexts leads to a difference in how nature is performed. America’s cultural superiority is not simply because it comprises an equilibrium of material and ideal values, but because of its now unprecedented reach.
A hundred years ago, if you lived in the global south, and wanted to be exposed to the most “technologically advanced” society at that time (Great Britain), you’d a had to of lived near a port, or an important city centre, where government officials, bureaucrats, soldiers, and just foreigners in general flocked. It was there in these centres where these people were exposed to the hegemonies’ ideas; notions like the nation state, parliamentary democracy, and sovereignty. Today however, the system of connections is far more intertwined, and intense. Today if you live in the global south, turn on a T.V., a computer, go to the store, and instantly you are overwhelmed with that hegemon’s culture and more importantly, its values.
The technological innovations made in the latter half of the 20th century have essentially turned the American dream on its head, to a point no longer where it is something innately American, but the world’s- a Global dream. This ad made back in 1971 by Coke-a-Cola both lyrically, and cinematically encapsulates this assumption. (I cannot stress that you should watch this clip, the lyrics are only half the magic)
Lyrics like: I'd like to buy the world a home
And furnish it with love
I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company
That's the real thing.
What the world wants today
Is the real thing
This “teaching the world to sing”, or “furnishing the world with love” being sung by a diverse bunch who wish to exaggerate their culture through their ensemble is really an over embellished market interested representation that is indirectly spreading America’s ambiguous values around the world. It is important to note however, that this projection is not done intentionally, nor formally by the state, but rather through individuals acting in their own rational interests, beyond the levels of the state. In this case, a private company whose interest is to increase its market to a global scale back in the 1970’s.
It is also worth highlighting that this ad also undermines the assumptions of the state, in that this was one of the early commercialized showings of a common bought Western product now moving beyond the confines of just one market in one state to the entire world market. The idea being that it is no longer just Americans who drink coke- People drink coke. (A subtle gesture deconstructing the concept of nationality, while under the guise of commercializing an iconic Western product.)
I was watching one of Rick Steve’s PBS travel shows while he was backpacking in Iran. One of the particular undervalued aspects of Iran exposed by Steve in the documentary was how Western in fact a country was at its micro level, despite all its anti-Western antagonism pandered on by its ruling elite. In downtown Tehran, under their impious loosely worn veils, are women dressed in blue jeans, talking about the latest episode of Sex and the City, and drinking Coke-A-Cola. Friedman stated that the world is now flat, that barriers of isolation which once kept communities factionalized and hostile, have become less relevant due to the increased intertwining of interests concerning their mutual economic well being, (all heavily based on the efficiency of technology). But the ridding of barriers which once decreased the speed of communication, allows for a hegemon’s culture (one comprised of values as opposed to ethnicity) to find itself in an easier position of subtle but significant influence.
Alexis de Tocqueville famously noted that increased interaction leads to emulation. I cannot help but notice that the world is becoming more American. Maybe it’s because the world’s flat, or the magnitude of the US economy, but I think there is something to appreciate in that the current hegemon’s culture is one for the promotion of the human rationale, liberty as an individual, to own what one has earned, and most importantly, free from any devotion to a strictly defined identify (most particularly an ethnic one which has constrained so many states).
Nevertheless, today the United States has found itself in a perpetual amount of problems concerning its international relations. According to renowned political scientist and former US National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brezenski, the most important concern and unprecedented aspect in contemporary International relations is the developing world which has recently become politically awakened over the latter part of the last century. And with these new consciousness has come deep rifts of resentment due to historical narratives which are filled with Western exploitation. The West has now found itself between a rock and a hard place; finding itself more isolated on the international scene, and with their eyes on a future that seems bleak.
Like the awakened and upset underclasses in 18th Century France, who banged on the gates of Versailles and demanded bread and rights, the new emerging world of the global south has found itself with a similar but more crucial hunger and demand. The demand for accountable governments, economic growth, and societal stability, fundamentals founded in, and taken for granted for in the West. So as the emerging world finds itself banging on the doors of the old, and demanding the treasures it houses inside, and while the West ponders time and again “Oh What is to be done?” I say to them with an ironic twist: “Let them drink coke!”