Buns, Burgers and Boycotts

So many commercial controversies, so little time.

Burger King is in trouble again. After getting skewered for the “Whopper Virgin” campaign, BK is getting reamed over its 99-cent Spongebob Squarepants kids meal. Parents groups, pundits and the like are up in arms because the commercial features rapper Sir Mix-a-lot, women wearing square pants and dancing to a riff of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s bootylicious classic, “Baby Got Back.” Folks have threatened to boycott BK because they are sexualizing kids meals and using the music of a “gangsta rapper.”

For real? Sir Mix-a-lot is a gangsta rapper? I think not. For once, I think that people are making a mountain out of a molehill.

I will admit that when I first saw the commercial, I laughed hysterically, although I did not realize that it was for a kid’s meal. I thought it was making fun of Sir Mix-a-lot and Spongebob Squarepants because I looked at the commercial through an adult lens. Quite frankly, I think that most kids don’t even get the intertextual references to the song and the rapper, let alone the women dressed up like Spongebob Squarepants. I mean, really — square butts, which they refer to as implants; that’s funny and subversive … and I’m a feminist.

I find it interesting that the same parents who are clutching the pearls over this ad are the same people who sit their children down in front of cartoons all day without supervision. Cartoons are often more sexist, racist, classist, elitist — really, any other word that you can find that ends in “ist” — and violent than any other programming on television. Spongebob Squarepants can be extremely violent and gross. It’s OK when companies are peddling cereal, sugar-laden products and toys made in China to kids on Saturday mornings (and even before school), but its not OK for Burger King to clearly poke fun at sheer and utter foolishness.

Many folks have suggested that “Baby Got Back” is a misogynistic song. Not so much. It was clearly tongue-in-cheek, pun intended, even way back when it came out.

Many of us liked the song because it was fun and actually celebrated women with curves. This was before J.Lo, BeyoncĂ© and Kim Kardashian. This song was out when the Stairmaster was banned from my dorm because white girls did not want to build up their butt muscles. This song was out before people would drop $5,000 to get butt implants. This was before voluptuous booties were in style. Unlike those who can have their implants removed or run two miles a day, those of us dragging this wagon had to live with it before it was popular, desirable to the masses or something to be “appropriated.” Folks didn’t care about the song in 1992 when it was referring to black girls, so why do they care now?

Burger King is doing what Burger King does — courting controversy. They got in trouble with poverty groups for going to “Third World” locations to discover someone who had never had a burger. They got in trouble with Latinos for their Texican burger ad, which featured a short Mexican wrestler, “El Cantita” and an okey-doke cowboy. (That was a messed-up commercial.) Now, we have hoopla over this Spongebob Squarepants advertisement.

The only thing that is certain is that Burger King’s burgers are flame-broiled and that their advertisements will be controversial. Why? Because even bad publicity is free publicity. While folks are busy raging against the flame-broiled machine, BK is making dollars.

For the record, I don’t even eat at Burger King. I try to stay as far away from fast food as possible. Why? Because baby already got back. As for the commercials, parents need to boycott that creepy King who’s in them. Skulking around at nighttime and turning up in random places (like bedrooms) is a little too much for me.

While I completely support monitoring what kids watch on television, I simply ask that parents apply that same barometer and energy to television programming that is much more disturbing than this 34-second ad.

And to my friends who want me to boycott Burger King — while pubbing black Barbie, rocking Nikes (which may or may not have been made in a sweat shop by children), buying Bratz dolls for their kids and listening to R. Kelly — as I love to say, kick rocks.

This post originally appeared on Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.


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