"In and out" burgers

Fast food commercials try to sex up an unhealthy product.

Published April 14, 2009 10:08PM (EDT)

Remember that Carl's Junior commercial back in 2005, the one in which Paris Hilton writhed around on a Bentley, brandished a gushing hose and took a single bite of their premium burger? Well those same dudes have come together again to bring you a fresh new version of dirty meat. This time, however, they chose the impossibly gorgeous, cosmopolitan "Top Chef" host and former wife of Salman Rushdie, Padma Lakshmi as the object of their, ah, affections.

In the commercial posted above, you can see Padma wandering through world markets, selecting fresh veggies and exotic spices, then perching on the stoop of a brownstone (hers? Someone else's? Who cares?) to ravish a burger which apparently requires her to hike up her dress and lick all its delicious juices from various corners of her body. As L.A. Times columnist Dan Neil points out in a piece today, "Let's not mince onions here: This is sex with a burger."

Indeed it is. And, we might add, possibly underage sex at that. "It reminds me of being in high school," Lakshmi says, "sneaking out before dinner to savor that sweet, spicy sauce." (At which point she fully extends her tongue to lick some of said sauce from her wrist.) "And leaving no...evidence behind..." (And then she dispatches with the dollop of sauce that has hit her ankle).

While I suppose it's nice to see a beautiful woman enjoying her food -- and hot, greasy food at that -- the truly unrealistic fantasy is that she managed to fit in a Western Bacon Cheeseburger and dinner. Neil helpfully supplies the nutritional information for the mammoth burger: 720 calories, 33 grams of fat and 1,140 milligrams of sodium, "a veritable pillar of biblical salt." Writes Neil: "And so you have the impossibly lean and beautiful Lakshmi wolfing down a 1,000 calorie burger. Now that's hard to swallow."

The spot, as he points out, is certainly an improvement on the Paris version:

If I put on my magic deconstructing spectacles, I can see neo-feminist subversion in thse messages. Note the tagline of the Padma Lakshmi commercial: 'More than a piece of meat.' This was the cri de Coeur of  feminism back in the day, and though it refers to the burger, it is also a tweak of conscience to males slobbering over the accomplished actress-author-chef. Take that you objectifying pig!

 He has less appetite, however, for a seemingly homoerotic ad for Quizno's "Toasted Torpedo" sub featuring the close relationship between a Quizno's cook named Scott and his talking oven, who begs him, in a distinctly male voice, to recreate an act they both enjoyed, though it may have burned. Finally, the oven asks him to take a 12-inch sub and, "Put it in me, Scott!"

"Um, check please, waiter," writes Neil. But hey, don't gays too have the equal and inalienable right to be pandered to with cheesy, cringe-worthy double entendres?

Over at Burger King, they've bypassed humans of all persuasions and gone straight to the crazy, with the King singing, "SpongeBob Got Back," a remake to the tune of the Sir Mixalot classic featuring, yes, SpongeBob Square Pants, and a posse of ladies wearing striped knee socks and little maroon gym shorts, enhanced by what appear to be a phone book stuck down the back. Be warned: After a single viewing you'll find it hard to erase lines like: "Why don't we keep it grungy?/ Cause everyone knows he's so spongy!" And:  "Shake it! Shake it! Shake that cubicle butt!

While there are plenty of reasons to find these spots offensive to women, oven-fetishists and animated pieces of cellulose, these spots are only a symptom of a much larger issue for the fast food industry. As Neil points out: "Fast food advertisers know their products are singularly, dangerously unsexy. Quiznos Tuna Melt (large), at 2090 calories was just voted the Worst Sandwich in America by Men's Health. If you eat a lot of those, you'll get fat and smell strange and no one will want to have sex with you."

Fast food has itself become a vice, and everyone knows it's absurdly unhealthy. But like everything else that plays on the id, there comes a point when, people -- and companies -- just throw up their hands and say, "WTF?" And all of us know what's next -- a re-run of "Mad Men." As Neil writes:

The sexualization of fast food takes us down the same path of old cigarette advertising that showed doctors, athletes and cowboys smoking like crazy and living active, aerobically challenging lives; or beer commercials in which everybody is as sleek as ferrets. These products have definite, measurable health consequences and it's the job of the advertising's imagery to push these consequences as far off stage as possible.

 Now, I'm off to shake my cubicle butt.

By Amy Benfer

Amy Benfer is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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