On June 26th, 2014, I participated in Trans March, in a loose sense of the word. I was around trans people. I marched. I helped my friend carry baked goods to Dolores Park and gave and received plenty of sweaty hugs and heard lots of people talk about safety, community, happiness. A sense of belonging. It was a nice atmosphere.
It was also my first exposure to Burger King’s limited edition “Proud Whopper”, a grotesque novelty on par with the rest of their illustriously gaseous menu. Stomping our way down Market Street, the slow rise of the banner for this rainbow flag-draped meat patty elicited a disgusted groan from our caravan of queer and trans marchers, a ripple of disgust that soured our good mood with something no amount of Tums could chase off.
The horrifying specter of “LGBT advertising.”
I really want to believe that “a burger has never made me cry before” is intentional camp.
The Proud Whopper, however, is itself is just another variation on the “feel good” inspirational advertising—think Coca-Cola’s “America the Beautiful” spot or Dove’s take on body positivity—that borrows just enough moderate liberal rhetoric to sell progressive ideas back to consumers. And much like how those campaigns cynically exploit multiculturalism or internalized misogyny for good social media press and sales boosts, so too is the Proud Whopper another in a long, tragic line of companies looking at queer oppression and getting cartoon dollar signs in their eyes.
Kinda like this.
In an unintentionally transparent article from The Washington Post on the aphorism-dispensing gay burger, inhuman aliens posing as marketers tell us about how corporations have discovered just exactly how easy it is to financially exploit the increasingly ill-defined “LGBT community.” Alls you have to do is throw them a bone once or twice, then just lean back and let brand loyalty and Twitter buzz carry you to a land of profit. From the aforementioned article:
“What companies are learning is once they have garnered the affinity of the LGBT consumer, they have captured that consumer for life,” said Isen at WinMark Concepts.
“Captured” here, of course, being used to unintentionally invoke the idea of a “captive audience.” In a similar article on Business Week, Burger King is praised not for acknowledging that gay people (and let’s be honest, by “LGBT” they just only ever mean “gay people”) are also just soggy pieces of meat wrapped in colorful costume, but for having good business sense. Being nice to gay people is good money in marketing logic, plain and simple, and the desire to get in on some of those colloquial “pink dollars” outweighs any potentially genuine care about if gay and trans people live or die. The buying power of “gay consumers” is given in articles such as these time and time again as proof that supporting gay rights in the most hoverhand way possible is good for business, even in the face of the oftentimes short term backlash with, what, some angry Twitter posts from people with handles like GatorDennis?
And that’s exactly the problem.
To Burger King’s credit, they have stated that the all the dollars from the Proud Whopper sales will go towards funding for LGBT scholarships. However, to take away that credit, you also to have remember that, hey, who is going to get a gay burger and not get some straight fries, straight sodas, maybe some straight dessert or a heteroflexible side? All of which is only going back into the original slush pile of “money that used to belong to ‘gay consumers’ and now belongs to us.” This isn’t some unreasonable conspiracy theory—it’s the very basic, very common marketing tactic of having a “loss leader.” And as the earlier articles have very heavily delineated, the bit of money they spend on LGBT community members now will buy them years of repeat customers and positive word-of-mouth advertising. The LGBT community, and the oppression and violence and need for some sense of safety that they face, has become just another marketing demographic, a testing ground to “capture” the Millennial audience, to make themselves seem “now” and “progressive” while doing very, very little to actually advance rights and resources for vulnerable populations.
“It’s just a burger, but it’s baby steps the whole way”.
The exploitation of the “LGBT market” has been an ongoing process for almost two decades now. The 2001 book Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market explored the 1990’s marketing trend of targeted “gay” advertising. Thanks in large part to numbers-skewed research that suggested the gay & lesbian community was swimming in disposable income (the results were based off heavily biased sampling of wealthy, oftentimes white gay men), companies became interested in the potential of “pink dollars.” Companies such as Budweiser, realizing that sponsoring a float in a parade for a community devastated by substance abuse was just as profitable as donating to Republican candidates, seized on this. The relationship between the LGBT community and the corporations who court us has never, ever been one of mutual benefit. The Proud Whopper is just another cynical attempt to market our own lives back to us, underneath the guise that it’s helping us. But at the end of the day, what are we getting out of a rainbow-wrapped burger? A sense of accomplishment? A feeling of recognition? A few seconds of feeling good before food poisoning sets in?
We get a soggy burger and a couple dollars taken out of our pocket.
And that’s a damn shame.