Pepsi will air a "Deaf" television commercial during the pre-game show for the Super Bowl.

I have watched the advertisement and — as a Hearing Man married to a Deaf Woman for many years, as well as being the author of two books on American Sign Language — I cringe at the silliness and the ineptitude of the commercial. 

The entire idea is so precious one can’t stand its lightness pretending to be importance.

I understand why many in the Deaf Community are celebrating the ad — they are so marginalized and ignored by mainstream society that any little bit of looking toward them — any little bone of attention — is gratefully ingested as a confirmation of life and as a recognition of being.

However, that doesn’t mean what Pepsi has done is admirable or groundbreaking.  The ad is, sadly, neither. 

The Deaf Pepsi ad merely confirms old stereotypes and banishes the Deaf into their current perceived ghetto of selfishness and entitlements. 

The ad is based on an old Deaf Joke.  Two Deaf friends are looking for another Deaf friend and they can’t find him.  So, in the middle of the night, the two friends honk their car horn and the one house that doesn’t "wake up" and turn on their lights is the home of their unable-to-hear-the-car-horn Deaf friend.

So.  Not.  Funny.

The commercial is also filmed in the dead of night so we can’t see the sign language very well and the actors are using PSE (Pidgin Signed English) and not pure, hardcore, ASL.

We who know better are left to wonder and yearn for what could have been.  Pepsi had the money, access, and power to take us directly into the Deaf experience:  How the Deaf watch and enjoy a Super Bowl from within the sight of their eyes and minds. 

Pepsi could have created a beautiful and ethereal moment for the Deaf that shined light on the joy of their culture instead of mocking it with a tired and old joke that was never really funny.

Even though Pepsi failed with their Deaf Pepsi advertisement, that doesn’t mean they aren’t hawking their work as a sublime and innovative honor for the Deaf Community.  Pepsi even created a two minute promo telling us how special they are for creating the advertisement.  You can view it on YouTube.

Telling someone how great you are does not create greatness. 

Greatness is found in the subtle transmission of hope and yearning that is successfully connected to clear achievement of the spirit — and Pepsi failed the Deaf, and their own company, in missing the greatness mark.

Unfortunately, it is the Deaf Community who are now left to suffer alone in the aftermath of a subtle public mocking that was intended to be a cultural homily by those who never earned the greatness to know any better.

4 Comments

  1. I think the cure for bad commercials is making commercials of our own. I am very tempted to make a parody ad, for example, of the Parental Control ads that suggest that parents ‘block’ bad television so their children wouldn’t watch it. My parents didn’t have to ‘block’ bad television through technology – they educated us well enough that we knew that it wasn’t appropriate for us.
    Similarly, a good ad could be made for Hardcore ASL which is all in the good kind of ASL – an ad for, say, your new ASL book! 🙂

  2. That’s an interesting point, Gordon. I’m all for providing a variety of views online, but when so much time and money is spent on the pontification of a single viewpoint that presumes to represent an entire community — like the Deaf Community in the Pepsi ad — more psychic harm is done than moral good.