Amanda Ciafone lends Coca-Cola expertise to new TV series ‘A History of the World in Six Glasses’

Amanda Ciafone filming

From a corner table in the Coca-Cola-branded brick building of Flesor’s Candy Kitchen (est. 1901) in Tuscola, Illinois—with a nostalgic Coca-Cola straw canister positioned nearby—Amanda Ciafone, associate professor of media and cinema studies, shared stories about Coca-Cola’s origins with producers of the new TV series A History of the World in Six Glasses.

Streaming on Fox Nation, the six-episode series stars comedians Dan Aykroyd, co-host Jim Belushi, and their friends Kevin Nealon, Jon Lovitz, and George Wendt. It’s based on a book of the same title by Tom Standage, who is interviewed in the broadcast among other authors and historians, where the history of beer, spirits, soda, wine, tea, and coffee are explored. The episodes are peppered with retro stock footage and ads, bubbly animations, as well as anecdotes, trivia, and taste tests around the bar from the chummy cast. 

Ciafone is featured in episode three—"Soda: American Fizz Goes Global”—drawing upon her research of Coke from her first book, Counter-Cola: A Multinational History of the Global Corporation (University of California, 2019). Ciafone’s book examines the Coca-Cola Company and the politics, cultural representations, and social movements around the multinational corporation’s impact on the environment, consumer health, workers’ rights and conditions, and international cultures and economies. She also has an appointment in the Institute of Communications Research and is ICR’s director of graduate studies.

“With the rising temperance movement in the late 19th century, [pharmacist and inventor] John Pemberton realized taking the red wine out will allow his drink to be marketable to a wider consumer base,” Ciafone explained in the episode. “So he’s seeking ingredients that will give you that kind of buzzy uplift without the alcohol, and he turns to coca and kola and puts them together to make this drink: Coca-Cola.”

Ciafone also described how social concerns, such as kids drinking caffeine, affected Coca-Cola.

“While the temperance movement, and eventually Prohibition, was a great boon to Coca-Cola because it didn’t have alcohol, those same forces of concern about people’s consumption of drinks that had ingredients that were potentially risky or unknown eventually brought Coca-Cola under the focus of both popular movements and government regulators.”

But of course, Coca-Cola survived court cases, brand wars, sugar substitutions, and other sticky situations.

Ciafone paraphrased a famous management guru, Peter Drucker, who said that “Coca-Cola is fundamentally an advertiser with access to a distribution system,” she said. “And it’s true. So much of their business is the production of the image around the drinks.”

To learn more about the popularity of soda (or pop), its place in American history, and its global impact, watch A History of the World in Six Glasses on Fox Nation.

—Holly Rushakoff

Pictured at top: Amanda Ciafone, associate professor of media and cinema studies with an appointment in the Institute of Communications Research, was interviewed on August 19, 2022, at Flesor’s Candy Kitchen in Tuscola, Illinois, for the soda episode of the new TV series ‘A History of the World in Six Glasses.’