Sunday, 9 March 2014

A model factory for a colonialism in trouble: the SodaStream saga revisited

Graphic by Stephanie Westbrook (@stephinrome)

It may have taken up a nauseating amount of our attention by now, but the Scarlett Johannson/SodaStream saga sure has a lot of people talking about how those seltzer machines are made in the Occupied West Bank.

Of the recent wave of boycotts against Israeli institutions and companies, this one against SodaStream has crystallized, in a particularly interesting way, the growing momentum and challenges for critics of Israel’s policies, especially the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Pressuring Johannson to step down from SodaStream, the movement argued that her promotion of products made in Israeli-occupied territory might contradict her other commitment as ambassador for the global antipoverty organization Oxfam. Oxfam, which provides basic services to Palestinians under Israeli occupation, didn’t find Scarlett’s “saving the world” comment too funny. But a serious kind of joking around, an anticolonial satire, has seemed to work well for the BDS movement. Memes of the actress enjoying soda amid iconic scenes of the occupation circulated on social media under the Twitter hashtags #NoScarJo, and #BDS.

This tactic yoked the company’s advertisements for consumer pleasure to the more principled pleasure of satirizing and mocking the occupation’s commercial propaganda. If the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself spends millions of dollars a year on its “nation-branding”—portraying Israel as a fun tourist haven, with no occupation in sight— the BDS movement has followed its adversary to this awkward territory of fun and fantasy. Awkward because the goals of ending Israel’s occupation and gaining the right of return for Palestinian refugees are quite serious. Yet, like dissidents under occupation in Syria, the movement has understood that in tough times, an aesthetics of laughter may not only provide respite but satirical punch. These memes, or Tamer Nafar’s new rap about ScarJo, might even break the ice at awkward house parties where the host has a SodaStream machine. more


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