The Left may be fractured, but thankfully
corporations are taking up the banner of revolution.

Candace Mui

For the last few years, many people on the Right have placed the
Left stuck in a quagmire, without a real message and adrift without
a leader. Seemingly without significant power and still stinging
from questions over their patriotism, left-leaning people have been
hesitant to offer a powerful vision opposed to President Bush.
Corporations however, have not only offered a different vision,
they have almost universally gone so far as to advocate an
abandonment of our capitalist society.

Tired of a world in which bland culture and boring ideas ruled,
Hewlett Packard lashed out at the ideals of free trade and the
inevitability of capitalism and reminded us to, “Invent
— everything is possible.” The academic world was
captivated by the assertions of Francis Fukuyama, who confidently
stated capitalism was now the only legitimate way of organizing
society and that therefore we had reached, “the end of
history.” The Mazda automobile company was not so adoring. In
a stunning rebuttal to Fukuyama, Mazda argued that we needed to
“rethink what is possible.” Mazda was not alone in its
criticism — Apple Computer also gave Fukuyama a rhetorical
slap in the face with its far reaching “Think
Different” campaign.

When Bush told the world after Sept. 11 that you are either
“with us or against us,” and Press Secretary Ari
Fleischer warned that we “need to watch what we say, watch
what we do,” many leftists quieted their dissent out of
respect for the trying times our nation faced. Corporate America
only increased its attacks. It wasn’t long before these true
revolutionaries again rose up and fought off these assaults on the
Left. Cooper Tire led the way and told the Left to remain true and
reminded us: “Don’t give up a thing.” Progressive
Insurance was even more explicit with its counter to Bush. Its
“Think easier, Think Progressive,” slogan refused to
buy into the “with us or against us” dichotomy and
sought to create more safe spaces for dissent.

Nonetheless, leftist activists were slow to follow corporate
America in dissent against the status quo. Frustrated with the
Left’s unwillingness to move toward a better world with
social justice, corporate advertisers tested new slogans, designed
not to attack the Right, but to motivate the Left. This shift from
negative “attack” ads to a more positive coalition
building message is blatant in Home Depot ads. “You can do it
— We can help,” the ads said, and the message was
clear: Home Depot and the rest of the corporate world was ready to
take on global capitalism, but they needed popular grassroots
support. Gatorade seemed a little more doubtful at the potential of
citizens to rise up, wondering, “Is it in you?”
Enterprise car rental seemed primed to act as the vanguard for the
movement, promising that “We’ll pick you up.” The
new erection drug Cialis urged people look at themselves and see if
they were truly committed to revolution, asking “Will you be
ready when the time is right?” To the common people who
thought standing up for the Left was only for leaders and big
corporations, Nicoderm had the answer, “You’re not a
superhero —you don’t need to be.”

Wall Street and capitalism were prime targets for corporate
America’s attack on the system. While Winston cigarette ads
were obvious attacks on Wall Street, (“Leave the Bull
behind,”) other corporations were more subtle. TD Waterhouse,
in a line straight from Karl Marx reminded the proletariat that
power rested with the people, saying that, “You’re in
control.” McDonalds argued for a greater role for labor
unions and a reduced work week, asking, “Have you had your
break today?” American Express demanded higher wages and an
end to sweatshops, with posters reading, “Make life
rewarding.”

Well-versed in revolutionary language, corporations were
reminded of Emma Goldman’s famous quote that, “If I
can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.” Worried
that too many on the Left saw revolution as not about a better,
more vibrant world, Carnival Cruiselines rolled out a simplistic
but effective message that, (revolution is) “just more
fun.” Celebrating the joy that would follow a massive leftist
uprising, McDonalds saw the tide of activism and awareness and
declared, “I’m lovin’ it.” Not to be
outdone, Wendy’s staked out a position as a leader already
firmly outed as a revolutionary spirit and from its vantage point
declared that “It’s better here.”

The leaders of this worldwide revolutionary message are without
doubt Electronic Arts, Chevrolet and Nike. Their slogans, taken
together clearly spell out what needs to happen: “Challenge
everything.” “Start a Revolution” —
“Just do it.”

Piskor can be reached at
“mailto:jpiskor@umich.edu”>jpiskor@umich.edu.

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