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Eating like a man

Monday, January 08, 2007

In Issue One of Uncompressed, Brian Wuest observes and critiques the increasingly pervasive television advertisements that equate “manliness” with eating poorly (among other things).  For example:

From Brian’s article:

The first message these commercials communicate to us is that it is manly to eat in an unhealthy way. In these we see manly men and manly meals, and a clear association between the two. Burger King presents us with two fine examples of such. First, this summer’s BK Stacker ad campaign: the BK Stacker is a sandwich that includes only bread, meat, cheese, bacon, and special sauce. It’s called the “Stacker” because you can choose if you want a Double, a Triple, or a Quad Stacker, the latter of which contains four beef patties, as the name suggests, and 68 grams of fat. The most interesting thing about this sandwich is the rhetoric used to advertise it. First, the advertisements emphasize the absence of any vegetables on the sandwich. “Hold the produce,” one paper ad read; “No vegetables,” a radio ad reported and a television ad included a boss yelling at a worker for trying to add a tomato to the sandwich. The paper and radio ad are especially interesting because they use the absence of vegetables as a selling point. No lettuce here, please; just the multiple beef patties. 

A Burger King television commercial from earlier last year showed men running rampant through city streets in celebration of the Texas Double Whopper (two beef patties, bacon, cheese, vegetables, jalapeños). The riot is set off by one man’s decision to no longer eat “chick food.” Men begin crowding the streets, breaking cement blocks with their heads, punching each other in the gut, and eating “until my innie turns into an outtie.” “I AM MAN,” they triumphantly declare.

The Dairy Queen Chili Meltdown GrillBurger takes food’s gender-defining power to a more literal level. This burger’s commercial shows a male-female couple sitting on the couch, watching a weepy melodrama. The man is eating a DQ burger, and then woman asks for a bite. After tasting the burger, she nods appreciatively, then undergoes a transformation. She slides down in her seat, spreads her legs, places her hand in her pants, and switches the TV to a sports game. “Dude – pull my finger,” she says. As a result of such a manly burger, she’s becoming masculine (or the commercial’s perception thereof) in her behavior. And to eliminate any possible remaining ambiguity, the commercial ends with “It’ll make a man out of you.”
The message is clear: if you’re a real man, you’ll eat like a real man. “Stack it high, tough guy,” one Burger King add suggests. Men eat a lot, and preferably a lot of meat.

It follows logically that the first message would give way to a second: as eating this food makes you a man, eating healthily makes you less of a man. Take a recent Hummer commercial. A man is standing at the supermarket while the cashier rings up his purchases: tofu, a large collection of vegetables, etc. Another man comes up and starts unloading his items, which must include half a cow of red meat. The two men’s eyes meet, and the vegetable man looks away sheepishly. The meat man has clearly proven his alpha status in the interaction. The vegetable man must go purchase a Hummer in order to reclaim his manhood.

I encourage you to read the rest.