In class, the issue of what America’s national food might be came up in the discussion on “Steak and Chips.” As a class, we agreed that there were a number of foods that could be classed as a national food, including hamburgers, which are perhaps one of the most advertised fast-food items out there, particularly with restaurant chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King. Taking that belief, as well as Barthes’ discussion in “Steak and Chips,” I have decided to take a look at this advertisement for the Whopper.

Much like Barthes views steak in French cuisine, which he says “figures in all the surroundings of alimentary life,” the burger is essentially everywhere in American cuisine (63). There are fast food restaurants that sell burgers everywhere, and there are other restaurants that advertise more “gourmet” burgers as well. This particular advertisement is playing up the prevalence of the burger in America, as well as playing on the idea of what is seen as being a fairly typical American value – bigger is better, as well as the belief that everyone should get more for their money. Barthes says that “to eat steak rare therefore represents both a nature and a morality,” suggesting that it’s part of the French culture to take in good steak in the same way that it’s a major part of American culture to partake in burgers, and also eating steak is a show of morality – good people eat good steaks.

The ad above is playing on the fact that it’s American nature to eat hamburgers, particularly such as the one above. The ad above is playing off the idea that bigger is better – the Whopper, Burger King’s “signature” burger, is shown as being larger than the Big Mac, the counterpart made by McDonalds, to the point where it can’t fit into what is seen as a puny Big Mac box, at least in comparison. Since both the Big Mac and the Whopper are fast food burgers, they’re low priced, but value is still an important idea. The Whopper is slightly bigger, meaning that if a consumer were to go out and buy a Whopper, they would be getting more for their money. To eat the biggest burger for the best price is an American way of living. Although Barthes never talks about the size of steaks in his essay, he does talk about different categories of steaks. There is the one that is “flat, edged with yellow, like the sole of a shoe” that is found in cheap restaurants; there are also steaks that are “thick and juicy” found in bistros that specialize in how to cook steak (63). The two steaks are not the same – the bistro that specializes in steaks is going to present a better product for the consumer than the cheap restaurant will. In a similar manner in this ad, Burger King is claiming that the Whopper and the Big Mac are two different quality meals – the Whopper is bigger and therefore the better buy for the consumer, which sets it up as a more “gourmet” fast-food restaurant in comparison to McDonald’s puny Big Mac box.

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One response »

  1. stevenpane says:

    Good translation from the French steak culture to the hugeness of American burgers. Even more, American restaurants often make the sign–the actual display sign–as prominent as possible. In France, restaurants rarely display food outside, yet a good burger joint heralds it with huge window images (I’m thinking of Harvard Square). There’s also something in the internals of a steak vs burger–you need a machine (or great deal of patience) for the latter. in contrast, the steak is cooked larger “as is”.

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