Whether or not you stayed up with America last night for an evening of adverts, Lady Gaga, celebrity spotting and, allegedly, some sport, chances are you woke up today to social media feeds and news articles full of Budweiser, Airbnb and Coca Cola. These are the multi-million pound international brands able to part with 5 million dollars for a prime-time advertising slot during the Super Bowl, America’s most-watched television event. They’re also the brands being hailed today as champions of the left for their ‘brave and bold’ challenges to the division and inequality brought to the fore by a Trump presidency.
Numerous articles, tweets and Facebook posts have shared in this celebratory atmosphere today, praising Budweiser’s tale of its German immigrant founder’s journey to America, Coke’s assertion that ‘together is beautiful’ and Airbnb’s multi-cultural collage of diversity, fading out to the hashtag ‘#weaccept’. Big brands using the world’s largest platform to stand up to hate, goes the thinking; what’s not to love? But while the ads are certainly effective, and a tempting antidote to a newsfeed full of despair, real opponents of Trump and the oppression he represents should think twice before clicking share.
For starters, this rhetoric isn’t even really new, let alone revolutionary. It’s the same imagery drawn upon in Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign, in mainstream equality campaigns such as HeForShe, and in UK adverts like Amazon Prime’s 2016 TV ad featuring an Imam and Priest bolstering their friendship over a mutual love of next-day delivery. These messages speak the language of liberalism, obscuring the real enemies by tiptoeing vaguely around terms like ‘love’, ‘hate’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘unity’ instead of acknowledging that the situation we find ourselves in now is explicitly about power, authority and structures which will more quickly be overthrown through protest and resistance than rainbow coloured cupcakes and smiling at your local Asian shopkeeper.
More pertinently though, the fact is that multi-million pound international brands are not the allies of anti-inequality movements. This isn’t a case of an imperfect vehicle, but of a reality where the sustained dominance of huge billionaire corporations is mutually exclusive with the liberation of the oppressed. Crucially, corporations are far more likely to benefit from such marginalisation than to oppose it in any meaningful way. Take the example of any number of high street clothes shops profiting from the underpaid and dangerous labour of sweatshop workers in the global south, or Nestle adding to a catalogue of abuses by emblazoning their packaging with ‘Fairtrade’ commitments whilst using child labour to stockpile ingredients which threaten rainforests and the livelihood of indigenous people around them. The brands featured in the Superbowl last night are similarly guilty; while Coke’s message of togetherness played out across America, water pumping stations across rural India extracted gallons of drinkable water for its products at the expense of local people who rely on it for survival.
In actual fact it would be possible to write a whole article (or book) listing the multitude of ways in which global corporations benefit from exploitation and inequality, but to do so would be missing the point; that this isn’t a coincidence or a case of individual evil companies, but a central tenet in the maintenance of a capitalist society that relies on such inequality. Just as multimillionaire tax-avoiding Donald Trump convinced America that he was an anti-establishment champion of the working class, global brands make use of their endless resources to paint themselves as liberal gatekeepers, reaping the reward through profit and all the while benefitting from their bedfellow’s election into the world’s highest political office.
The focus for the left and proponents of equality, then, has to be on the structural and not solely the individual. Championing immigration and opposing state brutality; fighting for workers’ rights and against tax injustice. These priorities don’t sit easily next to celebrating big business – not just because their aims differ from ours, but because they are our natural targets for such protest.
In a world where the news is best viewed through your fingers and the scale of our problems feels so overwhelming, it’s easy to want to align immediately with anything that appears to feel the same way you do. But we won’t oppose the likes of Trump effectively by talking about the size of our hearts or painting murals of rainbows, and we certainly won’t win by cosying up with the enemy. Contrary to popular belief, love doesn’t trump hate. And extending too much of it to your opponents doesn’t trump anything at all.