Column | Feb. 20

America the beautiful

I, like many students here, spent my final afternoon before classes squeezed onto a couch to watch the Super Bowl. Besides marking the culmination of the National Football League season, the Super Bowl also doubles as a celebration of American culture that is second only to the Fourth of July. Game-day parties serve all-American Buffalo wings as hors d’oeuvres and all-American burgers as entrées while attendees enjoy the all-American sport of football. It is therefore unsurprising that many of the hit Super Bowl commercials have a subtle, patriotic undertone meant to tickle our egos, making us nod and think, “that’s right, this is America, and we’re still on top.” And so as a Coca-Cola commercial flicked through scenes of different aspects of American society as a multilingual rendition of “America the Beautiful” played, I considered it an obvious attempt to celebrate the United States’ diversity while still reminding viewers that we are always united by our flag and, of course, by Coke.

The next day, however, I realized not everyone shared my same sentiment towards Coca-Cola’s advertisement. I was shocked to discover that since the commercial had aired, social media had exploded with attacks on the soda company and the hashtag “SpeakAmerican” was soon trending on Twitter. Somehow Coca-Cola’s celebration of the “melting pot” population of America had been warped into a misguided hate campaign. The hashtag “SpeakAmerican” and similar responses to the commercial call into question the validity of United States citizenship for any individuals who lack European ancestry or whose primary language is anything other than English. Since citizenship — for many — goes beyond de jure implications and instead becomes an integrated part of one’s identity, such homogenizing attacks create a dangerous identity crisis for America’s distinct populations.

The episode disturbed me, but what I found even more disconcerting was the lack of conversation about it on campus; instead the discussions I overheard were more focused on bicker season and other events only immediately pertinent to Princeton students. I hope the silence was due to the fact that the open minds of Princeton’s students saw no issues with the content of the ad and dismissed it as I had. Yet the general disinterest in the ensuing dramatics — however removed as they may have been from Princeton student’s own sentiments — reflects a similar apathy in the student body for issues beyond the Fitz-Randolph Gates.

National activism, unlike on the campuses of Georgetown or University of Southern California — which are among the top ten most politically active universities in the country according to the Princeton Review — takes a backseat in the routines of most students at Princeton. News from outside campus seems to be diffused as it enters the Orange Bubble, causing a slight hiccup of a reaction that quickly fizzles out. It’s not that we do not have opinions about national and global news (we are a driven student population), we simply do not have the passion to manifest our opinions into any sort of campaign or movement. While we are a highly involved campus in terms of student activities, I have yet to see a campus protest or greater community campaign organized by Princeton students.

As citizens or residents of the United States, our campus should be more involved in national debates whether they relate to daily campus life or not as some of my fellow columnists have pointed out in the past. University students have historically been critical mechanisms for political change, protesting and demonstrating on national stages to advance their cause. Such passion and involvement is unusually absent on a campus so poised to produce the nation’s future leaders and decision makers. Simply because debates such as the Coca-Cola commercial may be less disputed among Princeton students does not mean we should take the position of contented complacency while the world outside the Orange Bubble condones such xenophobia.

Mitchell Hammer is a freshman from Phoenix, Ariz. He can be reached at mjhammer@princeton.edu.

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