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Retro wonderland: exploring the postmodern aesthetics of ‘90s Taco Bell interior design
02.07.2017
09:23 am
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Taco Bell in Las Vegas, NV courtesy of @heycomet‘s instagram
 
The year is 2017, you’re driving across the country and you’ve decided to pull over at a random offramp for a quick bite. You’re not familiar with your locale, but you see a familiar restaurant and you’re hungry so you put your better judgment aside and walk into a Taco Bell. As soon as you enter you are instantly transported 25 years into the past, a time capsule of early 90’s interior design. You are standing in one of the very last Taco Bell franchises that have not yet succumb to the horrible, present day faux-Tuscan make-over.

It was the Milan-based Italian design and architecture company The Memphis Group and their fun, colorful, geometric, postmodern aesthetic that were responsible for this specific style of design. The Art Deco and Pop Art movements collided in all their concepts throughout the 1980s. By the time the 1990s rolled around the style had become so mainstream and widely popular that it could be seen all over television, such as on shows like Saved by the Bell where the gang from Bayside High School hung out in a similarly wacky diner called The Max.

Los Angeles-based interior designer Jared Frank of Topsy Design explains just how quickly Memphis trends trickled down into popular culture. “On TV you could find it, most noticeably all over MTV, which was postmodern not just in design but also in its very style of programming. Another thoroughly postmodern show in both design and concept was Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The Simpsons flirts with it. And of course, every coked-out ‘80s movie about a movie producer, record executive, or radio deejay is guaranteed to show sets that look like Otho from Beetlejuice was asked to design an office space.”

Luckily I was not alone in my nostalgic love of Taco Bell’s past designs. Photographer Phil Donohue (not to be confused with talk show host Phil Donahue) began using film to document the few remaining Taco Bell locations in California that were still home to that beautiful pink, purple, red, and turquoise color combination, artificial plants, and squiggly geometric shapes. “Most of the design from the ‘80s and ‘90s was so quickly discarded for something even more corporatized and mediocre that I wanted to contextualize what was left before it was gone,” Donohue said via e-mail. “Capturing it digitally seemed to only highlight this mediocrity so shooting on film was, for me, the best way to translate this feeling of what the past was, with what is still present. I probably have another year or two before a lot of what is genuinely out there is gone — before everything is stuccoed over or faux-Tuscan.”

Of course, true experts of the postmodern movement will not be fooled by imitators. “In light of Robert Venturi calling out emergent ‘70s architecture as, ‘communication over space’ these Taco Bell interiors are cleanability over communication.” explained Matthew Sullivan of AQQ Design. “Hyper-cleanliness is the designer here—from the impermeable upholstery, to the visible floor drains, down to the drip or crumb channels or whatever the fuck those recesses in the banquets are called. It’s operating room meets diner- super Ballardian. Personally I could never make a value judgment—should be labeled something like disinfranchisementarianism. Looks as fine a place as any to stomp on someone’s face or make-out or enjoy a double-decker-taco-supreme.”

So why did it go away? “Culture eats itself” designer Jared Frank concluded. “Folks then reacted against the exuberance of PoMo and found safety in the corporate style of the ‘90s. And then folks reacted against that with the ‘new sincerity,’ the ‘authentic,’ all those horrible reclaimed wood walls. And of course, Taco Bell followed suit, jumping onboard the latest trends just as they’re flaming out.”
 

Taco Bell in Milpitas, CA courtesy of yelp user Maria A.
 

Taco Bell in Anaheim, CA courtesy of @heycomet‘s instagram
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Doug Jones
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02.07.2017
09:23 am
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Taco Bell’s weird-ass Orwell ripoff, complete with totalitarian clowns (yes, you read that right)


 
For their new ad campaign “Routine Republic,” Taco Bell has produced a mini-movie lasting three minutes that steals from ... well, you name it.  Just off the top of my head, it cribs from The Hunger Games, Insane Clown Posse, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, Divergent, Apple’s “1984” ad campaign, and any number of David Fincher movies.

You’d have to be a semiotics Ph.D. to uncover all the layers of mendacious allusion and outright theft going on here. If nothing else, it’s a contender for the “Protesting Too Much” Hall of Fame. See, the idea is that if you are eating yummy McGriddles from McDonald’s or delectable Croissan’wiches from Burger King for breakfast, you’re a brainwashed drone who needs to be liberated by ... an A.M. Crunchwrap from Taco Bell (which admittedly also sounds yummy). Yes, you read that right: a delicious Croissan’wich and you’re a soulless drone; a delicious A.M. Crunchwrap and you’re a hipsterish free spirit with the ability to cavort in the streets of Prague, perhaps and eventually open an artisanal and/or steampunk moustache wax boutique (I have nothing against hipsters, I’m just reading into the ad). Never mind that the most powerful electron microscope on earth wouldn’t be able to detect any ideological difference between a McGriddle and an A.M. Crunchwrap.

Sticking with the Orwell tip, the commercial repurposes the “four legs good, two legs bad” formulation of Animal Farm into the totalitarian regime’s “circle = good, hexagon = bad.” I could hardly write that with a straight face, it’s so stupid. So that’s right, fealty to a round shape is bad but the one with the six equal sides is good. The ad’s Winston Smith finds his Julia as they wait on line for their Victory Gin, er, a round breakfast sandwich, lock eyes, and escape together to the land of Borat-ish un-corporate-ness. Just to make sure you don’t miss the point, the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” kicks in at the moment of maximum individualism. Because it takes an individual to appreciate the world’s most universally beloved punk band, right?
 

 
Oh yeah, the clowns, I almost forgot. All the authority figures in “Oceania” or whatever have clown makeup on. Because McDonald’s corporate logo is a guy in a clown suit and you know, fuck that guy.

One touch I did like is that the evil kingdom is surrounded by a moat that is actually a drab ball pit, which is mostly associated with McDonald’s Playland. Of course, trying to demonize a wonderful, fun ball pit for children has to rank down there with the worst things any advertiser has ever done, but you know, all’s fair in love and breakfast war.
 
The ad itself, after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Martin Schneider
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03.24.2015
01:32 pm
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