whopper virgins & the fast food nation: colonialism, marketing, food, sex, and hunger politics.

it has been a long time, but i am back :)


Cross posted from kameelahwrites.

i am sure everyone has seen the whopper virgins commercials with the ‘natives’/’whopper virgins’ in traditional garb tasting burger king whoppers after they have been rescued from their tribal settings to consume fatty American food in a more ‘modern’ setting. if you haven’t, please check the following links:

+ whopper virgins site

+ whopper virgins documentary

+ whopper virgins commercial

the quotes below speak for themselves. i will say that in addition to all the commentary on race and hunger politics, i’d like to add some quick gendered commentary. like “virgin” colonial lands that invited penetration, these commercials reproduce discourses around the paternalistic need/imperial impulse to penetrate bodies and spaces deemed ripe for conquest. i am surprised no africans were thrown into the mix, but then again we all known africans are promiscuous and the juxtaposition of ‘african’ and ‘virgin’ would just confuse viewers. yay for another anthropological blunder.

on to the links:

@jezebel: Burger King Needs To Lose Its Whopper Virginity

Can we please just take a moment to call shenanigans on these “Whopper Virgins” commercials that Burger King insists on playing every 5 minutes? The premise itself is ridiculous: Burger King travels to remote areas of the world, basically “rounds up” people who have never eaten Whoppers before, and then films them as they taste a Whopper for the first time. “The Whopper is America’s favorite,” a voiceover claims, “but what will these people choose?” Perhaps the most offensive part of the ads is, as Marilyn Borchardt of Food First points out, the fact that “the ad’s not even acknowledging that there’s even hunger in any of these places.” Brian Morrissey of AdFreak.com calls the ads “embarrassing and emblematic of how ignorant Americans still seem to the rest of the world.”

@chicago tribune: A Whopper of a bad campaign?

Critics have heaped a super-size helping of scorn on the ads, suggesting it smacks of “corporate colonialism,” “cultural bullying” and the worst kind of Ugly Americanism. The ads use the familiar blind taste test formula, but with a twist: “What happens if you take remote Chang Mai villagers who’ve never seen a burger, who don’t even have a word for burger, and ask them to compare Whopper versus Big Mac in the world’s purest taste test?” the voice-over solemnly intones. “The Whopper Virgins will decide.” The Chang Mai villagers are Hmong people from northern Thailand. Inuit villagers from Greenland and peasants from the Transylvania region of Romania also have been recruited to sample the burgers. The ads, which began running last week, have a faux Discovery Channel documentary feel. […] “While [Burger King] spent millions of dollars happily tracking down people with no ‘hamburger awareness’ the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has to go begging because they can only get one-thirtieth of the money they need to rebuild the developing world’s shattered food systems,” said Food First, an advocacy group that fights hunger. Barbara Lippert, a columnist for Adweek, called the ads “culturally tone-deaf.”

@huffingtonpost: Burger King Ads Underscore Imperialism of the Fast Food Nation

So, “what happens if you take remote Chiang Mai villagers who’ve never seen a burger, who don’t even have a word for ‘burger’ and ask them to compare Whopper versus Big Mac in the world’s purest taste test?” the new campaign from Burger King asks.

Well, for one thing, vomiting, diarrhea, and with extended use, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and vitamin deficiency (i.e. the impact of the American diet on Greece). But most of all, you get a classic story of American corporate colonialism, sickly masked in that all-too-proud illusion of goodwill.


Aside from the familiar face of cultural bullying the campaign exposes, and the further exoticisation and exploitation of indigenous peoples from around the world – topics which can and will be argued about ’til the cows come home – the Burger King Whopper Virgins commercials exemplify two very disparate ways of looking at food. On the one hand, heavily processed, genetically modified, fast and far from homemade. On the other – and there is one scene in the docu-mercial of native foods being scooped up and the American producers enjoying plates full of it – grown, raised and cooked with knowing care by the village that consumes the food itself. Fast, versus slow.

In the very final scene, a producer asks an Inuit what he thought of the burger. After replying that it was “very good,” the producer persists, “How does that compare to seal?” No deal. The Inuit replies: “I like seal better.”

@the wall street journal commentary @punkassblog: what the bloody fuck is wrong with burger king?

This is easy exploitation of other people; the “poor savages” practically comes screaming off the add. (Don’t even have a word for “Burger”? WTF? I bet they have a word for “sandwich” and I also bet that they have plenty of words we don’t have in English). Additionally, Whoppers and Big Mac would probably make them sick; most countries on the planet are not used to the high fat, high sugar, high beef, high salt diets of Americans. So, they’re giving them food, but they’re going to probably be immediately sick afterwards.Burger King, you fail at making commercials.

@stuff white people do: travel to exotic, distant lands, meet exciting, unusual people, and feed them hamburgers

What do you think of the burger-sharing white folks who travel around the globe in this short Burger King advermentary (or if you like, docutisement)? If you’ve seen ads from this new campaign, you probably know that this American film crew manages to find people who’ve never had a burger before. They label these curiously pre-modern people “Whopper Virgins.” Then the white folks generously help the curiously pre-modern folks lose their virginity. Are these white American burger-bearers benevolent cultural emissaries, helping to spread American goodness? Or are they intrepid and courageous foot soldiers, helping to enhance the great good of American corporate profits in a mercilessly sagging economy? These taste-tests were conducted in Thailand, Romania, and Greenland. Does race matter here?

+ Minnesota Hmong protest against BK “Whopper Virgin” campaign

What do you think? Culturally insensitive ad or clever marketing…or something else all together?

3 Comments to ‘whopper virgins & the fast food nation: colonialism, marketing, food, sex, and hunger politics.’:

  1. Pierce on 23 Dec 2008 at 9:14 pm: 1

    Definitely culturally insensitive – as our media tends to be. And I agree, Kameelah, that these commercials do have patriarchal/imperial implications. It gave me a vibe similar to Colonial missionaries. Calling these people Virgins (even Whopper Virgins) implies some level naivete, innocence and inexperience on part of the testees (no pun intended). And like you said, it reinforced a “paternalistic need/imperial impulse to penetrate bodies and spaces deemed ripe for conquest.” This same ideology inspired millions of missionaries to enter the “primitive” world and de-paganize the locals. Ha. Could you imagine that..

    “What happens if you take remote Chang Mai villagers who’ve never seen (a crucifix), who don’t even have a word for (Jesus), and ask them to compare (Christianity) versus (Buddhism) in the world’s purest (God) test?.. Find out at The Virgin (Mary).com”

  2. Pierce on 23 Dec 2008 at 9:16 pm: 2

    Except, of course, in real life they didn’t let you taste Buddhism and choose which you liked better. They just imposed Christianity and colonized, enslaved or killed everyone else.

    Which could be the fate of the “Virgins” if they keep eating those nasty burgers.

  3. Ishmael on 27 Dec 2008 at 5:49 am: 3

    Did you like the Monet to Dali exhibit at the DIA?

    I can still remember my first “whopper”. It was great. A bunch of us had driven nonstop to Florida on spring break. We had never heard Burger King before that.

    The quality has dropped off over the years.

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Published on December 23, 2008 at 2:31 pm. 3 Comments.
Filed under health,news/politics,poverty,racism,television.