In 2011, KFC introduced a 64 oz, $2.99 soft drink – a soft drink so big it needed a bucket handle – and vowed to donate $1 from each Pepsi purchased to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Media outlets from Mother Jones to the SF Chronicle and The Atlantic decried the cruel irony of the promotion, listing the progression of soda sizes from the 1950s through to today, underscoring our ballooning caloric intake and skyrocketing obesity rates. But in the end-times era of capitalism, it should no longer come as a surprise that the reigning corpo-political oligarchs present us with combo meal solutions to the very problems they helped create.
Naomi Klein’s 2007 book The Shock Doctrine presented the formula with which the US and other Western countries achieve what Klein refers to as the neo-conservative “policy trinity,” or “the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending” (17). Step one: orchestrate, accelerate or anticipate a catastrophic event. Step two: take advantage of the post-catastrophic shock affecting your target group, community or country. Step three: swoop in, like vultures after carrion, and implement wholesale gutting of core, essential services under the auspices of “starting afresh with a clean slate” and “taking advantage of the opportunities tragedy has provided.” Step four: using money from the public coffers, privatize everything and then sell it back to the consumer-client-citizen at a profit. The name of this phenomenon? Disaster capitalism.
This formula, used so successfully to colonize physical territory, works the same way to lay claim to our mental environment.
Post-9/11, post-housing bubble recession times have proved fertile ground for the neo-conservative policy trinity. According to a recent Pew Charitable Trusts report, property tax revenue and state aid to cities are shrinking simultaneously for the first time in over 30 years. In cities like Trenton, NJ, this has resulted in the laying off of over one third of the police force, and corresponding massive increases in gun assaults and robberies. Other cities have had to close fire stations, turn off streetlights, grind their subways to a halt, increase class sizes and let potholes bloom.
This is where our good friend KFC comes back in: the Colonel would be more than willing to fill your pothole, replace your fire hydrant or fund your police force through city advertising dollars if you’ll just let him stencil a red-hot chicken deal on City Hall. From Baltimore to Phoenix, Minneapolis to Syracuse, city councils are contemplating selling public space as ad space. And thus, fulfillment: powerful corporate lobbying has deconstructed government to the point that it needs to seek out private sponsorship to keep performing what used to be considered public duties.
In the media world, news outlets have turned to unprecedented single-sponsor partnerships to pay the bills. When The Huffington Post launched its weekly magazine app, their sole “launch partner” was Toyota, whose National Marketing Manager referred to the partnership as “an easy decision” in a BusinessWire press release; the car company, she said, is constantly seeking ways of “enhancing the user experience through strategic media partnerships.”
Where does this leave us, the user-consumer-client-citizen? How long before we see a Kentucky-fried capital of Missouri? The aesthetics of our cities, the tone of our schools, the topography of our mental environment, the packaging of human beings as brands – the appetite of corporations has permeated our culture in a way that may prove even more disastrous than the privatization of water.
The neoconservative policy trinity has reached bucket handle proportions: we have entered the era of Disaster Advertising.