Thursday, May 30, 2019

Commercials From Hell: Gorbachev Sells Pizza Hut

When I taught world history to college students, I would end my class about the end of the Cold War by showing this commercial. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was reduced to shilling for a second-rate fast food pizza company. Is there anything that better sums up the victory of capitalism? Of for that matter, the utterly fatuous nature of the brand of capitalism that triumphed?

One of my favorite passages from The Communist Manifesto deals with how capitalism destroys traditional culture.

"The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation. The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers."

Whatever Marx got wrong, he certainly got that right. Gorbachev turned into pizza pitchman was ultimate proof of capitalism's ability to force every single aspect of modern life to bend to its values system. Back in the 1990s it was easy to think that this was the end of history. How wrong that was.

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