Going for America: Coke, “America the Beautiful” (2014) and Chevrolet, “The Heartbeat of America” (1990s)

* SUPER BOWL SPECIAL *

A politically divisive sign of the times, here is Coke’s beautifully multicultural “America the Beautiful” ad shown during Super Bowl 2014:

We’re told that the languages used are English, Spanish, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese French, Hebrew, Mandarin, Keres Pueblo, and Arabic (although you may not be able to hear all of these in any one version).

The most beautiful quality of the montage is that it doesn’t seem like a pageant of types.[1] It tosses in identity markers but captures a sense of pervasive normality in what people like to do or in how they address us. It lets the individual subjects breathe in their various ways without having to be emblematic. I particularly like the guy at 0:33. You instantly feel that he comes from some kind of background, and you may be able to guess which, but that question also feels very secondary; primarily he looks like an interesting fellow citizen.

As a thesis on American culture, I’m taking the ad to be on the Melting Pot rather than Salad Bowl side.

In 1991, Coke projected America this way [!]:

And compare Chevrolet’s “Heartbeat of America” campaign. These Chevy ads are the strongest examples of a visual style that was popular in the 90’s, with lots of extreme telephoto shots making people and cars look billboard-monumental. Back then I thought it was corny, but now it looks magnificent.

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[1] Except: we start with the excessively typical American cowboy. What’s the force of that? Is the cowboy sharing his purple mountains and fruited plains with others? Or are we on a journey outward from the cowboy cliché into contemporary reality?

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
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