"I Am Man" Burger King Commercial

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).

***PLEASE NOTE***
Comments on my posts on “Alas” are heavily moderated. If you’d like to avoid all that, you can post comments on the identical post at Creative Destruction.

This entry posted in Fat, fat and more fat, Feminism, sexism, etc, Media criticism. Bookmark the permalink. 

35 Responses to "I Am Man" Burger King Commercial

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  10. 10
    Kevin T. Keith says:

    the macho Dodge is the one thing in the world that fairies can’t feminize

    Not to mention the end of the ad, where the “fairy” – dazed from being blasted off the road by the Dodge car’s machoness – is accosted by a tough-looking dude with a bulldog, who remarks “Silly fairy!” She magic-wands him into a slender guy with white shorts, a pastel polo shirt, and three little poodles on leashes (. . . a “silly fairy”).

    Not only do they do the “too macho for women” bit, but they give it a “more macho than macho men” twist (she can turn a tough guy into a silly fairy, but can’t change the car), with a very retrograde anti-gay joke thrown in (one that adds nothing to the message about the car) including and an all-but-explicit (and similary old-fashioned) anti-gay slur. I was really startled by that one. It was so 1972 it just seemed like it came out of nowhere.

    One measure of the rightwing backlash is how far back in time you have to go to find attitudes or beliefs that are just now resurfacing. On the sex front, the abortion panic has now given way to an outright assault on contraception and sex before marriage (i.e., we’re beyond Roe and back to Griswold and “fallen women” – which would be mid-1960s). On the home front, we’re back to stay-at-home moms and no-divorce laws, which would be 50s-60s. On the masculine-image front, we’re back to open and unabashed fag jokes. Oy . . .

  11. 11
    Jake Squid says:

    It’s a stark contrast to the last in the series of the “Guy in the scary plastic King mask” commercials. You know. The one where he wakes up in bed with a construction worker, offers him whatever horrendous food-like item BK is passing off as breakfast & has a slumber party type pillow fight with the construction worker & other manly men.

    The “manthem” commercials are among the worst that I have seen. And not only for content. The desperation with which it shouts, “It’s funny. FUNNNY!” is just pathetic. It has me wishing that they would bring back the creepy King (who I never enjoyed or got) in place of this crap.

    I will admit to utterly missing the message of the tough car commercial. I didn’t make the connection between the fairy, the various transformations & the anti-woman/anti-gay message. I just thought it was a mishievous thing transforming things via magic, being upset that this one thing was immune to magic & lashing out at the passerby what made fun of it. I was clearly oblivious on that one.

  12. 12
    alsis39.9 says:

    You’d all be happier if you just gave up on TV and became an elitist, like me. Besides, Amp, you’re a big hypocrite because the only reason you won’t got to the Cup and Saucer with me is because you know that it’s crawling with buffed, polished art farts– even if they are all brandishing giant burgers and heaping slabs of dead burnt fowl. :p

  13. 13
    Radfem says:

    Drinking beer definitely makes you a rebel.

    I think Del Taco started these types of campaigns a while before Carl’s Jr. jumped on that bandwagon.

  14. 14
    Elena says:

    To throw classism into the mix: aren’t these ads about BK and big cheesy pickups really trying to make really bad, high caloric food and polluting cars about saying f you to the so-called elite? Anyway, it’s a desperate attempt to grab a demographic. Burger joints are losing ground to places like Paneras and Qdoba, and finally people are turning from trucks and SUVs.

  15. 15
    tekanji says:

    she seems to have missed the line of cheerleaders behind the guy burning his tighty-whities

    Aaaaaaaaah, I can’t believe I missed them! Do you realize how many times I went through that commercial trying to pick apart everything I could talk about under my headings (part of me still wishes I had gone for the heterosexist angle, but maybe I’ll pick the theme up in a different post).

    Thanks for the link :)

  16. 16
    Hugo says:

    It’s because the lyrics are instantly recognizable as a riff on the old Helen Reddy song, and the dancing is so, well, campy (I thought of the old movie “Fame”, or of “Hair”) that it struck me as a rather amusing spoof 1970s rock musicals.

    I take all the points y’all have made, mind you.

  17. 17
    Ledasmom says:

    Wasn’t the plastic-faced King also in that horrendous “Whopperettes” commercial? He was scary, but I kind of liked the one where he’s in bed with the guy, because you can just see that guy thinking, “Where was I last night?”

  18. 18
    Aaron V. says:

    Not to mention the plastic King being probably the greatest football player in history (he’s substituted for various players in great plays shown in the commercials during football games).

    And for all your “elitism,” alsis, you still drool over Joel Hodgson. Admit it.

  19. 19
    Ben says:

    Another good commentary on the ad went up May 7th:
    Shame of the Week Musical

    It deals with Helen Reddy’s past comments and refusal to allow “I Am Woman” to be used in any commercial due to the fact that the song was so important to her and to a movement. Guess she needed money real bad.

  20. 20
    tekanji says:

    Ben: Do you need the artists’ permission to do a parody piece? I didn’t think you did…

  21. 21
    Martha says:

    You need the persmission of the songwriter (Helen Reddy co-wrote “I Am Woman” — check the link) and the publisher (she’s also one of the publisher’s of the song). I can’t record a poem I wrote to the tune of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and tell Ashford & Simpson, “I’m doing a parody! You don’t get a cent!”

    You might also check into Bette Midler’s law suit and Tom Waits lawsuits and that was an issue of “voice” which can’t be copyrighted.

    An ad campaign under the fair use “parody” clause? I don’t think it will fly especially since it’s more of a satire than a parody.

    Good link from Ben. Loved it.

  22. 22
    Laylalola says:

    I haven’t seen this I Am Man (manthem) BK commercial yet. But I really really really disliked the big-plastic-faced King (in the bedroom, on the football field, or standing outside your window — the dude was just freaky). The King just freaked me out, in a weird way. I mean I’ve never had that phobia about clowns that a lot of people talk about but with the King I had what I think the clown phobia must be for some people. He freaked me out in a bad-vibe, very-weird, too-weird-to-put-your-finger-on-it probably Freudian subconscious sort of way. I mean did ANYONE like the dude? Was it/he appealing to anyone at all????

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  24. 23
    alsis39.9 says:

    I was an elitist then, too, Aaron. How can I prove it ? Well, there are dozens of episodes I never taped because I couldn’t be home to snip out the ads. Yep, I so bitterly resented the thought of immortalizing all that shit for an eternity that I just decided to forgo watching them altogether.

    I dare any other elitists lurking in the room to top that. :p

  25. 24
    elitist says:

    You want elitist?
    I would never put anything from BK or any other fast food hell-hole into my mouth. Furthermore, I think anyone who does is repulsive.

  26. 25
    mike says:

    I don’t get offended when female oriented products have commercials that make men out to look stupid, clueless, brutish, or otherwise uncouth.. I often find it funny, because those commercials can sometimes be clever.

    I laughed a lot at this commercial, and anybody who doesn’t understand the hyperbole in it needs to take a step back and relax..

  27. 26
    Brandon Berg says:

    Apparently she did sign off on it. Scroll down to comment 15.

  28. 27
    ginmar says:

    Oh, for fuck’s sake, look. “You just need to relax, ladies, no big deal.”

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  30. 28
    Bradley says:

    I liked your thoughts on I am Man. Are you sure that was a mime? I thought it was a man getting a facial?

  31. 29
    Name (required) says:

    Wow.

    Now I know why my mom told me to never over-analyze television ads. It just drives you insane.

    We’re still trying to get Dad to calm down after Jack’s Challenge. That was rough. I mean, it was a businessman trying to take on a king and a clown. That’s some hard-hitting stuff. Once again, another example of the wealthy trying to take everyone down. Including clowns.

  32. 30
    Casey says:

    No one seems to remember that the composer of the I AM WOMAN song was an Australian MAN called Ray Burton. Read his comment on the ad on his website http://www.rayburtonmusic.com

    I can imagine him dancing around his apartment in LA singing it out loud in front of his girlfriend and her saying “what tha….?”

  33. 31
    Kristin says:

    WAY TO GO! I completely agree with you on Burger King’s portraying Burger King consumers as being perfectly thin and fit. Because it’s unbelievably fattening, and if men ate it as often as they “felt like it,” they’d all be whales, not to mention the fact that they’d probably have major heart conditions. And as for their reference to “chick food,” I don’t think that there is ANYTHING wrong with eating foods that are different from whoppers and fries, and I wouldn’t see that as being particularly feminine. I’d call it being smart and healthy so that men don’t have to be “emasculated” by sitting in a hospital bed for a week after a major heart attack, or undergo lyposuction (yes, men do that too) to get rid of all that fat. It’s called being cultured (in cultures other than our big mac and whopper-obsessed one) and SMART. On the same note, I don’t think it’s very masculine for ANYONE to be wolfing down a whopper whenever they “feel like it.” Women do it too, and it’s not sex-linked, it’s just UNHEALTHY (if not moderated).

  34. 32
    Nate says:

    Hahahahaha… You are absolutely right… HOWEVER this is one of the greatest commercials EVER I think the creativity that went into every tiny detail is just amazing… Watching a group of guys throw out that mini-van had me cracking up for hours!

    -Nate

  35. 33
    FurryCatHerder says:

    Here’s Helen Reddy’s take on it –

    q: (very agitated) I just want to know if you know about Burger King using your song for a crazy, macho, man, uh, meat-eating ad? Have you seen that?
    HR: I have not seen the ad, but I did sign off on it, when the offer was made to me, I had a few doubts, but everybody that I mentioned it to, including my sister, laughed hysterically and said; ‘that is SO funny, you’ve got to do it’.

    I saw the ad for the first time ever last night and thought it was so over the top as to be funny.

    The blog I got that quote from also ripped on the GEICO “Caveman” ads, and with the current Honda Pilot thread, I thought I’d touch on ads, in general.

    The goal of an ad is never to convince you that the product has fundamental merits that make you want to immediately go out and purchase the product. It’s to get the product stuck in your head so that when you need a product such as the one being advertised, the first image that comes to mind is the overly horrible ad. The classic example from when I was growing up is the Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef!” campaign. I was at a talk by Sen. Joe Biden in the early 1980′s and he talked about that ad campaign. That was an actual tag line he used during his talk — “Where’s the beef?” Here it is, 20-some years later, and I still remember “Where’s the beef?”, but for the life of me, I can’t remember much more about his talk, what questions I asked him, or anything else. Just “Where’s the beef?” I predict the furor raised over this commercial will insure that for decades to come the BK “Manthem” will be discussed, hummed and sang in much the same way. Long after the misogyny and misandry present in that ad has been over-analyzed and stuffed back into the hole from which it emerged, that song will still be out there.

    On a more serious and femististic note, I continue to believe that every group has a right to make fun of itself. Since I don’t believe the ad really wants men to burn their briefs in favor of boxers, I think the men who made that ad have every right to play on male stereotypes of ineptitude in the grocery. Men have made too many advances in their own lives for me to think this ad is going to have any long term impact on their own decisions. Taken at face value, the ad is a misandrist and misogynistic pile of crap. Taken as parody, it’s brilliant.