Anne T. Donahue on the Pepsi Implosion: Where's Kendall's Apology?

Pepsi apologized to Jenner, for “putting her in this position,” but as Anne T. Donahue argues, the supermodel should be asking for forgiveness too

by
Should Kendall Jenner make an apology, post-Pepsi?
(Photograph: Getty Images)

This week, we learned what happens when a brand implodes. Issuing a tone-deaf, offensive and embarrassing ad, Pepsi trivialized the issue of police brutality—with the help of a can-toting Kendall Jenner.

And understandably, people were angry. So angry that after less than 24 hours of being dragged on the internet, Pepsi pulled the ad and issued an apology—to Kendall Jenner.

“Clearly, we missed the mark and we apologize,” the brand said in a statement. “We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

Which brings up a few interesting questions: Is Kendall Jenner owed an apology? (Absolutely not.) Is she a willing adult who was complicit in the creation of this commercial? (Yes.) Did she have a chance to opt out of a campaign once she realized that it simultaneously trivialized and capitalized on life and death? (For sure.)

And the biggest question of all: When will Kendall issue her own apology, whether for her involvement or her complacency? Or, is that too much to expect?

In this post-Trump climate, we’ve been treated to a lot of tone-deaf political statements from Hollywood. Most recently, Susan Sarandon appeared on The Late Show and told host Stephen Colbert that in the wake of President 45, American citizens have never been more “energized.”

Which is true, considering that in his two months in office, Trump has effectively ripped human rights out of human hands and incited fear and panic among, well, every person. And that might seem “energizing” to a woman like Sarandon (who championed Green Party candidate Jill Stein) and isn’t living in fear of being deported or targeted by white supremacists. Just like Jenner has yet to acknowledge the privilege that goes along with being a thin, white woman entirely able to cross protest lines so she could hand an armed officer a carbonated soft drink. Then again, with so much privilege accompanying celebrity culture, should we even care what celebrities think?

Related: At Least 8 Reasons Why Kendall’s Pepsi Ad Was All Kinds of Wrong

It’s easy to argue no, especially when you consider actors like Matthew McConaughey saying “it’s time for us to embrace Trump” during a British talk show interview, or the way Jimmy Fallon seemingly feels just as comfortable roasting Trump now as he did playfully tousling his hair prior to the election. Clearly, both instances allude to a precipice between Fallon and McConaughey’s own realities and the ones endured by millions of non-famous Americans who are being very directly, very negatively impacted by Trump. Just like how Taylor Swift survived the election season without being publicly political at all—which you can argue goes hand in hand with the type of privilege that bred 53 percent of white women voting for Donald Trump in the first place. (Not that anyone here is saying that’s how Taylor Swift voted, but to appear apolitical is a luxury.)

But at the same time, we’re also seeing celebrities exercise their profiles for good. Mark Ruffalo has spent years as an activist, rallying most recently for clean drinking water in Flint, Michigan, and protesting the Dakota Pipeline. America Ferrera was a chair of the Women’s March on Washington, Alicia Keys is the co-founder of Keep a Child Alive, Shailene Woodley was arrested for her part in the Dakota Pipeline protests. Brie Larson crusades for sexual assault survivors. Janelle Monae is an active participant in the Black Lives Matter movement. These acts are good and they raise awareness and their impacts should not be dismissed under the same logic that might make it OK to look the other way from Sarandon and Fallon and McConaughey and Swift. Moreover they’re also exactly what you should be doing if you’re a famous person, and what should be expected of you if you have a platform on which to speak and to share your thoughts. It’s just that some ideas—like some people—are ignorant and completely obtuse. It’s just that sometimes, a company like Pepsi will confuse relevance with hijacking political and social movements, and a celebrity like Kendall Jenner will get on board seemingly without a second thought.

Related: All the Times the Kardashians Were So, So Tone-Deaf

And in those instances, it’s disappointing. It’s disappointing that everyone in Kamp Kardashian thought participating in that Pepsi campaign would be a good idea for Kendall and the family brand. It’s disappointing that someone like Susan Sarandon still can’t fathom how what’s “energizing” to her might be “panic-inducing” to virtually everybody else in the world. It’s disappointing that Matthew McConaughey doesn’t understand that a particular type of privilege allows him to be OK with going with the political flow. And, as consumers of culture, it’s okay for us to be disappointed.

And it’s okay to call them out. Learning requires the acknowledgement of and the apologizing for mistakes (among other things), and to be famous or to boast a gargantuan number of Twitter followers does not make one immune to criticism—particularly if what that someone is saying or doing can hurt someone.

So ultimately, no: it’s not unfair to hope for celebrities to educate themselves to the point of understanding the realities of the world we live in. In fact, it’d be unfair if we didn’t hold them to the same standards we hold ourselves. It’d be unfair if we assumed that they chose to exist in a bubble or that they embraced their privilege without questioning why it exists and who it doesn’t exist for. Which is why Kendall Jenner owes us an apology: she’s a grown-up. And I don’t want to be unfair and assume that she wasn’t smart enough to stop and ask if what she was doing was wrong.

Related:
From Maclean’s: Pepsi’s Ad Was Tone-Deaf, and Since It Came From Pepsi, Logical
All the Times the Kardashians Were So, So Tone-Deaf
Hey, Russell Peters, Your Junos Jokes Were the Actual Worst

Filed under:

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

FLARE - Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to FLARE Need to Know for smart, sassy, no-filter takes on everything you're interested in—including style, culture & current events, plus special offers—sent straight to your inbox each day. Sign up here.