John Wayne, apple pie, and the Statue of Liberty enticed generations of communist states. Yet all stood aside of the grandest soft power of them all — multinational fast food corporations.
As the Soviet Union took its final breath in 1991, millions cheered and millions hung their heads weeping. Corporations tripped over themselves to feast on the ripe carcass of communism’s third–last outpost.
Once the world’s second-largest economy, it quickly became the free market’s chew toy.
McDonald’s opened its first location in the USSR in 1990, ushering in an era of commercialized capitalism that would reach its peak in Mikhail Gorbachev’s infamous 1998 Pizza Hut commercial.
“Because of him we have many things — like Pizza Hut,” were the words spoken by an elderly babushka in support of Gorbachev.
Simple words, yet words that carried a larger message. Pizza Hut was not just pizza, it was a statement, a bombastic last dagger into what remained of what the Bolsheviks built.
A fiery dance on the grave of its nemesis, like never before, defeated not only by the Cold War but by the cheesy jingle-infused patriotism of a ‘wholesome’ family pizza chain.
Humiliation, some argued. It was death.
Communism’s long-held belief that as long as people received essentials — it wouldn’t matter the wrapping it came in, was proven a miscalculation.
Years of slow-burning propaganda pushed through pop culture had an effect. Music, art, dance, and films all reinforced the same story — American patriotism — vibrant images of freedom, wealth, and opportunity caught on like wildfire.
The fact it was censored just made it more appealing.
The repetitive messages of the ’80s red-scare films and media provided fuel for dissent within the banned black market audiences who desired the liberties shown in American media.
American culture was shown as a transforming catalyst for change in hopes of provoking social movements and instigating challenges to communism.
Multinational corporations are a necessity like a fish needs an oil spill, yet 30,000 Muscovites lined up all day to taste their first Big Mac in 1990.
People need vanity projects to feel part of something grand, even if vacuous. Capitalism, through its many cards, sells an intoxicating seduction, it performs miracles on the psyches of the world.
It tells all sorts of tales, worst are the ones it does not need to speak. The ones people believe all on their own.
After levelling Vietnam to rubble in the ’60s, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink released in 2021 a gimmicky rap video on Facebook about his support for improved relations between the two nations.
As he put it: “U.S. and Vietnam, from now to forever. We are trusted partners, prospering together.”
It quickly went viral in Vietnam with 2.8 million views.
A 2021 survey conducted by the State of Southeast Asia concluded that 91.7 per cent of participants welcomed an increased political and strategic American presence in the region, signaling the effectiveness of soft power even in the modern day.
Multinational corporations are an extension of this soft power, they travel into nooks and crannies that regular foreign policy can’t, or won’t. Something as banal as fast food seems ridiculous, but it is a crucial cog in the grand machine of capitalist interest.
Pepsi, Apple, or McDonalds won’t sink a nation or overthrow a government, but someone who sees them as a symbol of their destiny just might.