Earlier in March, I sat in the studio of The Daily Show watching a pre-show skit in which Trevor Noah sits at his desk and lists the many political ailments of the U.S. One of his correspondents storms in and benevolently hands him a can of Pepsi. The audience laughed and in doing so ratifies this reference to what I call “Pepsi-Gate” (but could be Shea Moisture-Gate, H&M-Gate, etc.). I marveled at the mimetic and indexical power of this scandal and other scandals and the spectacle they produced. What is happening, not only within these audio-visual performances, but in the kinds of responses in the backlash that follows them, that lends these marketing moments the mimetic and indexical power that I witnessed at The Daily Show?
The success of commercial performances of ‘wokeness’ like Pepsi Co.’s lies not on their development of political social capital for corporations attempting to re-define themselves in a multi-cultural yet polarized U.S. Rather, it lies on their very failure to do this and the responses it produces. Media moments like Pepsi-Gate are the new site of U.S. national dramas—transitory, digital-era versions of Doris Sommer Latin American romance novel narratives—that gain their significance from the affect they do or don’t generate. These “failures” generate debate amongst audiences who now increasingly do “speak” back to corporations—and to each other.
Attention to affect allows us to consider the bio-social implications of the emotional and social labor required to engage these corporate “failures” or lapses in ‘wokeness.’ Affect in this context is not only preconscious flows beyond intentionality, but rather “relational, intersubjective…mediator[s] of economic transformation in particular materialist and historical contexts,” (Berg and Ramos-Zayas 2015: 655, Richard and Rudnyckyj 2009). Further, media events of “failed” corporate ‘wokeness’ create what Berg and Ramos-Zayas argue are affective economies where subaltern liable and normative empowering affects are distributed unevenly among the various populations interpolated in these media moments (662). While the psychic and bodily impacts of these economies of affect remain understudied, I suggest that attending closely to it might yield new perspectives on the impact that these marketing moments have upon diverse audiences’ engagement with consumption in the 21st century.
Berg, U. D. and Ramos-Zayas, A. (2015) "Racializing Affect: A Theoretical Proposition." Current Anthropology 56.5: 654-677.