Memories of Monroe, Cobain, Lennon, and Tupac Desecrated in New Beer Ad

Dutch brewing company Bavaria is drawing outrage for a controversial commercial that completely desecrates the names of some of the world’s most revered deceased cultural icons. The ad for the company’s new fruit-flavored beer takes place on a tropical island paradise where the not-actually-dead stars, including Elvis, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, and Tupac, are all hiding out, drinking the beer and having a grand old time.

In the ad, the now-old stars lounge on the beach along with a sexy waitress — because no beer ad could exist without butt and boob shoots of a hot chick — who serves them Bavaria beer and rolls her eyes when Lennon flashes a peace sign and calls her “Jude.” Marilyn Monroe rubs sunscreen on Tupac’s “Thug Life”-tattooed stomach while Cobain and Lennon sit next to the beach bar. Bruce Lee rings an alarm from the resort when a ship is spotted, signaling that they all need to hide or risk being caught.

One particularly offensive aspect of the ad is that the stars have all continued aging, portrayed at the age they would be now had they lived, and the interpretations of what old age means are cringe inducing. An 87-year-old Marilyn Monroe’s white dress flies up, predictably reenacting the famous scene from The Seven Year Itch, and Cobain stifles the urge to vomit upon seeing her aged thighs. Elvis’s pot belly sticking out from behind a palm tree that he’s attempting to use as a hiding spot gives away their secret island to a passing ship. The ship’s captain rolls his eyes when the crew member peering at the island through binoculars says, “That looks like Elvis” in Dutch.

Fantasizing about what stars like these would be like had they lived, or entertaining the idea that they’re all hanging out together in some version of heaven, has long been discussed by fans, journalists, and artists. Figures like Cobain, Lennon, and Monroe created works of art that were incredibly meaningful to a large group of people. After their sudden and tragic deaths, one way to cope is to imagine that they’re together in the afterlife, collaborating to make art and music that’s even better than what they accomplished while alive. Gottfried Helnwein’s painting “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” a famous reinterpretation of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” is an example of this. The painting features Monroe, James Dean, and Humphrey Bogart in an iconic cafe scene, being served by Elvis.

Another coping mechanism is to imagine what they would be like had they lived. Famed pop culture commentator Chuck Klosterman wrote a piece for Spin titled “What If Kurt Cobain Didn’t Die?” for the issue commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Nirvana frontman’s death in 2004. The article posits what the next 10 years would have been like for Cobain and his career. Late last year, Sachs Media Group created a series of photos positing what stars including Lennon, Cobain, and Janis Joplin would look like were they alive today. The group also enlisted pop culture experts to speculate about how the stars’ careers would have gone had their lives not been cut short.

Conspiracy theories about these stars’ deaths are also prevalent, with some choosing to explain the suicides of people like Cobain and Monroe through theories that they didn’t really kill themselves but were in fact murdered by enemies who used suicide as a cover-up. Another frequent conspiracy theory is that the person is still actually alive but living in hiding, an explanation that’s been popular for Tupac and Elvis and was played up by the Bavaria ad.

Whether you approve of such coping mechanisms and general curiosity about dead pop culture icons, the Bavaria ad is a particularly offensive version of the phenomena, blatantly seeking to profit from insulting portrayals of beloved stars.

The ad has been covered by several publications, perhaps gaining more attention than Bavaria intended it to, given that it’s not in English. As Rolling Stone pointed out, the company had better get its lawyers ready to hear from the estates of the stars portrayed in the commercial. Many have also added that the idea of fruit-flavored beer is pretty disgusting.

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