Whopper Virgins and American Ideals

“You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements” — Norman Douglas

Being in Germany usually spares me the pain of digesting U.S. commercials. But a friend recently pointed out Burger King’s controversial Whooper Virgins spot, and it got me fired up about American advertising.

The clip, filmed in pseudo-documentary style, portrays groups of “pure” taste-testers, people who’ve never eaten a burger, never seen a fast food advertisement. To find these “Whopper Virgins”, the BK crew traveled to all corners of the globe, where in remote villages they thrust the calorie-packed, poison patties into unsuspecting hands.

If we take Douglas’ above statement as true, what does this campaign say about American ideals? That we’ll go to the ends of the earth to push a product? That our culture indulges in hormone-saturated flesh, chemically processed “cheese”, and bleached, sugary bread? That in America, when we say freedom, we mean the faux choice between two identical products that we cherish for its satisfying illusion of independence?

I guess one could argue that the BK commercial highlights America’s friendly, open manner, its willingness to share its culture, and its interest in the opinions of the people of the world. But I think that would require very thick rosy glasses and an irrational loyalty to fast food.

Even if Burger King filled its mission of media-attention-through-controversy, I think its message (and I hope product) is doomed for failure. In an era of frankness and authenticity enforced by blogs and citizen critics, not all media is good media. And while a single revolted viewer is one thing, thousands of bad reviews are tougher to swallow.

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