Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Pepsi-Snafu?

Powerline has reported on a speech given by Ms. Indra Nooyi, Chief Financial Officer of PepsiCo., given at a graduation ceremony at Columbia University. You can see their reports here, here, and here.

In her speech, Ms. Nooyi made an analogy of the world as a hand, and the continents as fingers. I'll let you guess as to which one she decided represents North America (and primarily the US). Therein lies the controversy. Many people walked away from this speech with the impression that Ms. Nooyi had just declared that the US is flipping one large "bird" at the rest of the world. PepsiCo. released statements assuring people that her remarks were completely pro-American. After some squirming, Pepsi finally released the full text of her speech. You can find it in the link at the top, but here's the relevant portion:

This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and, in particular, The United States. As the longest of the fingers, it really stands out. The middle finger anchors every function that the hand performs and is the key to all of the fingers working together efficiently and effectively. This is a really good thing, and has given the U.S. a leg-up in global business since the end of World War I.

However, if used inappropriately –just like the U.S. itself -- the middle finger can
convey a negative message and get us in trouble. You know what I’m talking about. In fact, I suspect you’re hoping that I’ll demonstrate what I mean. And trust me, I’m not looking for volunteers to model.

Discretion being the better part of valor … I think I’ll pass.

What is most crucial to my analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents, is that each of us in the U.S. – the long middle finger – must be careful that when we extend our arm in either a business or political sense, we take pains to assure we are giving a hand … not the finger. Sometimes this is very difficult. Because the U.S. – the middle finger – sticks out so much, we can send the wrong message unintentionally. Unfortunately, I think this is how the rest of the world looks at the U.S. right now. Not as part of the hand – giving strength and purpose to the rest of
the fingers – but, instead, scratching our nose and sending a far different signal.

After this, she proceeds to tell a story of some boorish American businessmen at a Chinese hotel.

Looking at the actual text, I don't see anything overtly wrong with it. It's a softer version of the typical liberal rhetoric about America. "Everything we do is wrong, the world would hate us less if we hated ourselves more, blah blah blah." But she is right in part; America being the one global superpower right now, how we act can have major consequences. However, some people are going to find a way to hate America no matter what we do, and I don't think we should resist doing the right thing and working for positive change in the world just because someone might mistake our scratching an itch for a rude gesture.

That being said, I have no way of knowing if this is the actual speech she gave, or a doctored version thereof. She might have delivered this in a careful, unoffensive way, or she might have spoken these words in such a way that everyone knew she was giving the "American finger" back to America. Presentation is everything.

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