In today’s America, politics seems to be omnipresent. From kneeling at sporting events and social engineering in the workplace to fat positivity billboards and the commercial political posturing of “Woke-a-Cola,” it is increasingly difficult to tune out the hot-button issues of the day.
Fewer and fewer aspects of American society are apolitical, with the left-right culture war manifesting itself just as easily in a New York City workplace as a Champions League match in Paris, France.
The omnipresence of politics is nothing new. Back in 2019, Gillette released its infamously anti-male “The Best Men Can Be” commercial:
Two years before that, Pepsi weighed in on the Black Lives Matter, trivializing America’s racial issues with Kendall Jenner front and center:
Some of today’s politicization is well-intentioned. It is worth raising awareness about issues like racism or gender discrimination, which are deplorable and need to be eradicated from mainstream discourse. It is worth shining a light on the evils of the world, even if human beings are mostly good. Throughout our nation’s history, equality of opportunity has not been guaranteed for all Americans, and we are still feeling the ripple-effects of historic injustices today.
However, there is a middle ground. It is possible for the powers that be—whether it be a Fortune 500 CEO or a Hollywood studio—to lament America’s problems and take political stances without oversaturating viewers and readers with lukewarm takes that play off of important issues for easy public relation points. It is possible for individual Americans to make a difference through collective action, without forcing politics into every corner of our lives.
We have reached a point where “being political” is more divisive than unifying. It should not be so. “Being political” should be the exception in our lives, not the rule.
When athletics, business, and entertainment are as political as politics itself, Americans lose their breathing room from the divisions of the day. We lose our shared values or, at the least, our shared escapism. We need a break from politics too, yet we have now reached a point of oversaturation. We are retreating into their ideological echo chambers and opting for the “lesser of two evils”—sticking our heads in the sand rather than engaging with politics at all.
In this way, America’s “woke” movement—however well-intentioned at the outset—has led to the unintended consequence of desensitization. When everything is political, less and less of the politics is actionable. People tune out. Take the National Basketball Association, which incorporated social-justice messaging into its branding last year. One year later, ratings have dipped significantly, with nearly 35 percent of Americans watching less sports due to social justice campaigns.
Of course, many continue to watch (some reluctantly), but politics is simply too important to far too many people. Based on a recent Daily Wire survey, 70 percent of Americans believe that “corporations and sports teams should generally stay out of politics.” An earlier Daily Wire poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans claim corporate America is “taking political correctness too far.” A 2018 survey from The Atlantic goes even further: 80 percent of Americans—Democrat and Republican—believe that “political correctness is a problem in our country.” As Ellie Mae O’Hagan, a left-leaning columnist for The Guardian, put it, “The ‘anti-woke’ backlash is no joke—and progressives are going to lose if they don’t wise up.”
Again, I am not arguing against social justice, in the sense of equal opportunity. Regardless of their immutable characteristics, all Americans should be free to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America’s strength flows from the empowered individuals and families, not government action. Those who argue otherwise are foolish.
If there is a silver lining, it is that the over-politicization of America can enhance our gratitude for the apolitical. If politics is now the rule, the exception may be more refreshing than ever before. As consumers, now is also a time to appreciate the companies bucking the “woke” trend—if even for a commercial or two.
My favorite example is Airbnb, which recently unveiled a new advertising campaign to praise the power of companionship (and, of course, promote the company’s diverse lodging options):
All American consumers can and should appreciate content that, through music, celebrates our shared values—not only companionship, but also our need to explore and love for travel. In divided times, it is uplifting and unifying. It is a reminder that traditional advertising can work (the three commercials have garnered more than 10 million views on YouTube), especially if it appeals to what human beings have in common.
Airbnb’s latest commercials are testaments to the good old days. Perhaps, if we are fortunate, they can be a blueprint for the days to come—a return to a simpler, less political time.
Catalyst articles by Luka Ladan