The Mouth Wants What It Wants
by Dana Heller — Old Dominion University
June 22, 2007 – 03:01
No more chick food! This appears to be the unabashed claim of fast food television advertisements that have aired in recent years. The appeal— ostensibly directed toward thirty-something white men who are quite literally fed up with the feminization of fast food product lines, the cultural demonization of popular food chains evident in documentaries such as SUPER-SIZE ME, and the sissified purging of trans fats from the American diet — suggests that it might be possible to reclaim a liberated, hyper-masculine subjectivity through the feral consumption of hefty meat-on-meat sandwiches laden with gooey, melted cheese (in fact, one of these promotions goes so far as to suggest that even the “cheese paper” the sandwich comes wrapped in is an edible commodity.) Real men, defined by Hardee’s promotion for its “Philly Cheese Steak Thick Burger” as working class taxi drivers with horrendous manners and accents so incomprehensible that subtitles are required when they speak, are part of an Iron John advertising movement that sees food as a masculinist issue. An ad for Burger King’s “Texas Double Whopper” makes this explicit, as it parodies Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem, “I am Woman,” to make a case for oppressed male appetites everywhere. “I am hungry, I am incorrigible, I am man,” the revised lyrics proclaim, as throngs of men take to the streets in a revolt against the castrating implications of suburban mini vans, Asian salads (the new quiche), and…underpants (in a satirical reference to second-wave bra-burning, one man reaches into his jeans, yanks out his underwear, and tosses them into a burning trash canister). Taken collectively, I’m interested in the questions these campaigns raise with respect to masculine agency, anxiety, desire, and the symbolic force of food at this moment in history. These relations have a long tradition of analysis from feminist perspectives, as contradictory signals revolving around body-disciplines, sexuality, and food have been seen as central to mass media’s rhetorical address to female consumers. However, this spate of recent commercials suggests that men have their own battles with food, hunger, and self-worth. In the clip I’ve attached, I take note of the fact that the infantilized, feminized male who takes a stand against the mindless conformity of tree-kickers proclaims not simply that he wants a “hot juicy burger,” but that he “deserves” one because he has a mouth, and “it wants one.” According to this inelegant rhetorical turn, unrepentant masculine appetites are dictated by body parts with minds of their own. Sounds familiar enough, but does anyone detect conflicting messages on the menu here?
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