The Human Pixel Who Wouldn't

Mike Cameron's minor act of rebellion is an example of the kind of public theater that increasingly makes up American culture. Cameron, as many will have read, committed the crime of wearing a Pepsi shirt on Coke day at a Georgia high school, for which he suffered a one-day suspension and then elevation to instant celebrity status.

It seems that Greenbrier High School in Evans, Ga., was participating in a competition in which schools around the country come up with a plan to distribute Coke discount cards in their local areas. But, apparently because it is about 100 miles from Coke headquarters in Atlanta, the Greenbrier student government decided to turn the competition into a ritual celebration of Coke that included a sea of human art of the kind one can still find at ceremonies in Communist China. At a rally, many students wore red and white -- Coke's colors -- and lined up to spell the word "COKE" for an approving audience of Coke executives.

But it turned out that one of the human pixels who made up part of the "C" in Coke -- namely Mike Cameron -- was less than cooperative. According to the principal, Cameron whipped off his outer shirt at the last minute, just as the photo was being taken, and revealed a shirt with a Pepsi logo underneath.

For the crime of trying to undermine the school's publicity photo, the nonconformist-turned-scapegoat suffered a one-day ritual suspension. Little did the principal realize that she was merely playing into Cameron's hands. Much to her dismay, he became an instant celebrity and she suddenly found herself playing the villain in someone else's media event. Such indignities!

Many in the media proceeded to treat all this like an "outrage story" of persecution, but one that people weren't expected to take too seriously. (Sort of Outrage Lite.) Meanwhile, Pepsi and Coke both got tons of free publicity.
The incident certainly provides an insight into the degree to which commercialization now pervades almost every element of American society. The school's willingness to let its students be turned into living advertisements looks like something one might expect to see in one of Hollywood's nightmare visions of the future.

Mike Cameron, the anti-hero of the story, rebelled by using his own sense of theater against the corporate-inspired theater of the school. As in so many battles today, it was a case of dueling representations and an act of pseudo-rebellion against a pseudo-event.

Still, in its own small way, it was, as a certain soft drink ad would put it, the real thing.