You can always count on Carl’s Jr. to sex up its signature dishes, and with its latest “Borderball” ad, set on the Texas/Mexico border, it's upped the ante. The commercial features models in bikinis rhapsodizing about the “Tex” burger (Black Angus beef and bacon) and the “Mex” burger (fire-roasted peppers and onions), then yelling “Tex” and “Mex” while they play volleyball not over a net, but over a border fence, followed by the tag line “When Tex meets Mex, it's a win-win.”
As Dexter Thomas describes it in the Los Angeles Times, “On the left side is the ‘Mex’ side – a squad of brunettes, being cheered on by a group of olive-skinned friends. On the right side of the court is the ‘Tex’ side – a squad of blondes cheered on by white fans including a man waving a U.S. flag in the background.”
Thomas sees a nefarious racial message in the ad, one that echoes what’s happening in the election season immigration debate:
In real life, an all-white group of friends traipsing around the border would be a rarity.
Del Toro is surely aware of this. She’s Hispanic herself, and she was born and raised in Texas. But the commercial puts her on the Mexican side, again, in her words, so that “you weren’t confused.”
Because who would want to be mentally unsettled by seeing Americans in different shades of skin?
But it’s just a burger commercial, some might say. Sure – but if using white skin as a shorthand for American-ness is their advertising strategy, then Carl’s Jr. may have sunk to a new low.
Visually, the commercial’s message seems clear: Hispanics may not be truly American, but they do have some pretty señoritas. That’s equality, I guess.
According to model Kara del Toro, one of the stars of the ad Thomas called out, when she spoke to TMZ, which questioned the accusation of racism behind the ad, “People can look for an underlying meaning in anything…They definitely didn’t intend for it to come off that way…we were just having fun. It was just a sexy, fun commercial to advertise the Tex Mex Bacon Thickburger. That was all.”
She echoes what a Carl’s Jr. spokesman told the Daily Mail:
'Our new ad for the Tex Mex Bacon Burger is not a political statement.
'It is simply a fast food ad, and, like all of our ads, the premise helps to paint a picture about the food. If a connection was made between the ad and politics – it was certainly not our intent.'
The sexualized burger selling didn’t escape the notice of the conservative group National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), who were last seen celebrating the end of porn in Hilton hotels. They issued a press release calling out “this ad as a sexist objectification of women’s bodies” and urging a boycott of CKE Restaurants, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. It reads in part:
“Apparently, Carl’s Jr. can only sell their hamburgers by surrounding them with degrading images of overly sexualized women slapping each others butts and pouring water on themselves while in bikinis for the enjoyment of male spectators,” said Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of NCOSE. “This commercial is a continuation of CKE Restaurants marketing strategy to exploit women in their misogynistic ads for fast food. A society based on equality and respect has no place for companies that seek to profit from demeaning sexual advertisements. Women are more than meat.”
This comes a month after a Carl’s Jr. commercial starring UFC champion and Olympic bronze medal winner—and feminist—Ronda Rousey. Avital Norman Nathman of SheKnows called the Rousey ad “a big disappointment,” though she praised it “for actually showing Rousey in the ring doing what she does best.” She went on to say, “That doesn't make up for the fact that spliced in between her fighting shots are images of her eating a breakfast sandwich like it's the last man on earth.”
Carl’s Jr. wants people to pay attention to its burgers, and doesn’t really care how high or low it has to go to do that. Is it touting this new burger in a ridiculously over-the-top way? Of course. But I don’t think it’s truly fair to say the company has “waded into the serious immigration debate.” No, it hasn’t. It's taken a hot topic in the news and slapped juicy burgers and scantily clad women onto it, and added a butt slap for good measure.
Are there grossly racist comments running amok in the comments section of the ad on YouTube? Of course. It’s a comments section.
I’m not usually one to throw out the “there are more important issues in the world” card, but in this case, I will. The immigration issues being debated during this campaign season are real and deserve our attention—and outrage; models playing volleyball do not. As Melissa Francis, co-host of "After the Bell" on Fox Business, tweeted, “this ad is political? Really? they're basically naked.” I can’t help but agree.
I’m not saying Carl’s Jr. should get kudos for the ad, or that it isn’t racially and sexually charged. I just don’t think the commercial is trying to make any kind of statement other than getting people hungry for Carl's Jr.'s burgers—and horny for its models -- or that it will change any minds about immigration.
Rather than wondering whether Kara del Toro thinks the ad is racist, I’m more interested in the fact that, according to an NBCNews/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo survey, “Nearly three in four Latinos say they have a negative view of Trump, with 67 percent saying their view is ‘very negative.’” And that Donald Trump told Scott Pelley of CBS News, in an interview the candidate complained was “disrespectful” to him, that his plan for dealing with illegal immigrants is, “We're rounding 'em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way. And they're going to be happy because they want to be legalized. And, by the way, I know it doesn't sound nice. But not everything is nice.”
Compared to that, yes, I can laugh at the Carl’s Jr. ad.