The failure of many Western corporations to take responsibility for misdeeds carried out in their name around the world is a harsh fact of globalization and one that should shame us all. In Belching Out The Devil, Mark Thomas turns shame into anger in a comprehensive exposé of the shadier aspects of Coca-Cola’s global operations. Known to UK audiences as a stand-up comedian, here Thomson proves to be a skilled writer with a gift for giving voice to a diverse cast of witnesses, including Colombian trade unionists, Mexican shopkeepers, Turkish protestors, and New York legislators. Complicated matters of law and hair-raising descriptions of violence and child labor are presented with verve.
However, Thomas’ humor can be heavy-handed. An early visit to the Atlanta Coke Museum also known as “The Happiness Factory” establishes the distance between the company’s public image and darker realities, but Thomas peppers his account with all the obvious jokes involving tourists, manic company guides, and cheesy slogans. For a comedian, Thomas’ frequent joking and comic asides don’t always work; he should have more confidence in the ability of his capable writing to hold the listener’s attention without laying on the schoolboy sarcasm. What could pass as righteous anger in a short stand-up set becomes tiresome in the course of 10 hours.
The choice of Victor Villar-Hauser as a narrator is also a mixed success. His thick estuary English brings a energetic boyishness to Thomas’ tirades, but he makes some strange choices in phrasing sentences are chopped up, he seems to lose breath in the course of long sentences, and he has a habit of pausing at odd places. (“He looks like a typical upper-management man, and I mean………that in a pejorative sense.”) It’s as if Villar-Hauser is reading the book aloud for the very first time, unsure of the next sentence. This can be distracting, though his enthusiasm arguably carries the day. Dafydd Phillips
Coca-Cola and its logo are everywhere. In our homes, our workplaces, and even our schools. It is a company that sponsors the Olympics, backs U.S. presidents, and even re-brands Santa Claus. A truly universal product, it has even been served in space.
From Istanbul to Mexico City, Mark Thomas travels the globe investigating the stories and people Coca-Cola's iconic advertising campaigns don't mention, such as child labourers in the sugar cane fields of El Salvador; Indian workers exposed to toxic chemicals; Colombian union leaders falsely accused of terrorism and jailed alongside the paramilitaries who want to kill them; and many more. Provocative, funny, and stirring, Belching Out the Devil investigates the truth behind one of the planet's biggest brands.
How Mark Thomas must regret not doing his own reading of his work here. As a piece of writing, Belching Out The Devil is a perfectly decent piece of travel/activism literature, but this audiobook sadly fails to capture any of the passion Thomas clearly has for his subject matter.
It could be argued that an attack on Coca-Cola is a rather obvious target. Surely in today's age of political and communication awareness only the most cripplingly naïve could think that a global multi-billion dollar behemoth as ubiquitous as Coke could have reached its level of success by purely magnanimous methods. Nonetheless Thomas does a good job of seeking out the human side of Coca-Cola's practices, most tellingly in central/south America, where unionisation is looked upon as akin to terrorism. One can hardly accuse Thomas of not putting in the miles to cover his tale, as he travels through El Salvador, India, Turkey, Mexico and El Salvador to uncover Coke's nefarious, and sometimes downright revolting exploitation of working people to improve the company's profit margin, but interestingly it is the aspects more recognisable to Western tastes that make the most impact. Things like a wonderful description of the gaudy propaganda of "The World of Coca-Cola" Museum in Atlanta, and a terrific exchange between Thomas and a Coke PR representative, who accuses the comedian of bullying the company!
However, surprisingly little of Thomas' humour comes through in this audiobook. Admittedly subjects like the tear-gassing of families on a plant sit-in are hardly subjects rich in comedy, but it is disappointing that one of the finest stand-ups the UK has produced in recent years seems a little cautious in his approach, relying on statistics when a little more righteous anger wouldn't go amiss.
Unfortunately the reason for this may have much to do with Victor Villar-Hauser's reading, which really does Thomas' work no favours whatsoever. Reading an unabridged audiobook is a strenuous duty, but sadly it appears one that is beyond the actor, whose flat, monotonous delivery grates early and leads to listening to the book becoming quite a chore. Worse still are the errors Villar-Hauser makes throughout the book, with emphasis being put on incorrect words throughout the text, leading to many of the points Thomas is trying to make being lost entirely. One is given the distinct impression that Villar-Hauser is reading the book for the first time, and this - like sugar and caffeine free cola - leaves a very nasty taste.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
It's pushed me toward Pepsi, but are they any better? I really excellent book/listen that inspires interest and concern in social issues. It is well read in a style that is similar to Mark Thomas' own. If it was Mark Thomas himself reading the book I would certainly have given it five stars.
This is the first time I have every felt compelled to write a review and all I can say is don't waste your money like I did.
This book is boring to the extreme, has a really drawn out story in unnecessary detail and contains occasional unnecessary foul language (I am no prude) for a book that is supposed to be factual.
Steer clear. A very poor effort. I gave up half way through the first half.
It's got one star because the site did not let me give it zero.
0 of 3 people found this review helpful