Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Jefferson or Big Macs

The President's Four Pilliars strategy that comprise the Bush Doctrine to win the war against Islamic terrorism are identified and expounded upon in Norman Podhoretz's World War IV. In essence, President Bush is bringing the war to the terrorists, and bringing democracy to the Middle East. Rather than playing defense and containment, the President is taking a formerly liberal position by exporting the values of democracy---Thomas Jefferson's army, in a sense.

Then there are events such as this at the Athens Olympics: No Pepsi and only the Golden Arches at the Olympics

...organizers of the Athens games have warned spectators that they could be barred for taking a surreptitious sip of Pepsi or an illicit bite from a Burger King Whopper...

Strict regulations published by Athens 2004 last week dictate that spectators may be refused admission to events if they are carrying food or drinks made by companies that did not see fit to sponsor the games.

Sweltering sports fans who seek refuge from the soaring temperatures with a soft drink other than one made by Coca-Cola will be told to leave the banned refreshment at the gates or be shut out. High on the list of blacklisted beverages is Pepsi, but even the wrong bottle of water could land spectators in trouble.

Fans will be allowed into the Olympic complex if they are drinking Avra, a Greek mineral water owned by Coca-Cola, which paid $60 million US for the privilege of being one of the main sponsors. Officials are under orders not to let in rival brands' bottles unless the labels are removed.

Staff will also be on the lookout for T-shirts, hats and bags displaying the unwelcome logos of non-sponsors. Stewards have been trained to detect people who may be wearing merchandise from the sponsors' rivals in the hope of catching the eyes of television audiences. Those arousing suspicion will be required to wear their T-shirts inside out.

Known as the "clean venue policy," the rules were drawn up by the Greeks and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to shield sponsors from so-called "ambush marketing" - an attempt to advertise items during the games without paying sponsorship fees.

This will also apply to members of a crowd sitting next to each other wearing clothing with letters that spell out a political or religious message.

...The main sponsors of the games have paid more than $1 billion in total for exclusive advertising rights and privileges, including the use of the Olympic logo under their brand names. It is not even possible to buy a ticket to the Olympics using a credit card other than Visa, which paid more than $30 million for its exclusive rights.

The image of Michael Phelps, the American swimmer aiming to win seven gold medals, has even appeared on Visa cards. All American medal winners are required to wear an Adidas outfit on the podium, according to the company's sponsorship contract with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Kostas Giannis, a Greek sports fan, said: "I don't see why, after all the money that Greek taxpayers will end up paying to host the games, McDonald's should dictate what I can eat in my own city."
While the West is rife with self-doubt, self-hatred and a self-immolating view of itself, the Olympics branding story serves as a warning to the capitalist, free West. Does the West represent Jefferson or Big Macs? There is a vast difference between the two. Jeffersonian democracy enshrines individualism and freedom. Big Macs represent a kind of hypercapitalism---capitalism at the speed of light, in every nook of the world. Do the armies of the West---the Americans and the Transnationalists of the UN and EU---stand for the freedom of the individual, or for freedom of corporate domination?

Freedom seems to have many definitions these days. Conservatives will speak of freedom in terms of the Constitution, as individual rights and responsibilities protected by a small federal government; liberals will speak of freedom as group rights and oppressed masses who need government bias to undo the yoke of historical unfairness. But what about freedom from influence? In this time, influence is a pitched battle weighed by large corporate entities, religions, politicians, pundits, professors, journalists, and many others.

A fun game that can be played anywhere is to stand or sit---at home, at school, in the street, in the dentist’s office---and make a visual scan of everything, counting logos. It’s eye-opening. At any given moment, we are surrounded by tens of brands, vying for our attention.

Logos are very benign on one level, being a small price to pay for the bounty of goods that bless our modern life. And yet, they are a symptom of a corruption that is within the Western capitalist system. The brands are in a war for our subconscious. They have become the center stage of cultural expression, and define our world view. Left to their own devices, corporate interests would be content to reduce our freedom of expression and individuality, as much as advertisements extol the virtues of each.

When our armies march into places like Afghansistan and Iraq, we should be mindful of our own Achilles heal. We should be self-critical without being self-hating. Are we fighting to export democracy to the Middle East, or Big Macs?