Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Sexual Politics of Burger King Chicken Fries

Burger King's 2015 series of commercials for the relaunch of chicken fries depends on powerful stereotypes about women, homosexuality, and race to market their product to privilege: straight, white, masculinity.

In this commercial, a rooster is shown browsing a dating website. After snubbing a number of hens, he comes across BK Chicken Fries and suddenly becomes very excited. Healthy, living chickens are not seen as sexy, but dead, dismembered, disempowered "meat" is sexualized:

In another commercial, BK Chicken Fries are insinuated to be a product of a sexual encounter between hypermasculinized potato fries and a teenage hen. The possibility of his daughter dating the fries sends her rooster father into a rage. Again, powerful gender norms are reinforced in the negotiation of dating and sex, and "meat" is sexualized.

Interestingly, a couple of commercials also present "becoming meat" as a challenge to masculinity, loosely drawing on the "racial threat" in doing so.

In this commercial, a father comes home to his son who is bopping his head to hip hop music with several boxes of fries. Father rooster screams, "You wanna explain to me what these french fries are doing in my house?" His son replies, "Dad, come on they're my boys."  Based on the language and tone, the audience is encouraged to think about the chickens as white-identified and the fries as the non-white thugs. Says the rooster: "Listen, you are a chicken, stop acting like a side dish!" The audience could easily imagine the common trope, "You are white, stop acting Black!" Because "meat" is feminized and exists as a signal of disempowerment, to be meat is to be non-white.

In this ad, a chicken is hanging out on a stoop in an urban setting with some potato fries. His friends catch him in the act, who begin to deride him: "Hey chicken! You gotta lotta nerve for hangin' out with those french fries, man! Maybe you wanna be a french fry, huh?" By placing the chicken in a hyper-maculinized setting (and giving them non-white accents, presumably to increase their "street cred"), we are encouraged to think that there is something emasculating about associating with french fries. In this case, fries seem to represent persons with non-conforming genders or sexualities. The chicken in question must reassert his masculinity and challenges his friends with retorts: maybe he does want to be a french fry. Again, "meat" represents something that is less than masculine, and the rooster's association with it suggests he might be trans or gay. When his friends realize that he might actually want to be a french fry, they become very uncomfortable.

Noticeably, in none of the commercials are the chickens concerned in the slightest with being killed and eaten. Their reactions range from arousal or anger at threats to gender, race, and sexuality norms. So, while chickens are anthropomorphized and the audience is invited to view them as persons, the political imagination is immediately stifled when the systemic violence imposed on chickens becomes a joke.

Vegan feminists have theorized that "meat" is a highly masculinized product, as it entails extreme violence and requires the support of strong ideologies of patriarchal dominance. Advertisers often pull on these ideologies in order to appeal to a hierarchical society that values masculinity and devalues all that is feminized (including women, homosexuals, trans persons, people of color, and other animals). The Burger King chicken fries series is one of several fast food commercials that frame the consumption of their product as a "manly" act that will define privilege for the consumer.