The other day, I was downtown waiting to speak with to someone about a business license for BALANCE. We needed a business license so that we could get a bank account. I had sent it in twice, the first time at the end of June, and as of the first week of August, they had not received it. So I decided to go downtown to see whether I might have better luck in person. The Business Licensing department was in one of those government offices where you take a number and then sit down in those ugly plastic chairs that they have at the DMV and watch one of several flat panel televisions hanging from the ceiling. Next thing I know I am watching a Pepsi ad about, you guessed it, polar bears. I was really surprised.
As it turns out, Pepsi is not at all surprised that I am surprised. But first tings first. I decide that I might want to write something about it. I find it on YouTube – “Summer Time is Pepsi Time: Uncle Teddy”.
In the description, it says:
Summer Time is Pepsi Time! How do Polar Bears spend the summer? The answer may surprise you.
Did the ad surprise you as much as it did me? Polar bears partying on huge yachts, hanging out in hot tubs, sunbathing, and drinking Pepsi. All the while, Climate Change is really sticking it to polar bears. As National Geographic reports, the melting of the Ice Caps is forcing mother bears to swim greater distances to reach land—to the peril of their cubs.
A female polar bear swam for a record-breaking nine days straight, traversing 426 miles (687 kilometers) of water—equivalent to the distance between Washington, D.C., and Boston… The cub of the record-setting bear, for instance, died at some point between starting the swim and when the researchers next observed the mother on land. She also lost 22 percent of her body weight.
Pepsi thinks polar bears are funny. While I acknowledge that polar bears can be funny, this ad is not, especially when we consider the ecological context that polar bears are living in. For the record, any creature can be funny if we anthropomorphize them. The question in my mind is, where do we draw the line on free commercial speech for corporations? But I digress. As of today, the video had received 1153 Thumbs Up versus 660 Thumbs Down on YouTube. I am of course with the dissenters, who have a sense that it is unconscionable to project trifling human behavior on a species that is struggling to adapt to the changes in its habitat due in large part to trifling human behavior.
Are polar bears endangered?
Experts in polar bear science believe they are. They predict that as the Arctic continues to warm due to climate change, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear by mid-century—although hope remains if action is taken to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Rapid loss of sea ice is their major threat. Others include pollution, poaching, and industrial impact. Hunting will become a threat if not well regulated.
In 2005, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) classified polar bears as vulnerable on the IUCN World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species noting that extinction could occur due to sea ice changes.
In May 2008, U.S. Department of the Interior listed the polar bear as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act. Canada and Russia list the polar bear as a species of concern.
What really sucks about this is that it is yet another example of a group of humans misappropriating the identity of another species to sell products. If we think about it, most of us could probably cite numerous instances that we have encountered such as Native American identities being used for the mascots of United States sports franchises (e.g, Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins) and in films like Peter Pan. Unfortunately as we have misappropriated the Native identity and ridiculed it, the population of Native Americans and their land have both dropped by approximately 98%. Ariel Luckey shared this perspective in an excerpt from his Freeland project,
which I saw at the 2010 Things Taken event.
We’re doing the same thing with Nature. The system is trying to lock us into a high emissions economy at a time when the we know that emissions are causing the planet to warm and the ice caps to melt. So next the system goes ahead and identifies that an iconic creature that is struggling to adjust to the changing climate, and proceeds to make an ad that makes it seem like the polar bears are just chillin’. In this one, a Polar Bear named Uncle Teddy and his friends act like frat boys on a Yacht with a hot tub. Did it dawn on them that their operations and party yachts could be part of the problem, part of the reason that the ice is melting?
Part of me wants to say that it should not be legal to misappropriate the polar bears’ identity and use it to sell products which exacerbate (and are partially the cause of) the precarious situation that polar bear finds herself in now.
In any case, I could go further with the analysis but am more interested in how a polar bear would respond to Pepsi or how a Polar Bear might tell its story. Taking it to the next level, how might a polar bear think about humans and our impact on the planet. I am calling forth videos that show us the Polar Bears’ side of the story. Which brings up a question that I have been pondering for several years – if nature could see us in our entirety, what would it see. What archetypal image could represent our relationship with nature? Might we be seen as lemmings? Cancer? Crash test dummies? How nature sees our impact and what they decide to do about it is explored in our new environmental hip-hop musical, Pacha’s Pajamas.
Pacha is a little girl with big dreams. One night, the animals and plants on Pacha’s new pajamas come to life. Entering her dream as a little gorilla, she comes upon an unlikely group of creatures, large and small, all feeling sad about the state of the world. They decide to throw the greatest festival on Earth… and no humans were invited. Species coming together with the intention to bring balance to the planet. They build a stadium, half land, half water, and powered by electric eels. Fun-filled acts include an insect music band called The Beetles, a black-eyed pea rapper, and a beaver named Just-in-Time, all performing for a better world. At the end of the show, Pacha finds her true calling as a musical star, sharing the messages of Nature.
Joseph Campbell once said “We need new myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet.” Essentially, we need new myths which can help us embrace and and embody our interdependent relationship with nature. Pacha’s Pajamas is one of those new myths.