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Stuck with you

Photo collage courtesy of Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
Coke can featured in Huey Lewis & The News "Stuck With You" video. 2.) Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is perplexed as he tries to get a Pepsi in "2015" Hill Valley in 1989's "Back to the Future II"
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OKLAHOMA CITY – As a child of the 1980’s, the so-called “cola wars” between Pepsi Cola and Coca-Cola were quite vicious and bloody. There were many casualties during these wars that were quite disturbing, from Michael Jackson’s hair catching on fire while filming a Pepsi commercial to the Max Headroom-promoting abomination that was “New Coke.” Gag!

Who didn’t take the Pepsi Challenge? Well, I was a Coke guy and found Pepsi a bit too sweet. It seems that these two colas would forever be in the background (or foreground) of our lives, even as tastes change.

And over the years I have come to notice the “product placement” of these two beverages (and their various offshoots) in movies and television.

While dwelling on the cola wars of my youth, I was thinking about the prominence of Pepsi in the 1985 film Back to the Future, a film dealing with time travel and a film that apparently syncs with both the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the murky-and-as-yet-not-fully-explained attacks of September 11, 2001.

This brought to mind Huey Lewis & The News, the 80’s rock band that had a number one hit with “Power of Love,” the theme song from Back to the Future. The band had three other number one hits – “Stuck With You” in 1986 and “Jacob’s Ladder” (which I addressed here) in 1987.

Blending this with my thoughts on the synchromystic Huey Lewis (who knew?) I recalled the “Stuck With You” music video that featured Huey and a gal pal marooned on what they thought was a deserted island … but in fact is populated with partiers at “Murray’s Last Conch Luau.” At the party, one party-goer drinks from a Coca-Cola can, which – in 1986, strangely enough – has an opening where a removable pull tab, largely obsolete by 1986, can be seen. There's something out of place and out of time about that video. 

As I thought of this, the song “Stuck With You” came on, as if on cue. Huey Lewis, of course, makes an appearance in Back to the Future as a judge at the high school band tryouts. This film is littered with Pepsi references. The same year – 1985 – Coca-Cola and Pepsi entered space together, aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, on STS-51-F. Of course, the Challenger would not be around for much longer. One of the astronauts aboard the Challenger on that "cola wars spaceship" was the eccentric Story Musgrave. He would gain notoriety for suggesting he’s seen UFOs on a mission or two. It’s a big universe out there and along with ET's, Coke and Pepsi have found their place in it.

In Back to the Future II, released 25 years ago, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), returns to his hometown of Hill Valley - but in the year 2015 - a year that is just a few weeks off - 1985 Marty appears in 2015 Hill Valley - thirsty as ever for Pepsi Cola. But in 2015 Hill Valley, getting a Pepsi isn't as easy as it sounds, at least compared to 1985 or 1955 Hill Valley. On the flip-sync of all of this, sync master and basketball enthusiast Joe Alexander, in his recent video "BACK TO THE FUTURE / John F. Kennedy Assassination," makes some phenomenal discoveries regarding JFK-assassination syncs in 1989's Back to the Future II.

As Alexander narrates: "A severed head of JFK is secretly depicted in a storefront window of Hill Valley's town square. A position perfectly correspondent to the placement in Dealey Plaza where JFK loses his head." 

Recall that in testimony following the assassination of JFK, witnesses claimed Lee Harvey Oswald bought a Coca-Cola (or was that a Dr Pepper - the soda with 23 flavors?). Clearly, a refreshing, fizzy beverage was more important than the witnessing of President Kennedy's motorcade. Again, in the midst of one of the most tragic events in American history, Coca-Cola is duly noted. Again, we never got over the pain and horror. Even Coke's bubbly goodness couldn't take it away. Coke adds life. Coke adds death. We're stuck with it. 

And to take America's mind off of the horrors of JFK's ritual murder in Freemasonic Dallas, Texas, those four lovable moptops - The Beatles - paid us a visit, a visit that we never really got over. John Lennon, specifically, got away with singing "he shoot Coca-Cola" in 1969's Abbey Road track "Come Together," and got away with it (something The Kinks weren't able to do a year later, with "Lola." Coca-Cola was changed to "cherry cola." A shame.) And just as there's confusion regarding Oswald's favortie soda pop (he was definitely not a Pepsi man), John Lennon was - we later learned - a Dr Pepper guy, as "Dr Pepper "fueled" the 1971 Imagine recording sessions. In the summer of 1985, when Back to the Future was first released, I was having my own Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper battles. By the end of the summer, Coke had won, because it had returned in "classic" form. 

In the sci-fi horror film Event Horizon (1997), the crew of the Lewis and Clark has gone to Neptune and comes across the “disappeared” ship Event Horizon. In a quick scene, one of the Clark crew is at a console and a red can of Coca-Cola can be seen. Even way out near Neptune, Coke survives.

And believe it or not, as I listen to Negativland’s It’s All In Your Head (RDR’s favorite album of 2014), the track “Viewpoint,” features (a mimic of) End Times radio preacher Harold Camping making a point about God by talking about the evolution of an aluminum soda can – “over millions of years.” This makes sense, as Negativland released a fine, fine record in the 1990’s, addressing the cola wars, called Dispepsi. As for Camping, his prediction of Armageddon never came true and he died a year ago this week.

Back to the movies: In the 1979 freak film The Visitor (referred to as the “Mount Everest of insane 70’s Italian movies”), filmed largely in the heart of Coca-Cola country – Atlanta, Georgia – the demented little girl “Katy” (Paige Conner) encounters Shelley Winters (who plays a superstitious maid) underneath a kitchen lamp promoting 7-UP – “The UNCOLA.” Later, the little girl (seemingly from a distant planet ruled by a Jesus-like character) runs around Atlanta, scowling, at one time stopping in front of one of Atlanta’s large, lighted, Coca-Cola signs. Have a Coke and a … frown?

Bubbly, fizzy lifting drinks dominate. Even as consumers look for other drinks to slurp and swallow, Coke and Pepsi are ever present. Even after the heyday of the Pepsi Challenge/Cola wars and New Coke, they are there.

And with obesity and health concerns coming more to the fore (or is that Fore!, Mr. Lewis?), this takes us back to my sync piece in the Dust Devil Dreams called “Dopey little tykes...” and my recent 42 Minutes discussion about corn and its connection to the subjugation of native peoples and Manifest Destiny.

Corn. Think about it. This is the staple that the Pilgrims were introduced to – before the visitors from the New World – seeking to practice their “faith” in peace – turned on their native hosts. Corn.

In Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s newly-released An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, the first chapter is called “Follow the Corn.” It addresses the importance of corn in the lives of Native Americans – before and after the arrival of white Europeans. Their descendents would create processed foods and soda pop that would be a detriment to native populations the world over as diabetes and death rates skyrocketed. The yin and yang of the corn. Those stalks.

“North America in 1492 (at the time of Christopher Columbus’ appearance) was not a virgin wilderness but a network of Indigenous nations, peoples of the corn.” Perhaps Stanley Kubrick really was trying to address the genocide of Native Americans in The Shining? Even today, as we fight over mascot names - even here in Oklahoma City, with the Redskins football team at Capitol Hill High School - there is pain and an unaddressed issue just below the surface of American society. It's time for some nationwide "truth telling." From JFK to 9/11 to white supremacy, racism and imperialism. War and torture and deception. America is a pro when it comes to denial. 

This food has been manipulated and used in the production of processed foods – and very much present in soda pop. For anyone who consumed soda pop pre-1985 knows that soda pop today tastes different – has a different “mouthfeel” - compared to those days long ago.

Refined sugar was being replaced by high-fructose corn syrup by the early-to-mid 1980’s, just as “New Coke” was being introduced to a horrified citizenry. Has America gotten over New Coke? Has it gotten over the assassinations of JFK and John Lennon? What about the Baby Boomers and the fact that America - and the world, for that matter - have never fully gotten over the 20th century. Nearly 15 years into a new century and we're still fighting those old battles. We're stuck with them. What a tragedy. Like the old hamster wheel. It spins and spins and spins. 

We're just short of heaven, and just this side of hell. With that in mind, here's one of my favorite Talking Heads songs - "Heaven.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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