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Pepsi Challenge, My Ass

When I was but a wee lad, I was diagnosed with a rare brain-chemical disorder known as "celebrity deficit disorder." I am immune to "very special" episodes, "crossovers," and other televised "milestones." I have never seen an episode of The Brady Bunch, Eight is Enough, Hill Street Blues, or Beverly Hills 90210. When I read TV Guide's 100 top television moments, I recognize maybe a half-dozen at most. I can't explain anything I saw on Twin Peaks, and I am a stranger to oeuvre of David E. Kelley and Aaron Sorkin.

But my affliction does have its advantages. Celebrity deficit disorder puts me in a unique position to watch with a detached eye a sinister attempt to revive a blatantly destructive corporate program for the brainwashing of America.

Thus, it was with a peculiar -- and perhaps not entirely perplexed -- sense of deja vu that I first saw Chicago Cubs star Sammy Sosa flacking the atavistic Pepsi Challenge.

Of course, Sosa was just a pup when the Pepsi Challenge was first unleashed upon the public more than two decades ago. But even with my tenuous connection to the idiot box, I could see the old Coke vs. Pepsi battle royale was set to come storming back. It is the Rheinland invasion of the Cola Wars.

It says something about the intensity of Pepsi's carpet bombing campaign that I could remember the old challenge and its importance to the history of commercial TV.

Back in the 1970s, Pepsi's ad wizards managed to penetrate the hide of this pop culture ankylosaurus and inject it with the corn-fructose-based virus of Madison Avenue propaganda.

My finely tuned temple of Greek Philosophy and Roman Discipline had been breached and I still remember the barbarian's message.

Or to put in the parlance of the communications-studies trade: the Corporate Hegemony had succeeded in my commodification.

How could this happen?

Somewhere at some time, Pepsi Co. sent a 30-second guided missile into my Spartan regimen of Baa, Baa, Blacksheep and Battlestar Galactica.

No doubt, even then, all I could say was "frak."

Now after 20 years, some slack ass at the ad firm handling the Pepsi account decided to bring back the WCW Nitro Goldberg variation of the classic Manichaean struggle of America's cola drinks.

That's public education for you. Creative writing, my ass.

Sure, the women may no longer sport Farrah Fawcett hairdos and most men don't look like dirty-dirty hippie freaks anymore, but the essential format is the same.

Some guy (in this case, a big little boy who swings wood for a living in the world's second most boring game) "challenges" your average sidewalk-patrolling poltroon to stop and try a sip of Coke and a sip of Pepsi and tell the camera which one is better.


I'm no professional statistician. I don't work in the hard sciences. But I do know when an informal logical error will affect the final results. And here it is.

Asking your average American for a chance to go on TV is an invitation to pander that few subjects of the Cathode Hypno-Beam could pass up.

They want a piece of the celebrity pie.

Only after our hero, Sammy, raises the cups like some Puerto Rican deus ex machina do we see the hard work of the American psychos of Young & Rubicam pay off.

We are confronted with the improbable: Pepsi wins! The now-refreshed moron also acts surprised when he or she discovers that in this blind taste test, the underdog won.

Now, it must be the secret desire of these shambling ground sloths masquerading as Homo Sapiens to so value a 30-second deposit on their 15 minutes of fame that they will act as though they really can't tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi.

Of course they can tell the difference. Everyone knows that Coke is superior to Pepsi in every way, just as everyone knows the works of Chrysippus the Stoic far outstrip the work of Anaximenes of Miletus.

So where do these actors come from? Have they no tongues? No, they can speak -- in disbelief as their Coke Weltanschauung collapses like so many "very special episodes" of Webster.

Perhaps, we ponder, their taste buds were rendered useless after their venture on the casting couch. Or maybe this is just another put-on, like something rigged by Don King, pro wrestling, or New Hampshire's primaries.

The quest for celebrity is the only thing that can explain why anyone would claim Pepsi is better than Coke. The Pepsi challenge is a game designed by parasites in the free market. Pepsi is piggybacking on Coke sales in the vain hope that weak-willed simps will change their views for the smile of a baseball lunk and the glint of the camera.

I want a new challenge. A chance for these numbnuts to try another blind contest. I call it the Battery Acid Challenge. Two cups. Two substances. A Kenwood special reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in one glass. A 3 oz. sampling of AC Delco battery acid in the other.

Most people think wine is better. But can they tell the difference in front of the camera? The results will surprise you. Nine times out of ten, the desire to get on national TV will easily overcome the agony of one's tongue and esophagus burning away. Better to smile and lie and gasp for joy over the steaming burn of an AC Delco 12-volt chaser.

Just so they can get on TV.

Now, if I can just get a big celebrity to lead the challenge. Somebody like Bob Uecker or Suzanne Pleshette.


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