Friday, August 31, 2012

The Rhetoric of Dr. Pepper

This Dr. Pepper commercial presents the many contradictions of individualism under capitalism and it furthermore underscores the relation of visual and verbal rhetoric. The commercial is unified by a song from a Broadway musical (made popular by Sammy Davis Jr.) called “I gotta be me.” The song basically says that I have to be “me” no matter what my conditions of life. But the song is actually a remake of Davis’ song by Ryan Tedder, so already the song is not “unique” to Dr. Pepper at least in terms of its use (in other words, it is not the recognizable McDonal’s jingle—you know what I am talking about). Not to mention, perhaps even more interesting, is that the same song song is sung by Duffy in a 2009 Diet Coke commercial (Coca Cola company, of course, owning Dr. Pepper).

Through this song, though, Dr. Pepper feeds our sense of uniqueness, even to footnoting the video exhorting the reader to tell Dr. Pepper makes you unique.

The levels of irony of the commercial, so far as the presentation goes, are many. For one, the slogan “one of a kind,” in common parlance, means that you are unique, but “one of a kind” could mean just that: one of a particular kind – one more species of that particular genus; in this case, the genus would be Dr. Pepper fans – they are all united under the one corporation. Of course, Dr. Pepper is also “one of a kind” as it is one of the many drinks produced by Coca-Cola. Thus, this slogan actually reveals its unconscious: you are one of a kind under Coca-Cola.

The verbal/auditory rhetoric of “one of a kindness” is also undermined by the visual. The commercial begins with several people, all dressed differently, walking out of some mode of transit and then it comes over the guy that he should shed his work clothes and show his Dr. Pepper pride. The Dr. Pepper shirt, although each one contains a different statement, always contains maroon and white; even the so called “rebel” of the piece has just inverted the colors of the shirt and the text of a particular font (the font doesn’t change). On the one hand, there is something unifying about this as people drop whatever they are doing, show the monolithic colored shirts (as opposed to the diverse clothes—granted, also owned by corporations) they were wearing a minute ago, and congregate – for what?  -- we really aren’t sure. It seems like everyone is just congregating for the sake of jouissance (or, literally, because that’s what the director’s of the ad want them to do – these people are not “being them” by any means).

Thus, the visual presentation already undermines the statements of “individuality” that are marked on their T-shirts. But then again, so is the syntax of these statements, which is “I’m a x.” What the “x” is varies – for the most part, it seems to express their personalities that are expressed within whatever practice they happen to be engaging in. So, the woman that has “I am a cougar,” we assume, is pursuing the first guy who stripped to his Dr. Pepper shirt. The man playing chess says “I’m a beginner.” The man running with the cybernetic leg is inscribed as “I’m a fighter.” This cuts to two twins jumping rope who both have inscribed on their (identical) shirt “I’m a one and only.”

The irony is that nothing written on their T-shirts makes them unique whatsoever. They are declarative statements of general qualities (such as the “control freak”) that also reflects their current activity. Visually, syntactically, and conceptually, none of these people have anything unique about them except the very fact that they are all singular individuals (a singularity that cannot be marked or written) who have a different view of the world. But this is masked by the writing on their bodies, transforming them into an undifferentiated mass coming together to celebrate Dr. Pepper.

It should also be noted that it seems like many of these people are walking out of either a government building or a college institution. Not in order to protest its administration or to work toward changing it, but as a retreat into the innocent jouissance of the corporation. How incredibly symbolic of the move away from the importance of public institutions of knowledge and research to corporate logic of a false individualism and independence.

The very last image we get is not of a unified mob with a purpose (which would hint at the possibility of revolution) but the guy inseminating a woman who hasn’t shed her coat to reveal her inner “pepper” just yet by giving her a sip of his Dr. Pepper.  It’s conversion, mating ritual, and branding all at once – her shirt reveals “I’m a pepper.” At this moment, she has marked her body as the commodity in a way that is even more explicit (although implicit) in all of the other T-shirts in the commercial. 

This is a representation of the violent virus of writing on the body – an illusion of uniqueness that erases the possibility of other diverse idioms. The idiom is one font, in English, saturated by only two colors.  

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