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The Raspberry Statement [Powerline reviews the anti-American(?) Pepsico speech, long but good]
Powerline Blog ^ | May 19, 2005 | Scott Johnson

Posted on 05/19/2005 10:06:28 AM PDT by 68skylark

We have been inundated with messages responding to our posts on the graduation remarks by PepsiCo president Indra Nooyi at the Columbia Business School MBA recognition ceremony of this past Sunday. Many readers (approximately a third) have written to comment that, unlike our rapporteur -- graduating Columbia MBA Wes Martin -- they did not find Ms. Nooyi's remarks objectionable. I am grateful that PepsiCo posted the remarks today (together with the accompanying statement) and that we can all determine the issue for ourselves based on "the ocular proof."

The Harvard-Yale game this year was played in Cambridge. Consistent with some mysterious Eli tradition, Yale students executed a brilliant prank. During the game a fake Harvard pep squad wearing red and white face paint distributed 1800 pieces of construction paper on seats covering the Harvard side of the stadium. When turned over in unison by the occupants of the seats, they were purportedly to spell out "Go Harvard." Instead, they spelled out "We suck." (See the Harvard Sucks Web site for the back story and multimedia presentations.)

Ms. Nooyi's graduation remarks don't rise to that level of sophomoric genius. I am struck most forcibly, however, by the immaturity of her remarks; they are indeed sophomoric, as though an audacious undergraduate had sought to impersonate the distinguished executive of a multinational corporation and parody the genre of the commencement speech. The trope of the middle finger brings it almost to the level of the transcendent tastelessness of the "Harvard sucks" prank.

Wes Martin seems to me to have come remarkably close to capturing the Nooyi essence. Martin wrote:

Finally, the US (not Canada mind you) - yes, you guessed it - [is] the middle finger. She then launched into a diatribe about how the US is seen as the middle finger to the rest of the world. The rest of the world sees us as an overbearing, insensitive and disrespectful nation that gives the middle finger to the rest of the world. According to Ms. Nooyi, we cause the other finger nations to cower under our presence. But it is our responsibility, she continues, to change the current state of world opinion of the US. It is our responsibility to make the other fingers rise in unison with us as we move forward. She then goes on to give a personal anecdote about some disrespectful US business women in an Asian country and how that is typical of Americans overseas.
In her graduation remarks, Nooyi actually said this:
This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and, in particular, The United States. As the longest of the fingers, it really stands out. The middle finger anchors every function that the hand performs and is the key to all of the fingers working together efficiently and effectively. This is a really good thing, and has given the U.S. a leg-up in global business since the end of World War I.

However, if used inappropriately – just like the U.S. itself - the middle finger can convey a negative message and get us in trouble. You know what I’m talking about. In fact, I suspect you’re hoping that I’ll demonstrate what I mean. And trust me, I’m not looking for volunteers to model.

Discretion being the better part of valor...I think I’ll pass.

What is most crucial to my analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents, is that each of us in the U.S. – the long middle finger – must be careful that when we extend our arm in either a business or political sense, we take pains to assure we are giving a hand...not the finger. Sometimes this is very difficult. Because the U.S. – the middle finger – sticks out so much, we can send the wrong message unintentionally.

Unfortunately, I think this is how the rest of the world looks at the U.S. right now. Not as part of the hand – giving strength and purpose to the rest of the fingers – but, instead, scratching our nose and sending a far different signal. The effect of reading Ms. Nooyi's remarks is certainly less painful than hearing them spoken would be. Intoned by the guest of honor on a ceremonial occasion, however, the effect must have been excruciating.

Our readers came at the speech from a variety of viewpoints. Tom McLaughlin is himself a Columbia MBA. He wrote at length on the mismatch between the speech and the audience:

One has to pity the poor flacks who have to defend a corporate officer's speech characterized not just by US-bashing but by sheer fatuousness . It's hard to believe that anyone would give such a patronizing, trivial and completely inappropriate lecture to the graduating class of the most cosmopolitan business school in the world's most cosmopolitan business center...

I have no knowledge of Ms Nooyi's character, but it seems unlikely that one can climb to the top of Pepsico without the ability to grasp and accomodate the cultural sensitivities of an international audience. Surely Ms. Nooyi understood, prior to accepting the engagement, that Columbia's is among the most cosmopolitan of the premier business school programs. Of the class she addressed, 28% were not even Americans to begin with, and it's likely that a majority of the American listeners have significant international experience and are multilingual. Each year, top students select Columbia for its location in the most cosmopolitan city on the planet and for the breadth and excellence of its international offerings.

What points is Ms. Nooyi seeking to make in devoting her entire talk to the Ugly American -- a hackneyed theme, for starters, and one that would offer no enlightenment to most of her listeners? No doubt a few of the Americans in Ms. Nooyi's audience might qualify as boorish, but speaking to the Columbia crowd on this is like lecturing a group of public interest law graduates on the evils of greed.

In any case, what's the thinking (if any) behind the analogy equating fingers and racial groups? Would Ms. Nooyi punctuate her review of Pepsico's regional financial results with talk about the company's "sensual" brothers and sisters in Latin America, or its hapless, disposable Africans? Even allowing for cuteness-- graduation speeches are supposed to make mirth, we know -- Ms. Nooyi's tortured metaphor is mindless. The hand does not float. It does not require the functions of an "anchor". Assuming that Ms. Nooyi has a grasp of evolutionary biology, it's hard not to conclude that for her and her mother and sister, the region assigned the role of reversible thumb is rather more important, more connected to notions of humanity, so to speak, than all the other fingers. Speaking of humans, we function perfectly well without the pinky finger: so much for Africa's importance to the species.

As to the notion of the middle finger as the equivalent of the indispensable superpower, please. Every one of Ms. Nooyi's listeners knows that the middle finger is not in any sense "the key to all the fingers working together efficiently and effectively" but rather a very definite, very American, symbol of something else. Perhaps Ms. Palmer of Pepsico should do a Google search on "middle finger" -- not on her work computer, of course -- to see how many treatises on anatomy and physiology are returned.

Whatever her intentions, Ms. Nooyi's speech cannot be viewed as other than a patronizing and offensive stunt...Any Columbia Business School student who chose to utter such childish and insulting thoughts would have been looked at by his or her peers with the same mixture of incomprehension and disdain that greeted Ms. Nooyi's American businesswoman in China. Surely Ms. Nooyi's audience could have told her as much, had she bothered to ask.
Adam Feffer provided a close analysis of Ms. Nooyi's train of thought:
I just read Ms. Nooyi's speech, and I did not find it as unpatriotic and acerbic as Mr. Martin depicted it to be, but insulting none-the-less. The insult comes not from the sentiment so much as the condescension of the world view and philosophy being preached by Ms. Nooyi. Ms. Nooyi states that her objective is to speak about the world business perception of the US, but she never makes any distinction in her speech between the actual character of the US versus how we are perceived. In this way, Ms. Nooyi makes the implication that world perception of the US is unbiased, not jaded, and a reliable evaluation and representation of the US's character and behavior. In other word's she ascribes the US's own perception of good and bad to be inherently irrelevant, and "the world's" perception to be the right, the good, and the measure by which to judge ourselves. I find it ironic that for so many years, parents, teachers, coaches, and the like encouraged me to stand up for what is right, and not to care about what other people think, only to have the antithesis of that lesson propounded at the pinnacle of academia. Ms. Nooyi and Columbia, and all of liberal America hammer relentlessly at America's youth to convince them that we have to please "the world." She mandates that our first priority must be concern for how we are perceived. This message is an attack on any who hold the ideal that there is virtue, good, or an ethical code that extends beyond the judgment of the world community. This message is the mantra of the left.

The other remark of Ms. Nooyi's that I find insulting is her contention that "You can change and shape the attitudes and opinions of the other fingers – the other continents and their peoples – by simply ascribing positive intent to all your international business transactions." By citing such a simple solution to change how the US is perceived, and by so emphatically stating a big fat middle finger "is how the rest of the world thinks of the US right now," she implies that all current US business is devoid of positive intent. It must be, right? Otherwise everyone would love us. We just have to make our businessmen nicer, and eliminate the pervasiveness of disrespect and idiocy of US business out there now. Please.

In my experience, "the world’s" opinion of the US has little to do with isolated obnoxious behavior, and everything to do with our foreign policy. Internationally, businesses love the US. We’re one of the only countries whose businesses characteristically honor our contracts, pay our debts, and have laws and procedures to punish violators. Ms. Nooyi’s message wasn’t really asking the next generation of American Businessmen for "positive intent," it was asking for submission of values, acquiescence of international leadership--simply put, it was begging the adoption of liberalism. Sam Sweden wrote:

She seeks to impart her opinion that the United States' light of freedom should be put under a bushel basket because terrorists, tyrants and their "pointer finger" European sympathizers find it offensive.

She clearly suggests that America's thankless and lonely role in fighting terrorism, supporting Israel, and sponsoring democracy in the world is misguided and offensive to her, and by extension, Pepsico.

My message for Ms Nooyi, Pepsico, and all its products? "You know what I'm talking about." Several readers responded to Ms. Nooyi's mash note to Europe. In a letter to the PepsiCo board, Mike Perry wrote:

Actually, the US is the world's oldest and most long-lived democracy. The Greeks talked about democracy but rarely practiced it and limited power to those who owned land and weren't slaves. The rest of Western Europe, with the partial exception of Great Britain, resisted democratization and even today has far weaker grassroots democracy. (Parties and bureaucracies have simply replaced the old nobility at dictating what the masses can and cannot do.) And that neglects the rather obvious fact that in the past 150 years the European finger has pointed at vile ideologies like Marxism and Nazism, responsible for some 200 million deaths. It's European folly that made the 20th century so bloody and dragged the world into two global wars. Your president seems completely ignorant of modern history.
Other readers took issue with Ms. Nooyi's metaphor. In a message making a point after my heart, Hugh Marshall wrote:
Since when does the middle finger anchor the hand? Jerry Garcia didn't even have a middle finger and it didn't stop him from playing guitar. The opposing thumb is far more important, and if there is to be any analogy here, it should be that the U.S. is a big opposing thumb that keeps the world from losing its grasp.
I would add only that even with a missing middle finger, Garcia was able to play banjo in a modified version of the three-fingered Scruggs-style for his Old and In the Way bluegrass group.

Many other readers wrote with comments on the speech that were variously thoughtful, observant and/or funny. Only the desire to keep this post readable precludes me from quoting them all; sincere thanks to everyone who wrote. Also of interest are the comments posted by New Criterion managing editor Roger Kimball at Armavirumque, by Charmaine Yoest at Reasoned Audacity, and by Columbia Business School student Adrian Jones at Transatlantic Zeppelin.

I find the political subtext of Ms. Nooyi's speech uncomfortably close to the surface. It is uncongenial to me, as to Mr. Martin. By far the most eloquent critic of the speech's subtext is Eric Egland, writing from Baghdad as a member of the Iraqi Field Team's Improvised Explosive Device Task Force. Egland prefaced his message with the kind of note that keeps us going: "Thank you for your terrific blog. I read it every day possible while I am here in Iraq. Thanks to being informed by your site, I was able to respond to Ms. Nooyi's graduation remark with the following letter which I will mail tomorrow." I yield the last word here to Egland as set forth in his letter to PepsiCo:

I found Ms. Nooyi's graduation comments offensive, not to mention off-base, because the central theme of her speech was that America is, in essence, "flipping off the world."

I am in Iraq, and served previously in Afghanistan. Many Americans have given their lives to liberate those nations from tyranny. In that light, I offer a few examples of "fingers" in those places that might present Ms. Nooyi a more substantive representation of American presence abroad than a trivial story of a rude traveler.

For example, she could ride on a combat patrol here and use her fingers to return the waves that I see on every mission from some of the over eight million Iraqis whose fingers were stained with purple ink following voting in the first democratic elections after decades of tyranny. She might notice her fingers moistened by sweat as she unconsciously gripped her armrest, noticing a tinge of fear from attack by a roadside bomb--the same fear felt by myself and every other American on Iraq’s roads.

In Afghanistan, many children and parents stick their thumbs straight up when Americans pass, demonstrating gratefulness for no longer living under the Taliban. I drove by Kabul University a while back and saw two young girls using their fingers to carry the books that represent the freedom to pursue education now enjoyed by Afghan women.

Now, a question that begs an answer: Does Ms. Nooyi consider that freedom an example of America "giving the world the finger," or "giving the world a hand?"

In the meantime, I will stop consuming Pepsico products and encourage others to do the same. Please remember, it is this country, and the brave men and women who defend it, that provided the free enterprise system that allowed your company to become a global corporate power. I would hope that Pepsi senior executives would show more respect for this great country. Perhaps the troops who enjoy your products would hope so as well.

I respectfully ask for a serious response, not the "promised land" public relations pabulum response offered on behalf of Ms. Nooyi. Please mail it to my address here in Baghdad.

God bless Mr. Egland and all his colleagues who make us proud and keep us free.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: americabashing; antiamericanism; boycott; boycottpepsico; businessschool; columbia; indranooyi; insult; middlefinger; pepsi; pepsico; peterprinciple; rebuttal; stereotype; theuglyamerican; ugluamerican; wesuck

1 posted on 05/19/2005 10:06:29 AM PDT by 68skylark
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To: 68skylark


2 posted on 05/19/2005 10:11:57 AM PDT by federal
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To: 68skylark


3 posted on 05/19/2005 10:15:41 AM PDT by Born Conservative ("Television is a medium because anything well done is rare" - Ernie Kovacs)
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To: 68skylark

Let me say right now that the US is like the opposable thumb, it separates us from the animals and gets the job done.
4 posted on 05/19/2005 10:19:33 AM PDT by weegee ("Do you want them to write a piece about how great the military is?" Elizabeth Bumiller - NY Times)
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To: federal

Remember that any action to urge Pepsico to release this moron should include Frito-Lay products, Quaker Oats, Tropicana and Starbucks bottled products..oh yeah, and that disgusting SOBE crap.

5 posted on 05/19/2005 10:22:38 AM PDT by steve8714
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To: 68skylark

I will never drink Pepsi again. ever. never. I do like Mountai Dew tho. Does that count?

6 posted on 05/19/2005 11:36:51 AM PDT by steel_resolve
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To: 68skylark

Corporate pigs have no allegiance to anything except their bottom line. America needs to wake up to the sometimes corrosive values these people promote in their advertising (brainwashing) operations. In addition, PEPSI has been poisoning Americans for generations. Any boycott will only improve the overall health of the nation.

7 posted on 05/19/2005 3:39:19 PM PDT by rimmont
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To: 68skylark
Hilarious tangent within the article:

8 posted on 05/19/2005 3:46:12 PM PDT by Diddle E. Squat
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To: 68skylark

They shareholders have got to be freaking out.

9 posted on 05/19/2005 5:33:19 PM PDT by mabelkitty
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To: steel_resolve
Drink Sun Drop instead. It is the original Mt Dew. Pepsi tried to buy it in '53 but the guy wouldn't sell, so Pepsi went and devised Mt Dew..
10 posted on 05/19/2005 5:43:14 PM PDT by Tulsa Brian (Eat a lot sleep a lot brush 'em like crazy, Run a lot do a lot never be lazy...)
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To: 68skylark

50 or more years ago, with notable exceptions of odd balls such as Henry Ford and other eccentrics, one could count on execs for American companies to be, if not nationalistic, at least, more or less oriented toward favoring their homeland. But today, it would seem that not only have the sensibilities of individual execs moves en masse to the Left, but also, the whole corporate mindset has become so intertwined with globalist, anti national utopianism, that there is now substantial peer pressure to NOT be seen as patriotic - either in the corporate or individual sense. This is tragic, and undermines our national strength.

11 posted on 05/19/2005 6:18:34 PM PDT by GOP_1900AD (Stomping on "PC," destroying the Left, and smoking out faux "conservatives" - Take Back The GOP!)
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12 posted on 05/19/2005 9:03:21 PM PDT by P H Lewis (One of the fundamentals of democracy is knowing where to place your machine gun. - Foggy)
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To: 68skylark

Now CEO. Bump! Boycott!

13 posted on 08/16/2006 11:32:51 AM PDT by GOP_1900AD (Stomping on "PC," destroying the Left, and smoking out faux "conservatives" - Take Back The GOP!)
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