Okay, first of all, let’s get this out of the way: big, burly men declaring that they’re “managing your meat everyday” is quite possibly the best imaginable homoerotic theme for a fast food advertisement. So let’s just have ourselves a giggle. Go ahead. Someone clearly meant for you to laugh, because there is no way that wasn’t intentional.
But moving on…
If you don’t follow labor news (not that it’s easy, since the largest media outlets tend to ignore it), you may not be aware that New York has had a recent upswing in strike activity, particularly among the notoriously difficult to organize service sector. Since November, coalitions of unions, community organizations, and labor rights groups have been endorsing fast food workers in their fight for a living wage and a union.
Since Burger King is one of the targets of these protests, it was particularly dizzying to see this corporate art decorating the wall of one of their locations in Tribeca, in Lower Manhattan. The aesthetic appeal of a “Stacker’s Union” might’ve seemed “cute” to the marketing execs, a nostalgic reference to a time when unionized industrial labor held the promise of a good life for a working class family. I doubt, however, that any of Burger King’s employees (or the workers who pick their tomatoes) would find it so cute.
It even has a little fake union logo, to represent the fake solidarity of the union workers that don’t actually exist!
What’s even weirder is the style of the art. At first glance, it appears to be referencing the public art of the Work’s Progress Administration, the New Deal program that put so many Americans to work during The Great Depression.
Hmmmm… close, but not quite. However, upon further inspection, this poster is so Soviet-inspired you can practically taste the corn syrup-suffused borscht (made with real beet extract):
I’m not sure what to make of it, honestly. On the one hand, I find it completely believable that a giant union-busting corporation would intentionally appropriate the title and aesthetics of labor to seem warm and fuzzy. On the other hand, I could also believe they’re all clueless idiots who just hired someone (who is apparently a droll comedic genius) to make them a cool-looking poster.
Marie Antoinette used to dress as a milkmaid for kicks. At the time, the bucolic peasantry was a signifier of idyllic, simple beauty. While it seems absurd to us now, the habit of the powerful to emulate an idealized working class persists today. We see designer jeans for hundreds of dollars, intentionally distressed so as to appear rugged, aged in the nobility of hard work. Folks mount their expensive, high-tech electronics on “rustic” stands. These are microcosms of the tendency, for sure, but Burger King playing “dress-up” with unions isn’t really too far off from Marie A playing dress-up as a farm girl.
Then again, we all know what happened to her.