Media Bites: Brita’s racism and fake environmentalism
Water activists like Maude Barlow and Vandana Shiva have been saying for years that in the minds of capitalists, water is going to be just as precious a commodity as oil has been over the past 60 years.
Understanding that water is the source of major political and economic battles, the corporations that make massive profits from water and water related products have been engaged in PR wars to win the hearts and minds of the public.
Companies such as Coca Cola, Nestle and Veolia have spent billions on ad campaigns and PR projects to try to project themselves as responsible and sustainable companies. However, a simple investigation into how these companies present themselves in ad campaigns is often an indicator of how they really feel about the world.
Take this recent Brita TV commercial. This 15 – second spot begins with a person who looks indigenous (most likely Inuit) and is drinking water from a stream. All of a sudden a woman who is not dressed for the snowy climate appears and gives the indigenous person a Brita bottle and says, “It’s water from the drinking fountain at the mall.”
The indigenous person drinks the water and then smiles big for the camera, just before a cut away to a manufactured scene of a Brita bottle and a narrator telling viewers how magical Brita water filters are.
First, the Brita commercial is racist in that it depicts an indigenous person in a stereotypical fashion, without any context or understanding of how they live. Are we to assume that indigenous people just kneel down and drink from the stream? Maybe they do, but the reference would most likely lead American TV viewers with a sense that “these people” are quite primitive. In other words there is no cultural or historic context.
The racist depiction continues when the woman from the “civilized” world shows up with a Brita bottle that contains water from the Mall. Of course it is from the Mall. The Mall is one of the most dramatic symbols of modern capitalism and consumerism.
After the indigenous person drinks the water he smiles at the camera. He doesn’t talk or engage in conversation, he just smiles. Such a reaction just fuels the racist stereotype about indigenous people as mute and as being grateful for the wonderful benefits of modern capitalism in the form of a Brita water bottle.
Brita would no doubt argue that this commercial is not racist and is in fact a celebration of Native culture, a predictable response that has been the norm from any company or entity that uses Native images or symbols without Native consent. Sports teams and Universities have been using this argument for decades over the challenges from indigenous people because of the racist depictions in team mascots and logos.
There was no explanation of this Brita commercial on their website, but what one does find is a huge push from the company to present itself as an environmentally responsible company.
Brita has a whole section on their website entitled, Say No to Bottled Water. In addition, the company has partnered with some trendy entities, even well known musicians, to get the word out that they fighting waste created by the bottled water industry.
It is true that the bottled water industry is deceptive and has taken the world down a dark path by selling us water, as if water wasn’t already available to us. However, the problem with Brita’s position here is that they are essentially no different that bottled water companies in that they sell their products with the argument that tap water isn’t clean enough, so we should also by their filtration systems and we’ll be better off.
This is the beauty of capitalism or disaster capitalism as Naomi Klein calls it. You have a problem, which in this case is dirty water or at least the perception of dirty water. But instead of solving the problem by preventing further contamination of the water that people will use, just sell people a product that will just benefit them. If Brita really cared about the quality of water that people consumed, they would be working to educate and organize people to stop the root causes of water contamination. This will never happen, because the root cause of water contamination is industrial capitalism, which Brita is part of.