Watch the philosopher trek through the desert and enjoy a cold bottle of the Real Thing
Picture this: a mountainous desert landscape, overlaid with the Coca Cola logo. Gradually, a figure trudges into view over a rocky crest. He is dressed in head-to-toe brown, and his uneven footsteps are accompanied by the sounds of sniffing and heavy breathing. His name – Slavoj Žižek – appears across the screen in the iconic red Coca Cola font, and he pauses, looking back to see how far he’s come.
Under the hot sun, the “rockstar philosopher” uncaps a bottle of the branded sugar water and takes a large swig. “Oh my god,” he says. “One is thirsty in the desert, and what to drink but Coke?”
Maybe you don’t have to imagine this scene – maybe you’ve already watched Žižek’s Coke ad, in which he goes on to provide a Marxist analysis of Coke as a quintessential commodity. “It was already Marx who, long ago, emphasised that a commodity is never a single object that we buy and consume,” he explains. “A commodity is an object full of theological, even metaphysical niceties. Its presence always reflects an invisible transcendence.”
In case you haven’t cottoned on yet, Žižek’s Coke commercial is more of a parody, first appearing in the Slovenian philosopher’s 2012 film The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. In the segment, he points out the empty appeal of an ice-cold bottle of Coke, and the phenomena that has seen marketing companies dream up increasingly abstract ideas and products to sell unwitting consumers – the collapse of reality under late capitalism.
As Coca Cola itself said in its iconic “Hilltop” advert from 1971 (AKA the segment Don Draper dreamt up in the Mad Men finale), Žižek suggests that Coke is the “real thing”. But then, he asks: “What is… the real thing? It’s not just another positive property of Coke, something that can be described or pinpointed through chemical analysis. It’s that mysterious ‘something more’.”
Discussing The Pervert’s Guide all the way back in 2013, for a Dazed interview on the documentary, Žižek expanded on this idea via John Carpenter’s anti-capitalist sci-fi film They Live. “In a consumerist capitalist society, you think you are free by being able to enjoy life and buy things like a Starbucks frappuccino,” he says. “When actually, you are following an obscene and deep command to ‘ENJOY’.”
What we can all definitely enjoy is the image of the “Elvis of cultural theory” cracking open a bottle of pop on the top of a mountain. Revisit Žižek’s Coke ad above.