Andrea at Shrub.com has a good post with a feminist analysis of “Mantham” (YouTube link) the Burger King ad with new lyrics to Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” (although in her count of women in the commercial, she seems to have missed the line of cheerleaders behind the guy burning his tighty-whities). Gayprof has some good comments, as well.
Although not always this blatant (how could it be?), smaller fast-food places have been hitting on similar sexual themes in their commercials for years. Jack In The Box, a few years ago, had a series of commercials based on Jack Box sponsoring a football team (the first commercial featured Jack’s plan to fire the male cheerleading squad – a silly gag, I know, but the symbolism of rejecting homoeroticism in favor of “real man” heterosexuality is hard to deny). And Carl Jr’s (doing business as Hardees in some regions) has had a series of aggressively sexist commercials, from Paris Hilton washing a car to commercials showing befuddled men in a grocery store having no idea what to buy, with the slogan “without us, some guys would starve.”
(It’s amazing how anti-male the “guys should be guys” mentality quickly becomes. Sure, the “some guys would starve” commercials were funny, but c’mon – their premise is that men lack the smarts required to choose a loaf of bread).
So the “guys should be guys” ethos of the Burger King commercial is nothing new, although it’s perhaps a new achievement in the compulsive over-the-topness of its sexism. For example, at the climax of the commercial, the mob of whopper-eating men toss a minivan off a bridge, symbolically rescuing the pleased family dude who got out of the van from his emasculating family attachments. (And if you think I’m reading too much into it, tell me why else they would throw a minivan off a bridge while singing about manhood?)
(Compare the auto-as-symbolic-emasculation theme in this commercial to the auto-as-invulnerable-manhood theme in the recent Dodge Caliber commercial, in which the macho Dodge is the one thing in the world that fairies can’t feminize. Ad writers are convinced that men have a thing about cars…).
But putting the feminist analysis aside, since Shrub.com has already done an excellent job of that, you know what I found striking about this commercial? The absence of fat people. Often, commercials about “everyday guys being guys doing guy things” will include a guy or two with a spare tire, because what’s more everyday than that? Not this commercial. The singer who opens the commercial is if anything a bit scrawny for TV men, and all of the dozens and dozens of guys who crowd through this commercial are thin. There are just two exceptions. First, they cast someone a bit round-faced to play the minivan owner, presumably because family men are stereotypically a bit chubby. Second, the dude pulling the dump truck by a chain isn’t thin, but professional truck-pullers usually aren’t.
It’s odd, isn’t it? On the one hand, the whole commercial is saying “screw the wife/nanny nagging you about health – eat what you want” ethos, while at the same time the casting is trying to assure men that eating at Burger King won’t make them fat.
Now, as it happens, I believe that eating at Burger King won’t make you fat, nor will being fat make you unhealthy (more on that subject here). And I think people should feel free to eat what they want, even if it is unhealthy. But the way this commercial endorses ideologies of thinness and of sexism – even while waving a “just kidding! You’re not allowed to analyze what’s going on, because we’re! just! kidding!” banner – pretty much wipes out any possible beneficial message iit might have carried.
What’s interesting is how the ideology of “healthism” is now predominant enough so that hamburgers are sold the way beer is sold – as an appeal to base male instincts. “C’mon, be bad.” Eating burgers, which are probably the single most popular food in the country, makes you a rebel. Yeesh.
P.S. So why is there a mime? Is that the ultimate example of a feminized man coming back to manhood, or did they just think sticking in a mime would be funny, or both? (Look in the background about 32 seconds into the commercial).