BK commercial redux: It's not about the burgers

About half a year ago I wrote about the infamous Burger King commercial and I haven’t stopped getting shit about it. Even more so because it’s apparently on the air again. Most of them I just delete, but there has been one sitting in my moderation queue for more than a week now.

daisy wrote:

As a married women, I saw this commercial and asked what my husband thought. He had a laugh and I asked how he wasn’t offended. He simply said, why do guys play football, wrestle with friends, or eat huge burgers. Boys will be boys. He left me with that thought and I agreed. This commercial is targetted at men, let them enjoy it, and let them eat their meat.

I probably should have let it pass without comment, but the whole “let them eat their meat” was borderline minimizing, as the implication is “you shouldn’t bother raising issue about this kind of issue.”

But, then, today I was reading an entry by Jill of Feministe on PETA’s politics where she discusses the connection between meat and masculinity. Ariel, who is not only a vegan but has done research into the intersection of vegetarianism and feminism, would probably the better candidate to discuss this issue, but I’ll do my best to convey more clearly this time why this issue is an issue not because of the burgers, but rather because it’s perpetuating a destructive view of masculinity.

I. Meat and Masculinity

He simply said, why do guys play football, wrestle with friends, or eat huge burgers.

Daisy’s husband makes a better case against all the “it’s just a commercial, lighten up!!” naysayers than I ever could. He directly links meat eating to the traditional concept of manhood by his examples. The first two embody strength: playing football and wrestling are two time-honored displays of male athleticism in the United States. Using them directly before the “eat huge burgers” example sets up the explicit connection that meat is strength.

He also uses another tactic here, one that the original BK commercial also employed: gender essentialism. Notice that when giving those examples he didn’t say “some guys”, “most guys”, or anything like that. He said “guys”, directly attributing both what is presumably his own experience as well as the dominant social paradigm to all men. Of the men who don’t play sports and don’t eat burgers, they aren’t even of consideration to him. Although if you extrapolate his opinion from the commercial in question, then it’s safe to say that men like that don’t fall under the category of “real” men.

II. Boys will be…

Boys will be boys.

I could probably write a dissertation on the phase “boys will boys” and the way that it’s used to justify the bad — and sometimes criminal — behaviour that’s allowed and even encouraged by the cult of masculinity. I find it interesting that daisy uses it in the context of my critique of the commercial.

In the explicit context of the comment, “boys will be boys” means that men will play sports and eat meat. And, well, if you turn “men” into “some men” (or even “most men”) then I’m perfectly happy with that idea. But that’s not the aspect about the commercial that I was criticizing. The commercial isn’t just about men being strong and eating meat, it’s about defining a narrow set of rules for “man” and deriding anyone and anything that is outside of that paradigm.

One of the aspects that I criticize is what I call the “caveman mentality” perpetuated in the commercial. While, on the surface, it can be humourous to view men as less civilized and less evolved than women (which also carries the connotation of men being more connected to the meat side of the omnivore spectrum), the whole “grain of truth” approach to stereotypes takes the humour right out of it. The supposed “grain of truth”, of course, is that all men are innately beasts who would devolve to violence (killing, raping, vandalism, assault, etc) the moment they were given the chance.

And, indeed, that’s exactly what the phrase “boys will be boys” means. “Men are just innately bad, so let’s excuse their behaviour, no matter how bad or criminal.” Daisy’s use of it, of course, is not nearly as sinister, but it’s exactly that kind of seemingly reasonable usage that makes it seem like a truism, leading to its frequent usage in clearly unacceptable situations (like, say, a case of assault).

III. Let them eat meat!

This commercial is targetted at men, let them enjoy it, and let them eat their meat.

Let me again reiterate that I’m not against men eating hamburgers. While I do think that much more attention should be paid to the way that industry treats animals and I do have a vast amount of respect for animal rights activists (or I should say people who approach animal rights activism with an understanding of the intersection between that and other areas such as sexism and racism), I am currently in my life an omnivore. I understand the enjoyment of meat and I share it.

Yet, I also understand that overconsumption of meat can lead to some nasty health problems.

“But,” you say, “overindulgence of anything can do that!”

To which I say, “Yes, but it’s not overindulgence of salad that’s being hawked by BK and the cult of masculinity now, is it?”

Like I mentioned in my original post, there is an acknowledged connection between masculinity and not getting regular doctor’s checkups. If you don’t want to take Spike‘s word on it, try this article fully equipped with helpful citations. Or this study that suggests that there may be a correlation between body images in the media, body image (which is linked to conceptions of masculinity and femininity), and eating habits.

I am stopping no one from eating meat. What I am doing, however, is pointing out the problems with the idea that men must eat meat and not only that but they must eat “huge burgers”. The idea that “more = more many” perpetuated by both the commercial and daisy’s comment? That’s not about “enjoy[ing] meat”, that’s about pressuring men into gorging on meat in order to solidify their membership into the cult of masculinity.

IV. Conclusion

I don’t, and never have, begrudged any man the right to indulge in traditionally masculine activities as long as they don’t bring harm onto another human being. What I do begrudge them, and the women who support them, is the idea that there exists a so-called real man and all men must fit into this mold or be subject to intense ridicule. I begrudge them the idea that to be a “man” is to be a violent beast unworthy of civilized society, especially since that idea is not applied across the board (if men are so uncivilized, then why are they the ones who hold most of the power?).

The men I know are intelligent, caring individuals. But I’ve seen every single one of them battle with the idea of what it means to be a “real man” when their personality didn’t fit the mold to a T. I’ve seen them fight the pressure, I’ve seen them succumb to it. I’ve seen them exert their privilege over me in an argument in order to be “the man”, but I’ve also seen them crumple beneath the weight of the stereotype.

These men are not beasts and they’re not stereotypes. But what commercials like the BK one, and attitudes like the ones daisy’s husband expressed, do is foist that upon them and all men. It robs them of their individualism. It robs them of their choice. It takes them from being respected partners and turns them into creatures that are alternatively supposed to be feared and treated like children.

As a personal choice, I think that any dynamic that is both agreeable and not hurtful to either party — including that of a relationship that subscribes to traditional gender roles — is fine. But no individual, and no stereotype, should be allowed to force everyone onto one path. And that is why I will continue to criticize commercials like the BK one and phrases like “boys will be boys”. Because we can never have a truly healthy society until we recognize that life isn’t a “one size fits all” kind of thing.

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3 thoughts on “BK commercial redux: It's not about the burgers

  1. Hungry Man commercials are almost as awful. They feature large, overweight men drooling over the revoltingly unhealthy (even just once in a while) garbage that is the Hungry Man TV dinner and saying things like, “I’m a MAN. I need to be FULL.” (What kind of double standard is that, by the way?) If it’s manly to eat disgusting crap without any regard for animals, the environment, or one’s own health, then I guess my husband is a woman. The BK commercial has taught me that it’s every real man’s dream to shake off the shackles of our repressive, feminist society by eating lard and running around grunting like a caveman. Who knew?

    As a vegan and a feminist, I agree with you–the BK commercial is insulting and stupid for all of us.

  2. I also hated that commercial. It wasn’t wholly based on the illogical connection between consumption of meat and “manliness”, though I did recognize and find the connection made irrelavent at best. I mainly disliked the industrial defining of what is and isn’t “masculine” as a way of pandering to the consumer. It is an outright attack on common logic and common sense, and I can find no better term to describe it than propoganda. What’s more, commercials like this are springing out of the woodworks lately. Miller Beer company’s light beer brand, “Milwaukee Light” runs an advertising campaign, which my boss and my co-worker can’t get enough of. In these ads, some group of men are portrayed as doing some traditionally “manly” activity, and one or more of these men deviates from the norms of manliness, only to be punished by being crushed by a giant beer can, after which, a rugged macho announcer voice proclaims, “Men should act like men! …” This is pandering, plain and simple, and it utterly disgusts me that such an assault on our rationality and common sense could be considered smart advertising.

  3. I appreciate your defense of real men—the ones who don’t fit the mold portrayed on TV of a moronic, gluttonous, savage beast.

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