Red, White, and Everywhere

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America, I have a confession to make: I don’t drink Coke. But don’t call me a hypocrite just because I am still the proud owner of a bright red shirt that advertises it. Just call me an American. Even before setting foot in Israel three years ago, I knew exactly where I could find one. The tiny T-shirt shop in the central block of Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street did offer other designs, but the one with a bright white “Drink Coca-Cola Classic” written in Hebrew cursive across the chest was what drew in most of the dollar-carrying tourists. While waiting almost twenty minutes for my shirt (depicted in Fig. 1), I watched nearly every customer ahead of me ask for “the Coke shirt, todah rabah [thank you very much].” Fig. 1. Hebrew Coca-Cola T-shirt, personal photograph by author, 8 Sept. 2004. At the time, I never thought it strange that I wanted one, too. After having absorbed sixteen years of Coca-Cola propaganda through everything from NBC’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup to the concession stand at Camden Yards (the Baltimore Orioles’ ballpark), I associated the shirt with singing along to the “Just for the Taste of It” jingle and with America’s favorite pastime, not with a brown fizzy beverage I refused to consume. When I later realized the immensity of Coke’s corporate power, I felt somewhat duped and manipulated, but that didn’t stop me from wearing the shirt. I still don it often, despite the growing hole in the right sleeve, because of its power as a conversation piece. Few Americans notice it without asking something like “Does that say Coke?” I usually smile and nod. Then they mumble a one-word compliment and we go our separate ways. But rarely do they want to know what language the internationally recognized logo is written in. And why should they? They are interested in what they can relate to as Americans: a familiar red-and-white logo, not a foreign language. Through nearly a century of brilliant advertising strategies, the...
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