“Speak English or Go Home”: Teaching Coke’s Super Bowl Ad

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In my circle of friends, the Super Bowl is about only one thing: the ads.  2014 had many gems (who can forget Audi’s doberhuahua?) but one ad has generated quite a bit of controversy: Coke’s multi-lingual rendition of “America the Beautiful”. This quick clip from CNN outlines the sad but perhaps unsurprising reaction to the video: http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2014/02/03/nr-brooke-coca-cola-ad-languages-outrage.cnn.h....Emerging offers a number of essays to help students explore the maelstrom around this ad; in this post I’d like to highlight four:
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Making Conversation” and “The Primacy of Practice” Appiah’s piece is always my “go to” when broaching intercultural and multicultural issues since his notion of “cosmopolitanism” springs from the fact that in a crowded world living in isolation simply is no longer an option.  The challenge, then, is how to live next to and with others who are different.  His argument thus counters the comment “Speak English or Go Home” by suggesting not simply that America is (obviously) home but also that, well, there’s no place to “go,” no place to run to escape the existence of other cultures.
  • Manual Muñoz, “Leave Your Name at the Border” Muñoz directly addresses the questions raised by Coke’s ad by looking at the pressures, benefits, risks, and costs of assimilation, specifically in relation to abandoning one’s language of origin for English.
  • Steve Olson, “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples” Students can use the reaction to Coke’s ad to unpack and complicate Olson’s arguments.  Olson looks to Hawaii to illustrate how, genetically speaking, race no longer exists.  This is not to say, though, that racism doesn’t.  Examining this Super Bowl ad in the context of Olson will help students think about the social structures that help race to persist.
  • Leslie Savan, “What's Black, Then White, and Said All Over?” Savan’s essay makes a nice counterpoint to Coke’s ad since she focuses on the appropriation of subcultural, racially inflect language for commercial purposes.  Viewed through Savan, students could examine the ways in which Coke uses other language and cultures to sell more soda.  Savan thus turns the situation on its head, bringing focus back to Coke.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.