The Real Thing

May 24, 2015

Blogging again this week from Schiphol. It seems I’ve missed two of the great denouements of the decade. One would be David Letterman and the other would be Don Draper. Of Dave I could say that his decision to drop watermelons from great heights back in the 1980s was my inspiration to get into food ethics. It wouldn’t be strictly true, but I could say it. Of Don Draper I could say that although I didn’t catch the last episode of Mad Men, I did hear that it ended with the famous “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” Coca-Cola commercial. Now that does seem like a tie in to food ethics.

If school were in session (and I weren’t in Amsterdam) I’d poll my MSU undergraduates to see how many of them have seen this iconic bit of advertising. Coca-Cola will gladly play the thing again for you at the website attached to this link. For the link challenged, I’ll say that it starts out with a girl singing, “I’d like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love. Grow apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtle dove.” It goes on with some ideas about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony before getting to the point, to wit: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company.”

We could say something about the racial make-up of this assembly of young people that Coca-Cola put “on a hilltop in in Italy”. They’re not ALL white but they are assuredly disproportionately white. But perhaps that would be an ungracious way to remember the 1970s.

After some nice counterpoint repetitions of this, this mostly-white crowd of twenty-somethings breaks into the more familiar “It’s the real thing.” Coke jingle. At least it was more familiar back in 1971. The way I remember it going was “It’s the real thing. In the back of your mind, what you’re hoping to find is the real thing.” Although it would not be true to say that Dave dropping watermelons inspired me to do food ethics, it might indeed be true to say that listening to those Coke jingles sparked my interest in ontology. Both readers remember ontology, don’t you? That riff we did last year about whether small farms are real farms?

Although it might well be true that my entire generation was inspired into their respective career choices by 1960s food and drink advertising, the advice that what I was hoping to find was the real thing (so go study philosophy, you idiot) would have had a totally subliminal effect. I didn’t actually realize how strongly I had been affected until I started watching Mad Men.

But when I went back and played the famous hilltop commercial (the link is still there above, if you’re curious), there was none of this “what you’re hoping to find” stuff, at all. Rather it goes like this: “It’s the real thing. What the world wants today … is the real thing.” Not just what I’m hoping to find, mind you. It’s what the entire world wants today!

So hopefully I’ve inspired you, now, too, if only subliminally. Go out and have a Coke if you must, but for that weekly ontology fix, keep on coming right on back to the Thornapple blog. We will probe the textures and folds of reality and all its simulacra. We’ll do it weekly and we’ll fill the back of your mind with all the tasty bits that will satisfy your longings for thingness. Count on it! And hey, can somebody fll me in on the Letterman show?

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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