For a while I thought it might be admirable if I took some time to actually live in one of those friendly Texas towns rather than just pass through in order to add colour and variety to my narrative and heap scorn upon the locals. Jerkville is closer to a Southern town than the dried out Old West ones you imagine in Texas; it was once a bustling centre of trade which revolved around the river and the ferries, all until that dried up and the railway companies in the 1900s decided to circumvent it, quite arbitrarily, so the whole town died at once. After a long process of conning I was given a house that had belonged to an old lady, not recently deceased – in fact the house had been standing empty for over a year while her family in Arkansas debated what to do with it – whether one tarted it up and rented it out or knocked it over and sold the lot, it was pretty much worthless whichever way you looked at it. At first appearance it didn’t look so bad, though – behind a tall, leaning, picket fence with only every second rail loose – a little lemon-coloured wooden house with period sconces and a bay window in front – under a blue sky, a Spring breeze, and the magnolia bush in the front yard dropping massive, pink flowers onto the red brick path; magnolia flowers are so improbably shaped and huge and thick they almost look like they’re made of paper. Inside the walls were lavender, and the yard out back was empty and square and flat, pinned out with geometric perfection, like a lawn for bowls; there was nothing by way of flora except a lemon tree in the back left corner, by a pile of refuse (red bricks); old people always like to have lemon trees, but I can’t see why; one requires the rind of a lemon about once a year; most of the time the fruit turns brown on the trees, or rots beneath it, where the rats eat it, and there’s a continuous deadly hum of bees, so you shouldn’t go near, or even reach in to pick the flowers; to make lemonade seems like the sweet and simple thing only someone truly mad would do, like lawn bowls (as above) and riding the trolley to the end of the line just to see where it goes. The family of the old lady who had owned the house abounded with tales such as these.
For a few days I enjoyed the idea of the little yellow house; it looked picturesque when I sat in the yard, at the furthest point, to see the house like Dorothy’s homestead in Kansas with a mountain of clouds piling up in the blueness above it; I smoked ceaselessly and was careful to grind my fag ends out lest I set the place on fire. Then one day as I stared at the wall in my bedroom I realised that the paint was not lavender after all but grey; the walls had simply picked the colour up from the purple bedspread when the sun came in in the afternoon. Nevermind (thought I), though you have to wonder what kind of nihilist would choose grey paint out of all of the possible permutations of the rainbow they can mix up for you at the general store.
Let us just take a refreshing pause as we consider this Valkyrie on her modern-day horse; she is gorgeously pink and pleasantly dimpled and in so many ways a Titian vision of blonde loveliness ‘that could make a bishop kick in a stained-glass window’. Coke has crow-barred itself into this picture of joy and with its official stamp positioned itself as the preeminent consideration in the entirely spurious “Coke + beautiful woman = happiness” equation. Unfortunately adorning a product with a woman is no new trick and a marketing technique unlikely to lose its attraction any time soon; sidebar this lowest-common-denominator approach to advertising has also inflamed various kinds of terrible social problems by unintentionally reinforcing the equally spurious “woman = product” idea. While we take another refreshing pause in order to allow time for the blood to return to your brain I would like to casually suggest that advertising works by coupling the product it is trying to sell with something (abstract) that you actually want; and that the repetition of the same message over time establishes what seems like a ‘natural’ link between the two. Eventually we start thinking in shorthand; from “Coke + fantastically beautiful woman + fairground + holiday = happiness”, we collapse the equation:
“Coke […] = happiness.”
Sex, love, youth, happiness, friendship, freedom, Victory, (“one people, one nation,” if you live in Nazi Germany) and the “Carry On” motto of the British in WW2; Coke has corralled all of these magnificent, abstract things in order to peddle its sombre draught. Of all of these evidently desirable things, a bottle of Coke is the only one that you can actually buy; and so we do. This is exactly the public relations technique that Edward Bernays (a nephew of Freud) theorised and was an expert of: appealing to irrational, unconscious desires in order to direct and control the behaviour of the masses.
The point I am eventually going to make if I ever stop getting distracted by the pictures (notice pretty fraulein with proffered face, breasts and tray in order of consideration) is that while companies like Coke are in the end only trying to sell us 5 cent bottles of syrupy carbonated water, with over a century’s worth of relentless propaganda it’s fair to say that we have not only been irretrievably charmed by their witch’s brew but also allowed them to define for us incredibly important concepts such as: “happiness”; “friendship” (Share a Coke with…) ; “the good things in life”; “quality family time” and indeed all “sunny and pleasant things”; that which is “home-like”; “purity and quality”; “leisure” and “refreshment” — even “health” (Coca-Cola revives and sustains, apparently; it has some undeniable yet indefinable connection to sports in any case) — in the same way that we allowed Coke to determine the way that we picture Saint Nicholas.
Coke has even bought shares in “democracy”. In the twenties and thirties Coke and all kinds of mass-manufactured products came to be thought of as a truly democratic thing: the standardisation and modern, effective methods of distribution meant any one and everyone, born high and low, from movie stars and fashionable sophisticates to okies in their old jalopy and young drifters like Bonnie and Clyde, from Fatty Arbuckle and his unfortunate paramour to the King of England — anyone could enjoy a bottle of delicious, refreshing Coca-Cola for 5 cents and know it was the same purity and quality as the one the other fellow was drinking. It was even possible for the refreshment of 5 cent Cokes to follow American soldiers around the globe during WWII — same as the Betty Grable pin-up. It is precisely this popular, ‘democratic’ appeal (and one-size-fits-all approach to international relations) which made the Coca-Cola Company extraordinarily successful and awesomely rich, and terrifyingly powerful, a lot like omniscient Santa with his ever-watchful twinkling eyes and comprehensive list of children who have been naughty or nice; those good children he leaves Coke-bottle-shaped presents for and those bad ones he brings litigation against.
Read Next: You Ought To Drink Less Coke, QED (Part Four)