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Why that 'powerful' Heineken ad is just as problematic as Kendall Jenner's Pepsi ad

Beer will not unite the workers of the world.

kendall jenner pepsi Source: Pepsi/Youtube

AT THE START of this month, the world was told that the answer to racism, class conflict, police brutality and a whole other myriad of problems that are currently destroying the planet, is to hand your oppressor an ice cold Pepsi.

The vast majority of people who saw this, more or less agreed that this was ridiculous and collectively laughed in disbelief that this idea made it out of some boardroom full of old white men who must be completely out of touch with reality.

A few weeks later, we’ve essentially been presented with the same thing by a different company. Yet this time, the new Heineken ad is being lauded as the “antidote to the Kendall Jenner Pepsi fiasco”. To me, its reception is odd because it feels just as problematic. So what is wrong with this video?

I’m going to break it down, scene by scene for you. It opens with this guy:

new right Source: Heineken/Youtube

He’s describing himself as the new right, also known as alt-right, which is a fancy new title for white nationalists who oppose immigration and like to do Nazi salutes and shout “hail Trump” at rallies but insist on not being called Nazis.

Next up we have this person describing where she places herself on the political spectrum:

left Source: Heineken/Youtube

As you can see, she’s wearing a t shirt that says “smash the patriarchy”.  I can’t decide whether the woman cast for the role of “Feminist in Heineken ad” was really so keen on proving that she was a feminist that she insisted in wearing this t shirt or if they put this t shirt on her just for the video. You know, just because airing any of her views to confirm she was a feminist just wouldn’t be as palatable would it? Whatever, not a big deal. Let’s move on.

The concept is the stuff of a lacklustre sitcom:

PastedImage-51382 Source: Heineken/Youtube

PastedImage-92030 Source: Heineken/Youtube

man hating Source: Heineken/Youtube

feminist 100 Source: Heineken/Youtube

PastedImage-92946 Source: Heineken/Youtube

PastedImage-53260 Source: Heineken/Youtube

They continue the dramatic set up by highlighting the stark contrasts between the two and a number of other individuals

A man that doesn’t believe that climate change exists, that it is just a distraction used to keep our attention away from serious issues and then another man who believes a lot of work needs to be done to prevent climate change.

Then we have a man that believes that there’s no such thing as being transgender, you can only be the gender you were assigned at birth, and the geniuses over at Heineken HQ decided it would be nice to pair him up with a transgender woman.

We hear a series of provocative statements from backstage:

have our children Source: Heineken/Youtube

And then the tasks begin.

As an icebreaker, they assemble some stools. Somehow, this haven’t solved ANY of the monstrous problems in the world caused by Western imperialism yet, but I suppose it’s only stage one. Let’s give them a chance.

Stage two involves a Q&A session. Heineken has provided them with some set questions. The first one is “describe what it is like to be you in five adjectives”. The man who introduced himself as transphobic begins and describes his situation as frustrating, while the transwoman describes herself as lucky.

Adjectives go back and forth between all pairs but the most significant conversation appears to be between the transphobe and the transwoman.

solemn Source: Heineken/Youtube

He clearly begins to open up to her and the two begin to discuss her background working in the military (OK, better forget about dismantling that Western imperialism guys) and he says that he deeply admires her for that.

ex military Source: Heineken/Youtube

Either way, the pair seem to have a connection.

military Source: Heineken/Youtube

Meanwhile, the climate change denier (in the blue) is enjoying his time with the environmentalist.

argue Source: Heineken/Youtube

How heartwarming.

Next up, they engage in activity number 3 which is entitled bridge building. This is just a montage of every pair building a bar together presumably to sit at with their stools and have a few jars to end some of the suffering in the world.

Stage 4 is called “The Decision”.

attention Source: Heineken/Youtube

This is where all of the truth is revealed. Please enjoy the environmentalist looking at the climate change denier like “the f**k mate?”

piffle Source: Heineken/Youtube

But this is where things start to go desperately wrong. Here, we witness the look of a transgender person who is well used to hearing people’s unsolicited opinions about their existence. It’s the expression of a person who has come to expect this to be the reality of how too many people will value their life.

i am Source: Heineken/Youtube

The participants are then given the choice of whether to sit down and resume their conversation with their partner over a nice frosty Heineken or head home.

The man who could not conceptualize being transgender and thought that it was wrong, proved himself to be the ultimate King of Banter, by pretending to walk out on hearing that this woman was actually transgender.

BAnter Source: Heineken/Youtube

It’s hard to find the humour in this. The woman appears visibly upset until he exclaims that walking out in disgust of her identity was just a big joke.”HAHA! SIKE! You thought I hated you because you’re transgender!” just isn’t that funny when there’s a significant number of people who actually will hate transgender people just for existing.

In the end, every pair decides to sit back and discuss their differences. Could this be something to do with the fact that they were being filmed for a huge ad campaign that could possibly be seen worldwide and portray them as rude for walking out? Possibly.

open your world Source: Heineken/Youtube

The worst thing about this ad is that it fuels the narrative that we need to hear everyone out.

Conversations like the ones in this advertisement are often conducive to very little. Basically, the only good thing about this ad is that someone accidentally respected a trans woman without realizing that she was transgender. Would this have worked out the same way if this woman had not passed so well?

If this man had sat down with someone who identified as trans but had not yet begun hormone therapy or didn’t pass as easily as this lady, it’s likely he would have been much more uncomfortable. I’m sure this is a nice starting point for him to overcome some of his issues but you should not have to personally know a transgender person to accept the validity of their lives.

It is not every transgender person’s job to sit down and explain their lives to everyone who does not understand why they don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

It is not every black person’s job to sit down and explain their experience of racism to every person who insists that racism is not real.

It is not every feminist’s job to explain to people who believe women do not deserve the same rights as men that feminism also will benefit men.

It is not any person who has had an abortion’s job to try and justify their reasons why they did it to a person who believes it is wrong.

It is not any lesbian, bisexual, gay or queer person’s job to explain why they are just like everyone else to anyone who says they aren’t fit to raise kids.

It is not any working class person’s job to explain why welfare doesn’t actually bleed the state dry.

It is not up to a person who has been raped or sexually assaulted to explain to you why it was not their fault.

Conversations like the ones in this advertisement are often conducive to very little. Ultimately, this kind of stuff results in people who refuse to engage in any of these conversations being told that they are “no craic” and too uptight or simply just rude.

But these are not things that are up for debate.

If you want to understand something, Google it.

It is frankly exhausting to identify as any of the above and deal with everything you have to deal with on a daily basis as well as being told you need to sit down and have a beer with bigots and devil’s advocates and racists and fascists and help them understand the world.

Engaging in debate takes a huge emotional toll on vulnerable people who are constantly forced to legitimise their identities and existence. The marriage referendum and the ongoing campaign to repeal the eighth amendment are evidence enough that a huge amount of emotional labour is expected of individuals in order for them to be empathized with by people who don’t share their experiences.

And for what? Debate or a nice meaningful conversation aren’t the solutions to the rise of fascism and racism in Europe and the rest of the world. They never have been. Survivors of concentration camps maintain that to this day.

It’s ridiculous to even suggest that an ad about Nazis kicking back and having a beer with Jews could change the world. If debate and conversation did anything, there never would have been slaves in America. An opportunity for those in power to benefit greatly from exploitation beats logic every time.

There is no debate to be had with people who do not believe that you deserve rights.

Ironically, many of the comments on the original video have descended into incoherent and aggressive Islamophobia due to the fact that some Muslims don’t drink alcohol. I think that says it all really.

Source: Heineken/YouTube

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About the author:

Kelly Earley

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