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Real News: Coca-Cola museum SUCKS, hugely

Yay, corporate propaganda!

Quote:
Museum Review | The New World of Coca-Cola
Ingredients: Carbonated Water, High-Fructose Corniness ...
By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN

ATLANTA — You can’t beat the feeling. Life tastes good. It’s the Real Thing.

I have just emerged from the Coke side of life here, where the Coca-Cola Company had its origins in a patent medicine concocted by an eccentric, ailing and possibly drug-addicted entrepreneur in 1886. And after visiting the company’s new museum; after sitting in a theater, wearing 3-D glasses, feeling floating bubbles pop against my skin from well-timed puffs of air; after strolling through an exhibition hall with antique Coke ashtrays, vending machines and vintage ads; after watching a fully operational bottling facility produce the magic liquid; and after sampling nearly 70 different sodas made by the company, I can readily testify: Coke is It.

Coke, adding to all those slogans, must now be the only soft drink in the world with its own shrine: a tabernacle for the faithful, constructed by its creator. I can’t compare the New World of Coca-Cola — as this 92,000-square-foot, $97 million museum calls itself — with the old (which opened in 1990 and closed in April, a month before this resurrection). But if you want to have a Coke and a smile, and you don’t mind being engulfed by an enormous commercial (at $15 for adults), this museum offers its own puzzles and pleasures.

It stands in Atlanta’s once-blighted downtown, on a 22-acre plot that the company purchased in the early 1990s. Coke donated nine of those acres for construction of the Georgia Aquarium, which opened next door in late 2005. Then, in October, the company announced it would donate 2.5 acres to the City of Atlanta for a civil- and human-rights museum. Nearby CNN offers tours of its headquarters. Media, liberty, fish and Coke. Maybe only fish spoils the composite image.

But image is what this is all about, for as good as Coke is (and you are regularly told how extremely good it is), this mixture of caffeine, vanilla, cola, sugar and flavors (which are said to include oils of orange, nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander) would hardly be worth such devotion if there were not what is called in the marketing world “added value.” The added value comes from associations that have accumulated over the course of a century. This exhibition space is devoted to them.

You enter by walking under a 27-foot-tall bottle of Coke that hovers in a 90-foot-high glass pillar; the walls glimmer like chipped ice and are made bracingly cold to the touch even on a 90-degree day.

In the lobby one of the few misjudgments of tone can be found, as on the wall you read what seem to be corporate goals: “ To Refresh the World, Mind and Spirit; To Inspire Moments of Optimism Through Our Brands and Our Actions; To Create Value.” The business school homily is flat, off-putting, like soda without fizz.

The problems persist in a welcoming film, a computer-animated commercial that is a frenetic paean to the company and its mission: “Inside the Happiness Factory.” Eccentric creatures speak with the voices of real employees, testifying to camaraderie and mission, promising happiness to all who are prepared to drink deep.

It was only during these saccharine opening messages that I was apt to rebel. I recalled the controversies that dogged the company in the 1980s and ’90s, from which it has been distancing itself in recent years. Was Coke fair back then to its African-American employees? Was it violating antitrust statutes in its aggressive attempt to control its independent bottlers? What about the Belgian contamination claims a few years ago? Or the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Coke was originally made with cocaine — something the company denies?

But no company, particularly one that thinks of itself as a “happiness factory,” should be expected to tout possible flaws. Anyway, soon enough comes a pause that refreshes: an enormous entrance hall through which you can move into different exhibition spaces. In one, a survey of Coke’s presence in pop culture demonstrates the populist nature of Andy Warhol’s obsession. (“A Coke is a Coke,” he said, “and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.”) There are videos showing collectors in Taiwan and Switzerland, whose private lairs are stocked with bottles and ephemera, all bearing the logo and promising ... what?

Yes, what is being promised? In the drink’s first decades its medicinal properties were featured; one early label calls it a “Tonic and Nerve Stimulant.” Then its formula and reputation were largely stripped of such associations, but Coke, still laced with caffeine, remained “refreshing.”

Now, at the museum, nostalgia seems to flow freely; the main historical exhibition, “Milestones of Refreshment,” begins with an extraordinary onyx and alabaster soda fountain bar from 1880s Toomsboro, Ga., at which a statue of John S. Pemberton, the secret formula’s inventor, holds aloft a bronze-colored glass of Coke. The objects in the display cases also come from that supposedly simpler era and its successors: a Coke calendar sporting a silent movie star, or a Norman Rockwell painting in which the soft drink gets pastoral product placement.

But these objects are also meant to illustrate the immense revolution waged by the soda’s first overseer, a brilliant druggist named Asa Candler, who beginning in 1888 built Coke into a mass-marketing phenomenon by splashing its trademark over nearly every object in daily use, who handed out coupons offering free tastes, and who made the grievous error (some say) of practically giving away in perpetuity the rights to bottle the soda, leaving the company only the profits from selling the syrup. (That arrangement remained largely unchanged until the latter part of the 20th century.)

But it isn’t really nostalgia that is being promised. Coke is not being associated with the 1890s and bicycles built for two. The main tradition it cares about is simply that it has been consumed in so many different times and places.

The marketing of Coke now is about how successful the marketing of Coke has been. In the 3-D theater, with its vibrating seats and visceral thrills, a scientist seeks the secret Coke formula; he discovers it, in part, in the drink’s “universal availability.”

Coke lore is full of stories of the company’s leaders being obsessed with getting everyone everywhere to love it. The soda is marketed as if this goal has already been achieved. “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” goes Coke’s classic jingle.

It is amazing to see this idea at play here in an Advertising Theater that shows historic and foreign television commercials. “At its best,” a narrator explains, “Coca-Cola advertising opens hearts and minds.” From diversity, the ads assert, Coke molds a coherent community, bound together by shared experience and taste.

In a 2005 advertisement from Argentina, for example, a group of young people sit around a beach bonfire, playing music and passing around a bottle of Coke as if it were another kind of intoxicant. But then we notice that one of them is an enormous one-eyed alien whose entire body is covered with mucus. He slurps at the bottle and passes it to his neighbor, the slime dripping, and the next drinker stares in disgust. Suddenly the music stops, and his fellow communards are aghast — not at the mess of phlegm, but at the man so repulsed by an alien. He notices their shock, reconsiders, lifts the goo-coated bottle to his lips, and behold: All are again bound in musical and social harmony.

Coke adds more than life. Distributed in more than 200 countries, it promises a utopian world, globalization without pain. Who was I to argue, particularly since I was getting thirsty after taking in all the good feeling? Besides, there in the final gallery was apparent proof: five pillars, surrounded by taps offering the company’s sodas, each pillar devoted to a different continent.

I filled and refilled my cup, drinking with my fellow Cokatarians in faithful communion. And if I remained wary of Italy’s bitter Beverly beverage, there was Mozambique’s Krest Ginger Ale or Estonia’s Fanta Magic to offer multicultural compensation, while in its very own gallery, the transcendent, internationally invariant flavor of Coke held court.

All the effervescence didn’t allow too many cynical impulses to bubble up. Later that night when driving by Coke’s New World, I could see the glass pillar through which I first entered, illuminated in a heavenly blue. Within it a floating green bottle hovered, glowing with the promise that, yes, in time, everyone shall taste salvation.

The New World of Coca-Cola is at 121 Baker Street, Atlanta; (404) 676-5151.

[url]http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/30/arts/design/30muse.html[/url][/QUOTE]