Click link to Coke’s America the Beautiful ad in 7 languages: http://youtu.be/443Vy3I0gJs
THE world has certainly come a long way since I first sang as a child Coke’s Woodstock-inspired TV ad of wanting “to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”
After producing some of the most iconic print and TV commercials for almost a hundred years now, the master of marketing what its critics dismiss as plain sugared water recently found itself in the middle of a firestorm that, in hindsight, reflects the changing makeup of America as well as the world’s unimpeded march towards globalization.
Coke stirred a hornet’s nest after airing its one-minute ad on Superbowl night of “America the Beautiful” rendered in a montage of film clips featuring multiracial children singing the song in seven languages, including English—the original language the patriotic song was written in.
While Filipinos the world over were thrilled after hearing a line of the song sung in Filipino, not a few Americans were either offended or outraged at the seeming sacrilege Coke has inflicted on the very soul of America.
America may be a melting pot of races, cultures, religions and languages, but its “official” language, which dates back to the time of its founding fathers, is still English. (A friend pointed out that nowhere is it stated in US laws that English or any other language, including Navajo, is the official language.)
Others may argue that Spanish has become the country’s second official language unofficially, but the fact remains that people wanting to embrace American citizenship should know a modicum of English come oath-taking time.
It’s only practical on the host country’s part to have immigrants speak a common language for its citizens to be understood and to understand each other. In one word, it’s called assimilation, and I’m all for it. Otherwise, you’re better off staying where you are.
But the irony is, while it may seem unthinkable for relatively homogenous countries like Japan, Thailand and even France to hear their patriotic songs, especially their national anthems, sung in a foreign language, it has become acceptable, as the Coke ad advanced, for Americans to sing “America the Beautiful” in a language other than English.
America at its core
After all, America at its core, unlike the other countries I mentioned, is a land dreamed of, built by and composed of immigrants from various nations and ethnic groupings.
The scale of its ambition is what sets America more than any other immigrant nation like Canada and Australia apart from other countries. In essence, the country’s diversity and openness to embrace strangers in need of a fresh start is both the source of its renewed strength and beauty.
Click link to Coke’s America the Beautiful ad in Filipino: http://youtu.be/yFkKtCank1w
In other words, the Coke ad dared to present what the reality on the ground is: majority of Americans may be speaking in English to understand each other, but a good number of its citizens, especially new immigrants from all corners of the globe, still think, dream and hope in a language other than English.
Whatever language that is, it is the language that best expresses their souls. Coke presented it as it is, and got mixed reactions for its efforts.
More than anything else, the ad, for me, is a symbol of what America has become—more diverse, more multicultural and braver in reaching out to the world at large. It shouldn’t be taken literally, nor should it be viewed as a threat that could tear apart the very fabric of American society. Alarmists are giving the guys at Madison Avenue responsible for making the ad way too much credit.
Farther from reality
Unlike its “America the Beautiful” ad, the supposedly multinational, multiracial cast of its Woodstock-inspired TV ad shot on a hill in Italy almost 50 years ago sang Coke’s jingle in English. Now, which do you think between the two ads is farther from reality?
Reactions to Coke’s newest ad have been varied. I even came across a short online article in the New Yorker titled “Coke’s Wild Assertion That Other Languages Exist Stirs Controversy,” which, a friend pointed out later, is a satire.
For a moment there, I found the story strange because it is no wild assertion that other languages exist and are spoken (widely in the case of Spanish) by big groups of people in America.
Arriving in Los Angeles and Miami’s airports alone is perhaps like being transported to cleaner, more modern versions of Tijuana and Havana, respectively, because of the prevalence of both spoken and written Spanish. Nearly all English signs have Spanish translations.
During a journalism fellowship I attended in LA a few years ago, an American anthropologist told us that there are some elderly people in the Korean part of the city who get by without speaking a single word of English.
Since their world revolves around LA’s Koreatown, they simply let their English-speaking children and grandchildren reach out and communicate to the outside world for them.
How these people managed to become American citizens by refusing and/or being unable to learn the language of their adopted country is a big question mark to me.
But if America is a beautiful idea and a ground-breaking albeit still evolving experiment in humankind’s history, Coke, through its controversial Superbowl ad, might have merely presented, to borrow one of its oft-repeated catchphrases in the past, the “real thing.”
Click link to Coke’s I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing ad: