Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Liking Your Women and Food Fast

She titled her first book--and if you look at the cover she's the one surrounded by the bananas--Easy Exotic, so it's sort of hard to yell at Padma Lakshmi for letting the sexy out of the prude barn at this point in her life. But the new "love affair with food" (her, ok, the copywriter's words) commercial for Carl's Jr. in the West, Hardee's in the East, it sort of needs some deconstructing. The always well-written Dan Neil (heck, I read about cars when it's his prose) took a shot at the commercial today in the LA Times, but that never stopped me from desiring to bring my bacon to the party. For Neil pretty much ended here:

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 offstage as possible.

And so you have the impossibly lean and beautiful Lakshmi wolfing down a 1,000-calorie burger. Now that's hard to swallow.

Alas, Padma more or less deep throats the burger, so I think it's more than just a "forget the calories, think sex" switch. For this ad is about getting away with it, as we can see if we pay attention to the voice over and the images separately. First, she reminisces, "There's something about the Western Bacon," leaving out it's a burger at all, or, as it painfully gets billed at the end, a Thickburger (paging Mr. Jeremy!). Turns out the burger reminds her of being in high school--which is sort of fair enough (she did go to school in the U.S.) since fast food and high school often coincide (oddly enough so does high school and visits to the dermatologist). But what Padma recalls isn't a fun time after the football game with her BFFs, it's "sneaking out before dinner to savor that sweet spicy sauce."

OK all you former high schoolers out there, what did you sneak out of the house to do? Either, drink, smoke, or get laid (all three, time permitting, of course--who said lazy teens can't multitask). Extra points if you managed to do any of the three before dinner--didn't you do sports or glee club or homework or something? It is something that Padma can get that 1000 calorie burger down before dinner, too, although perhaps all she did was (alliteration alert) savor that sweet spicy sauce. For, she says, very slowly (cause that's sexier, you know), "and leaving no evidence behind." To copy Neil, now that's hard to swallow.

I have to assume the audience for this commercial is primarily young men. While many might dream of sneaking out to savor a spicy Padma, that's just not going to happen (and will get harder with each Thickburger consumed since we have such a weight-obsessed sense of beauty). But they can substitute and have the burger she loves, and I mean loves. Beefiness is next to godliness, I guess.

For, of course, she's our eye-burger to be consumed--let's call her the Eastern Spice. One of the first shots of her in the market lines her up with ristras, a clever pun as she's one more bit of strung-up hot stuff for show. Our "author/culinary expert" is also seen amid scales all at 0, perhaps hinting at her dress size, but also giving the accurate weight of our fantasy, too. She then pops a pepper, spilling its seed, yet savors its smell in her hands (what a woman). This is followed by a voyeuristic longer shot over some melons. She continues getting her hands dirty and enjoying it.

Finally she takes her spot on a stoop, adapting a stance Larry Craig could love. the Carl's/Hardee's bag she didn't have at the farmers' market--she surely didn't get it there--suddenly appears. (How many calories can something that just appears have?) Then she digs in, and the burger must wonder, "Padma, what a big mouth you have!" The treat is so yummy she even licks the fingers on her hand that hasn't held the burger--perhaps it's some atavistic thing. She pulls out a slice of bacon, needing her pork, and that moment makes her hike her skirt up a bit more. (Note she's got a Carl's Jr version of the Big Gulp, too, so she soon will be author/culinary expert/defensive lineman I guess).

There's one long shot, emphasizing her legginess, but also a parking meter thrusts into the frame. It's really not that phallic. But after that, she's got sauce in inappropriate places--how did that get on her ankle now. But she scoops it up--remember, she leaves no evidence behind--in a shot where her head is out of the frame. For those just get in the way sometimes, especially when we're busy turning a woman into a hunk of meat. We do get to see her face again, as she holds the bursting burger, leaking its juice, at a 90 angle, so it's easier to lick up the crack between the buns. Never know what evidence might be there.

Then there's the Thickburger tag line: "More than just a piece of meat." Dan Neil takes the devil's advocate position and argues:

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.

I know he means this only bacon-burger-in-cheek, but it's actually just the opposite that's true. Carl's Jr./Hardee's wants not Padma but the burger to be more than a piece of meat. It's an all purpose fantasy, the thing we should sneak out for to satisfy hungers only some meat can please.

Here's the ad, if you haven't seen it, the extended version. If enjoyment of your Thickburger lasts longer than 4 hours, consult a media critic. (And look out, it's so extended, so thick, it breaks the design of my blog.)

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Blogger Trekking Left said...

The irony, of course, is that anyone who made that burger on Top Chef would immediately be asked to "pack their knives and go." At any rate, here's another reason to love Padma ...


Oh, and another reason to love Dollhouse ...


5:44 PM  
Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

Huh. Wow.

I do not want to have a burger.

I want to BE a burger. THAT burger.

Got to get me a subscription to Allure too...

11:01 PM  
Blogger George said...

TL, now we know why you haven't had time to blog yourself. You've been pre-occupied with other spots on the web, so probably have had your hands full.

Warning, everyone--TL's links are NSFW.

VW: "fratt" as in when you and your bros need an extra "t"

11:36 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

That commercial is really something else. Pretty funny in a very sophomoric way.

3:35 AM  
Blogger Smitty said...

After reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, I have a hard time with fast food.

But after seeing that commercial, my hard time is..um...something completely different.

Nyuk-nyuk nyuk.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

George, this is one of my favorite things you've written. And that's not just because I'm passionately in love with the subject matter. By which I mean bacon.

9:55 AM  
Blogger George said...

As Tony Bourdain said, bacon is the gateway protein.

And thanks, Drew. I felt I was drawing on the teachings of my old master Mark Crispin Miller and his classic Boxed In--a great read, btw.

10:05 AM  
Blogger E-6 said...

I think I need to wash up.

*starts cold shower*

WV: bragaily = The Happy Boaster

10:39 AM  
Blogger kits online said...

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