8 DAWN: Second Line

2019 #11, 2013 #24

DAWN (née Richards) is quietly becoming one of the world’s most astonishingly unique, progressive and essential artists. Well, I say ‘quietly’, there is absolutely nothing ‘quiet’ about her sixth studio album. It’s an extravagant, extraverted, shameless parade of confidence. Continuing the dissection and celebration of what New Orleans means to her that began on the (already fucking amazing. Already fucking. It fucks. That album fuuuuuucks. This one might even fuck harder. I have been violently pegged by this album for eight months now) 2019 album ‘New Breed’.

But ‘Second Line’ expands its focus far past the Louisiana city, aiming to use its Afrofuturism to comment on wider instances of black people migrating across state lines and why they ever felt moved to do so. Even when the lyrics or the spoken word montages from DAWN’s mother don’t explicitly make the statement, DAWN’s incredible amalgamation of seemingly every black musical culture of the last 500 years – jazz, obviously, but DAWN also ensures that you’d be able to consider her but never box her in as an artist performing funk, R&B, soul, hip-hop, blues or even grime – is still a pronounced statement on both the artist’s continued existence despite so many barriers, and also to the communities that were able to inspire that. There’s a lot going on here! Which is one of the reasons I love it!!

Anyway, that was all a bit serious and earnest, can I just tell you the story of the guy who tried to sue Pepsi for a fighter jet? Awesome.

In 1995, Pepsi – or, to give the company their full name: ‘Is Pepsi OK?’ – ran the promotion that you can see in that video, where people would collect ‘Pepsi Points’ and were able to trade them in for some seriously rad stuff! A t-shirt was only 75 points! I would have definitely warn that out to the clubs! All of my close friends are way more attractive than me, so I feel like a Pepsi shirt would inform the girls in the club that although I would never be first choice, I’d work absolutely fine if all other options were taken. Sunglasses were only 175 points, while a pretty legitimate looking leather jacket would require the investment of 1’450 points. Man, I would totally wear that jacket! That would show them! That would show everyone

Then, at the end of the advert, the hip 90s kid, decked out in Pepsi merchandise that would totally not get him bullied at school, enters a Herrier Jet to travel to school. That Harrier Jet would cost seven million Pepsi points. Lol, that Pepsi lot are wild and zany guys, what a wild and unobtainable item! And what a funny joke! Well, unless someone does the maths, and you find yourself in court having to explain the joke.

Seven million! Zany, right! Numbers that high don’t even exist! Like, how man stars are there, maybe a million? You can’t go much higher than that! Except… you could. At the time each AV‑8B Harrier II cost the US army about twenty million dollars, so even if you were spending a dollar a Pepsi Point, you could make yourself a decent saving. And at the time Pepsi were offering people the chance to purchase additional points for ten cents each. So any enterprising (and wealthy) individual could purchase a AV‑8B Harrier II jet for $700’000. John Leonard, a 21 year old college kid studying business, saw the loophole, and wanted his fighter jet as much as Bart wanted his elephant. He spent $4’000 talking to legal professionals and researching the law around deceptive advertising, thought he had a case, talked to wealthy people he happened to meet in his job as a climbing instructor, and managed to convince them enough of the viability of his scheme to raise $700’000. Pepsi required you to send off a form with at least 15 Pepsi points, with a cheque to cover any points missing. So John collected the points, filled out the form, and sent it back with a cheque for $699’998.50.

Pepsi though, were not having it. They returned John’s cheque (along with some Pepsi vouchers!) and stated politely that “The Harrier Jet in the Pepsi commercial is fanciful, and is simply included to create a humorous and entertaining ad”. Fanciful?? Entertaining?? It was a ‘humorous’ ad, was it?? Well is John Leonard laughing?? No. He most definitely was not. He lawyered up – he wanted his fucking Harrier Jet!!! – and his representatives sent a letter back stating “Your letter of May 7 1996 is totally unacceptable… [the commercial] clearly offers the new Harrier Jet for 7’000’000 Pepsi Points. Our client followed your rules explicitly… This is a formal demand that you honour your commitment and make immediate arrangements to transfer the new Harrier Jet to our client”. The letter eventually made it to Raymond E McGovern jr – which I’m pretty sure is the name of one of the bankers in It’s a Wonderful Life – the VP of BBDO New York, the advertising firm that had made the advertisement. “I find it hard to believe that you are of the opinion that the Pepsi Stuff commercial really offers a new Harrier Jet,” he incredulously wrote back. “No reasonable person would agree with your analysis of the commercial”. No reasonable… Fuck this guy, right? John Leonard took Pepsi to court.

An unreasonable man. An unreasonable dude!

And so it went to motherfucking court! Pepsi were, seriously, not in the mood right now. “Tens of millions of Americans, and people around the world, saw the spot, got the joke, and laughed,” a PepsiCo spokesman told CBS News. “Mr. Leonard saw the spot, hired business advisers and lawyers, and decided to take legal action”. Mr. Leonard responded as even headedly as he possibly could: “I didn’t want any publicity on this. I’m not trying to make a statement. I’m not looking for a settlement. I just want a plane”. He just wants a plane, God dammit! In order to argue that the offer was meant as a joke, the Pepsi plaintiffs were required to make a legal statement as to why it was funny:

The teenager’s comment that flying a Harrier Jet to school ‘sure beats the bus’ evinces an improbably insouciant attitude toward the relative difficulty and danger of piloting a fighter plane in a residential area, as opposed to taking public transportation…

No school would provide landing space for a student’s fighter jet, or condone the disruption the jet’s use would cause…

In light of the Harrier Jet’s well-documented function in attacking and destroying surface and air targets, armed reconnaissance and air interdiction, and offensive and defensive antiaircraft warfare, depiction of such a jet as a way to get to school in the morning is clearly not serious.

Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc., 88 F. Supp. 2d 116 (S.D.N.Y. 1999)

John never got his plane :(. Just because that lame-o in the advert was apparently betraying an “improbably insouciant attitude”, and that schools in the US aren’t likely to include space for fighter jets to park. That second reason seems like more of a systematic failure to me, but OK. The court concluded that advertisements are generally not considered offers in contract law (why aren’t more amoral companies exploiting that legal loophole??), the ad was ‘obviously’ a joke, and an enforceable contract requires both party’s signatures. John launched an appeal in 2000 (He. Wants. His. Plane!), but that was unsuccessful.

So what’s the moral here? None, really. But what does it tell us about society? Nothing much. A rich kid trying to get richer by suing a really rich corporation. But what’s the link to Dawn Richard?? Well, ladies and gentlemen, that whole case took place in

New Orleans!!

Oh, no, sorry, it was Washington. Yeah, there’s nothing to link it to this record at all


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