If you have walked into a liquor store lately, you will notice Budweiser cans plastered with the words America on it. Today, the world has come to know that Budweiser in synonymous with American culture, but this marketing tactic takes this idea to an entirely new level. In a summer of both the Olympics and one of the most controversial presidential elections to date in recent memory, asking a friend to toss you a cold America speaks volumes about how far neoliberalism and consumerism have evolved over the past 100+ years.
Mcdonald’s and Coca-Cola refuse to be left behind in expressing their patriotism. The picture above captures an Instagram photo of presidential candidate Donald Trump celebrating winning the Republican nomination with a delicious Big Mac Meal and a refreshing Diet Coke to drink it all down. For a candidate that loves to boast about how independent he is, you would think his campaign would not be blatantly sponsored like it’s some sporting event.
What all of these brands mentioned have in common is that they attempt to communicate a story that we buy into as consumers. But, these “stories” are merely a marketing facade for multinational corporations that owns each brand. Ironically enough, Budweiser belongs to the multinational Belgium Conglomerate AB InBev, and McDonald’s and Coca-Cola corporate interests go beyond their American headquarters.
What all of these developments point to is the commoditization of our patriotism through our society’s neoliberal dogma. Neoliberalism is an economic philosophy that advocates letting capital flow freely by using the private sector as its primary agent, while also cutting public sector involvement in the economy. Ultimately, the goal of neoliberalism is to make everything marketable. The vehicle in which this happens is through consumerism. Think of consumerism as a river, and each one of us is a droplet of water. What each one of us purchases determines where that river flows. In our neoliberal economy, consumerism is the highest obligation of a citizen. Why else would you think in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that Bush would ask people to go shopping?
Consumerism starts out the surface. With people being so impressionable to advertisements, a lot of time they are persuaded to buy products that they otherwise would not buy if shown the proper information. For example, the movie Super-Size Me caused an uproar against the fast food industry and prompted McDonald’s to remove super-size as an option from their menu. Today, McDonald’s is still trying to adapt to more health-conscious consumers. Also, consumerism has been a method for people to construct their identity. Wanna spread happiness? Then share a coke with a friend? Do you want to be patriotic? Then buy a 30 rack of Americas! Do you want a Make America Great Again? Then go out and stuff down some McDonalds!
The major consequence of neoliberalism is that it has become increasingly difficult to identify problems within the political-economic system because everything is packaged so nicely through branding. The private sector harder to scrutinize than the public sector since there are no mechanisms to keep them in check; the revolving door that exists today in American politics has caused the government to be one in the same with the corporations that they are supposed to regulate. Hell, along with beer cans that have America branded on them, there is now a proposal to sell advertising space in America’s beloved National Parks. Even the IMF says that they should relook at the neoliberalism they have advocated for since the 1970s.
So this summer when you chug down a nice America, do not forget to remember that what made this country great was character, not branding.