Super Bowl exposes American xenophobia

Super Bowl exposes American xenophobia

By Ray Hanania

(Sunday Feb. 9, 2014, Saudi Gazette Newspaper)

Français : Une cannette de Coca-Cola italienne...

Français : Une cannette de Coca-Cola italienne d’une contenance de 50cl. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Super Bowl is supposed to be a sports event where athletes showcase their skills and the audience can enjoy a healthy “sportsmanlike” competition. Instead, the Super Bowl, now in its 48th year as the annual competition of the American version of “football,” has become a battleground where xenophobes and racists spout their views.

It isn’t just about the several football players who have expressed racist views over the years. The problem is with the audience and the advertisers have not missed their presence.

What started as an annual super sporting competition in 1966 has now become a marketing launch pad for advertisers who showcase products and causes to the millions of people who watch the game in the US and abroad. Throughout the game, advertisers pay millions to secure coveted 30-second and 60-second spots to promote their products. This year’s Super Bowl drew a record 111.5 million TV viewers.

This year, two products rose to the level of the growing contention, speaking to issues beyond the products themselves. SodaStream, a company that has its largest manufacturing plant in an illegal and racist Jewish settlement, Maale Adumim in the Israeli military occupied West Bank of Palestine, hired Scarlett Johansson to be the spokesperson for their product which lets people make their own soft drinks.

For many Americans, the idea of fake soda is enough to turn stomachs. It won’t drag them away from the two more popular soft drink companies, Coca-Cola or Pepsi, who both also had significant presence at the Super Bowl.

This year, Pepsi was the official host of the Super Bowl Halftime Show, which has become the crown jewel of winter television entertainment. But Coca-Cola, the leader in soft drink production and sales, produced their own ad which featured a multi-cultural and multi-lingual diversity theme to promote harmony, unity, and peace.

The ingenious 60-second commercial featured voices in English and seven other foreign languages singing the lyrics of the patriotic American song, “America, the Beautiful.” The commercial was titled “It’s Beautiful.” And it was. But not everyone agreed.

The ad showcased Hispanics, Asians, Caucasians, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, two Jews wearing yarmulkes, and a gay couple, two dads roller-skating with their daughter. Coca-Cola expanded it to 90 seconds to play during the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

In a press release, the president of Coca-Cola North America Katie Bayne explained: “We hope the ad gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be a proud American.” And that it sure did.

Twitter, the Internet super highway cul-de-sac filled with hate, defamation and personal attacks, lit up with racist attacks against the ad, Coca-Cola and diversity. Many asserted that the ad was “un-American.”

In one of his more toned down commentaries, the king of television xenophobia, Sean Hannity, suggested “America the Beautiful” should have only been sung in English, not in any foreign languages. He said it concerned him about the future of America.

What haters and racists forget is that America was built on the backs of immigrants and diversity. They just don’t like it. They scream about people who speak Spanish or Arabic or anything but “American,” which isn’t a language at all but is intended to represent “English,” a foreign language exported to America in the 17th Century by settlers from England and imposed on the Native Americans who were exploited and oppressed by the “settlers.”

Especially in recent years, diversity has become a political hot potato. Generally, conservatives and rightwing Republicans want everyone to be one color, while Liberals and Democrats want to embrace new immigrants. Both sides play to voter constituencies.

Not surprisingly, most Hispanics and African Americans vote Democratic. That line is blurred with Asians, Arabs and others mainly because of some conservative issues like “family values” and marriage.

Some people may have thought the inspiring Coca-Cola ad was intended to push back at SodaStream, which if successful could put a dent in Coca-Cola’s profits. That may work for an Israeli settler who has built a home on stolen Palestinian lands and property, and who doesn’t want to walk past “Arabs” on the way to a store to buy cans of soda. But I doubt most Americans will enjoy homemade soda.

SodaStream is definitely not something I will invest in. But Coca-Cola is a winner. Anything that can rile the nerves and raise the blood pressure and anxiety levels of haters, fanatics, racists and xenophobes is a food I think everyone should drink and enjoy.

— Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Managing Editor of The Arab Daily News online. Reach him at

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Categories: Middle East Topics

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