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Opening Arguments

Whopper's bad taste

Well, speaking of being offended.

I'm not a fan of mixing politics and personal beliefs with product choices. I don't care about the Domino Pizza franchise owner's rightwing politics or Ben & Jerry's leftwing causes. It's pizza and ice cream, for goodness sake! But everyone has a blind spot or a weakness or two when it comes to being offended. There was a time in the 1980s when I gave up pistachios because the pink ones came from Iran and the brown ones were airing radio ads playing on the word "nuts." I've dealt with severe mental illness suffered by people I love, so that's one of my blind spots. I don't find humor stereotyping or stigmatizing mental illness especially funny.

Which brings us to that "wacky" Burger King ad. Maybe you've seen it. The restaurant's mascot King is seen running throyugh an office building. He breaks a window and gives a woman a Whopper before being tackled by two men in white uniforms. The King is "crazy" and "insane," the ad tells us, because he wants to give away his burger for the low, low price of $3.99! When I first saw it, the thing about the ad that struck me was that it was another in a long line of strange, strange Burker King ads that try to be funny but mostly come off as creepy. Until I heard about it on Pat White's WOWO show yesterday afternoon, I hadn't realized that there was a controversy caused by the objections of mental health orgaizations to the ad:

Mental health organizations argue that they have worked very hard to erase the old school notions of mental illness (i.e. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).  They fear that images like this will bring stigmatization to mental illness and make people afraid to seek treatment.  (See the commercial for yourself)

Is this a case of another commercial pushing the envelope to grab the attention of its viewers or is it disrespectful?

What caught my attention was White's dismissiveness. He lumped the people protesting the ad in with all those whiners who complain about being offended by everything these days and told them to just shut up and go away. And even some of the press accounts of the controversy have a little trouble taking it seriously. Here's the Washington Post:

Bad week for fast-food mascots. In the same period that RetireRonald.com launched to blast McDonald's clown for luring kids into unhealthy lifestyles, two locally based mental health organizations have been deeply upset by a Burger King advertisement that can best be described as completely bonk . . . er, nut . . . er, cucko . . . er, in poor taste.

The ad in question features the mascot King running maniac . . . er, psychot . . . er, quickly through an office building.

Har, har, but point taken. We often use language in a casual way not intended to offend. Who among us haven't called someone crazy or nuts for doing or saying something outlandish? And I can't criticize White's attitude too much, since I've often written about all the lawsuits brought by people who seem to believe they have a constitutional right not to be offended.

But, as I said, it's my blind spot. Those of us who've encountered severe mental illness can usually tell the ones who have also seen it and those who haven't and just don't get it. People who suffer from it are almost the last group left who don't get the respect and consideration they deserve; it's the one stigma that won't go away. I don't think anybody should sue Burger King, and I'm not saying they should drop the ad. I won't even boycott the Whopper.

But the ad is just in bad taste besides being creepy, OK? And not a bit funny.


Bob G.
Tue, 04/06/2010 - 9:34am

The ad might not be funny (yet still creepy), but your take on the situation is marvelous.
(and why didn't they just say "mentally-challenged?)