John Styth Pemberton’s Real Thing – 3am

Back to Blighty, past 3am and I can’t sleep – good, so that’s back to normal then. Jet lag is the real thing.

But the real thing is coke. Aren’t you glad that ain’t true. I like those Cola slogans from the past: In 1896 the company’s slogan was ‘Coca-Cola: a brain tonic for women and children’. In 1944 as GIs were marching up the road to Rome, killing fascists and handing out nylons, the slogan was ‘Coke: Universal Symbol of the American way of Life’. In the 1960s: ‘Coke is it’ – wow man. And in an apocryphal story (I guess – its also sometimes said of Pepsi in China) there was a northern Thai dialect that did not have abstract nouns and so everything had to be contextualised – someone’s hope, Miller time etc – and so the literal translation for the slogan ‘Coke Adds Life’ came out brilliantly as ‘Coke brings your ancestors back from the dead’.

Now Humphrey McQueen has a fine book on Coca Cola called The Essence of Capitalism which I’d happily recomend, but I got the slogans from a helpful little text in German that goes on about nefarious links between Santa and the corporation (see the story about the Sundblom ad of 1931; but also see Snopes for a technical critique of the suggestion that Coke invented the jolly red giant who – as I think we could gloss it – teaches kids to love capitalism).

I remember visiting a temple in Northern Thailand once and at a stall inside the temple grounds, selling coke from specially ‘donated’ coke frigidaires, I spoke to a Coke executive who was on holiday and he related the then company ambition to get Chinese Cola consumption levels up to the level of Australian consumption of a litre per person a year. This would then yield more profit than American consumption, which was an 8 Oz bottle per person per day (late 1980s) . I am not sure what is the scarier statistic, the one about American consumption, or that the exec said that Coke’s only competition in China was water.

But most recently the campaign against Coca Cola and its corporate crimes has taken off in India, and elsewhere. And with good reason… As the cat Felix Guattari said it: “it is clear that the third world does not really ‘exchange’ its labour and its riches for crates of Coca-Cola… It is aggressed and bled to death by the intrusion of dominant economies.” (Guattari 1996:238). cited in Souvenirs.

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