Instead of an epigraph, Christ to Coke carries a disclaimer: “This book has not been approved by or endorsed by The Coca-Cola Company or any other company, and any views expressed in it are those of the author and not The Coca-Cola Company or any other company. Coca-Cola, Coke, and the Coca-Cola bottle are trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company.”
Given the subject of the book, it is tempting to read that deadpan declaration as an ironic commentary on image-making and branding – the iconic only a consonant away from the ironic – and a coca-corroboration of the author’s selection. Martin Kemp has interesting things to say about trademarks, which come in many guises, including people, or rather portraits: the shock-haired Einstein is himself a trademark. In the matter of Coca-Cola, it transpires that the soft drink’s logo gained trademark status as early as 1887. “It has been reused, adapted, and parodied in diverse contexts around the world,” Kemp relates, “exhibiting extraordinary geographical penetration and historical stamina.” One of the most apt illustrations in this copiously illustrated book is of Ai Weiwei’s Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-Cola Logo (1994).
Kemp has selected 11 “supreme and mega-famous examples”, in the deathless prose of the dust jacket, “to see both how they arose and how they continue to exercise their enduring appeal”. They are widely gathered: Christ (“The true icon”); the Cross; the Heart; the Lion; the Mona Lisa; Che Guevara; Nick Ut’s photograph of the little girl running screaming down the road in Vietnam (“Napalmed and naked”); the Stars and Stripes; the Coke bottle; the DNA double helix; and the equation E = mc2. This is a highly personal selection. Christ to Coke is an effortfully personal book.