Monday, May 11, 2009

Nipples, Wedgies, and Burgers: The Burger King Kingon

Suppose that McDonald's grew tired of fighting the coffee wars with Starbucks and decided instead to reinvent its icon as a modern provocateur with a pervy streak. Kids today are no longer amused by mere clowns, especially clowns that make nice and commit charitable acts. Kids today want to explore confrontation, especially with a perverse undertone, or so it seems from the latest set of Burger King ads.

Starring the Burger King King as a "Kingon," the advertisements are merchandise tie-ins with the recently released Star Trek movie. Most of the spots involve the "Kingon Defense Academy" and feature more concept than technique, no matter what the "defense academy" claims. The ads instruct the unwary how to avoid the "Neon Nurple" and a "Warp-Five Wedgie" and also how to deliver low blows to male genitals. In the event that "Nurple" isn't clear as "nipple," there's a second ad that forthrightly delivers what is known as the "Kingon Nipple Pinch."

The ads are silly, commanding, and are enormous social signifiers.

The Burger King King wasn't always a sadist. A year or so ago, he was a serious lover, perhaps bisexual in orientation. Before that--long before that--he did magic tricks, which made him far safer than McDonald's felonious Hamburglar.

Then Crispin Porter + Bogusky took over. The Miami-based ad agency realized the King as a freakish plastic head on a middling Caucasian body. Moreover, they foregrounded the King's meatier side and later his kinky streak, forever subverting the idea that advertising mascots should be do-gooders who uphold the values of the Eisenhower era. CP + B couched the BK mascot in such a way that Ronald McDonald seemed contemptibly timid and probably neutered. It was a brilliant contradiction and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Every now and again, we need to be reminded that we have a strong and proud prudish streak and that we are nothing like the Europeans, whose habits we might find excitingly suspect. This is an American imperative and as much as we enjoy the antics of the Germans or the Dutch and like to sneak voyeuristic peeks over our shoulders, it's still a remote experience. We may want to aggressively twist someone's nipples or heave their pants up so high that they end up cleaved, but we like to keep these private aggressions...private. Marrying the thrill of possibly deviant (and hostile) eroticism with Star Trek drinking glasses edges the border of no-man's-land advertising, and it also confirms that kids aren't kids any longer. They spring from the womb aged 20, wearing Axe deodorant and generally not lacking in a violent point of view.

CP + B's gambit has made the King a childhood cynosure, a guide who debunks any rationalization that children should be kept from adult vagaries. As much as The Three Stooges were blamed for inciting the children of the 1930s-1960s to explore their violent sides, today's iteration of the Burger King King invites early concupiscence and novelty kink. There is absolutely no distinction made between a five-year-old and a young adult male, a strange fact of modern society that CP + B brilliantly grasps. It's not about the Star Trek merchandising any more than the Subservient Chicken campaign was about chicken fries. Those are the false premises. What's really going on, beyond the surface wackiness, is a disquisition on assumption. The ads are the most truthful things on TV, or would be if they weren't so bizarre.

Wendy's had a famous ad that asked "Where's the beef?" It featured elderly women and the concern was the shrinking weight of competitors' hamburgers. Today, Burger King proves that the beef is of little importance--it's our urgent need to have it our sexually combatant way, no matter if we are barely out of training pants.

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