Hola, Coca-Cola

Clarice Lispector The Hour of the Star Brazil Literature Books Writing Reading

My husband has to travel for work to Rio de Janeiro, and I get to tag along. In honor of this exciting trip, I’ve been rereading Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian writer with a justifiable cult-like following.

Published in 1977, the year she died of cancer at age 56, The Hour of the Star is Clarice Lispector’s final say. The novel is narrated by the overbearing Rodrigo S.M., who tells the story of Macabea, a poor young woman living in the Rio slums. Rodrigo is fascinated by Macabea’s miserable existence, the more so because she does not view her life as such.

There are chapters to write about this brief, sinister tale. But, for now, I want to share what Rodrigo has to say about Coca-Cola, a source of joy for Macabea:

I forgot to mention that the record that is about to begin…is written under the sponsorship of the most popular soft drink in the world…Despite the fact that it tastes of nail polish, toilet soap and chewed plastic. None of this prevents people from loving it with servility and subservience. Also because — and I am now going to say something strange that only I can understand — this drink which contains coca is today. It allows people to be modern and to move with the times.

A month ago, I read something similar in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol,written in 1975:

…America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too.

And, in other words:

Andy Warhol Philosophy Books Art

It is wondrous to think about a time when Coca-Cola was new. It is also wondrous to think about a time when smart people were writing about what it meant for everyone to be drinking Coca-Cola.

Today, apart from the health-related issues, we don’t really think about what it means for the entire world to drink Coke. We may talk about not liking it, but it already happened. It is part of every beach becoming the same beach and every airport becoming the same airport and every supermarket having the same thing.

What we think and talk about today is the internet and people baring their souls on it. Being online and being good at it is modern. This goes beyond posting pictures of parties or babies. The real trick lies in making yourself vulnerable, as New York Magazine predicted back in 2007 in an article titled “Say Everything,” and subtitled “The future belongs to the uninhibited.”

To me, people baring their souls is a beautiful thing. Much like people wanting to, and being able to, drink the same soda is a wondrous thing. Sure, both may have unsound results at times, but both serve as proof that, more and more, the future can belong to just about anyone.

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