What the world wants today
That’s the way it will stay
It’s the real thing.
So, what does the world want today? Might at least some of it want something sweet, fizzy, upbeat, cafinated-ly energizing, mass-produced and only about a bottle’s contents deep, but still … oddly uniting for people from multiple cultures? That, in a sentence, is the Atlanta World of Coca Cola, the most corporate of corporate museums and a guilty pleasure for me. It stands In Pemberton Square, across from a massive aquarium, It has lots of memorabilia, a bottling plant coke related sculptures, and a room to taste Coke products from around the world.
It’s a happy place. Relentlessly happy. Beat you into happiness with a Coke six-pack happy. The sort of place that if it were a person, it would call Disneyland mopey and diagnose Disney World with a severe, un-treatable case of depression. That’s always been Coca-Cola’s corporate image though, the one unchanging thing in its ads, at least the ones the museum shows: Youth, friendship, sharing, happenin’-ness, nostalgia, but always joy. Also polar bears who want to hug your children not maul them.
“Nothing can ever bring me down,” as the current jingle goes. To be fair though, why wouldn’t it want to convey that image in its museum though? You don’t introduce yourself with everything you’ve done wrong as a corporation any more than Disney ever had any desire to portray its various battles, past and present with unions. Coke wants to put its best and fizziest foot forward.
You can’t even enter the place without at first chanting Coca-Cola, Co … Coca-Cola!” with an enthusiastic guide, then watching an almost totally irrelevant movie about skydivers, people throwing a basketball from a balcony high above the hoop, and a veteran home from Afghanistan, all of them finally ending by drinking Coke.
If I sound a little sardonic and resentful for someone who did pay $34 to return with his girlfriend (whose name, Yvonne, got left out of the recent bottles with names campaign as far as I know) that’s because the place invites it, regardless of the beautiful genuine artistry on display with the many coke-bottle shaped masterpieces representing cultures around the world and different artistic sensibilities, not to mention the also a bit off topic airline trays dedicated to Delta, Atlanta’s other big non-Turner corporation.
It’s just that the place is, in fact, all honeybees and apple trees and snow white turtledoves. Or rather all that, but not the bees. NOT THE BEES! Those can actually sting you. And get in your eyes.
Any place as happy and full of sweet drinks and happy tourists from around the globe as the World of Coca-Cola, you can’t help but wonder if somewhere they might be just luring you in to feed you to the Slurm queen. You want to find the dark edges and they’re there, if you know where to look and if you can think in terms of context for some of the stuff on display. Some of it, like the above video ad, comes off as more poignant, if still calculated to fit with the mood of its time, 1971.
You’ll learn plenty of history and technology there. You’ll learn how carbonation and mechanical assembly lines work. You’ll learn about the de-centralized nature of the bottling process starting from the very beginning and giving Tennessee a probably better claim to being Coca-cola’s true birthplace (not that the museum says that in so many words but I’m a Tennessean with pride). It’s also (here’s my grim side again) led to the company claiming no responsibility for issues with specific plants such as occurred in Colombia a little over a decade ago. I use Wikipedia’s link here in part because it’s probably the best hub for other links about that mess. My sister even wrote a story about that for her college newspaper, although keep in mind the company does not control individual bottling plants. Except for the fun to watch one in the museum itself.
You’ll learn about the admittedly ingenious design of the first Coca Cola bottles, probably the first case of packaging becoming an iconic feature of a product.
You won’t learn about the early days of Pemberton’s original product “French Wine Cola” his being on the wrong side of the Civil War or the racially charged, at least according to The Atlantic Monthly reasons they took cocaine out of it.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t drink Coke, specifically Coke Zero usually, regularly without thinking about any of that history. I love drinking cokes at parties. I love the Olympic torches. I love the attempts to show Coke bottles as sophisticated sculptures.
What the world wants today. That’s the way it’ll stay. It’s the real thing.