[In the future, everyone will have 15 minutes of selling fast food
from beyond the grave.] [https://portside.org/] 




 Spencer Kornhaber 
 February 4, 2019
The Atlantic

	* [https://portside.org/node/19327/printable/print]

 _ In the future, everyone will have 15 minutes of selling fast food
from beyond the grave. _ 

 , Burger King 


A man walks to an old farmhouse, his hands grazing stalks of grass, in
a primal American image: something out of an Andrew Wyeth painting,
or _Days of Heaven_. He’s greeted by his grandpa, whom he hasn’t
seen in a long time. Inside the house sits a beautiful car. Is this
real life? No, it is the hallucination of an office worker with a
cashew blocking his airway. A colleague Heimlichs him back to reality,
and he appears bummed to discover that he is not, in fact, dead.

This was Audi’s way
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xrgq2CIag6M] of announcing that it
would electrify its cars by 2025, part of a Super Bowl ad class that
not-so-gently warned the viewer that consumer products would shape not
only their life, but also their death. The commercial-break culture
war of the past few years—brands image-washing themselves with
gender-role reversals, multiculti montages, and Kendall
Jenner wandering into a protest
somewhat on pause, perhaps with the blowback to Gillette’s
masculinity lecture
[https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/01/gillette-ad-controversy/580666/] too
fresh. What instead emerged was a lurid, almost putrid sensibility,
culminating in the eerie resurrection of Andy Warhol smearing ketchup
on a soggy hamburger bun. Chunky milk
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhkcQbhiOiM], murderous nuts, flying
reptiles barbecuing a barbecue: The end will be nasty, and it will not
be in your control.

“IT’S WORSE THAN IT WAS YESTERDAY” read a fake newspaper
headline in the home-security gizmo SimpliSafe’s Super Bowl spot
an explicit work of fearmongering that also featured an Amazon
Echo–type device that malevolently spied on users. Amazon,
meanwhile, advertised itself
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y-1h_C8ad8] with an oddly chipper
affirmation of the nightmares people have about its AI-adjacent
products. The company infiltrated private spaces, as per Forest
Whitaker’s Alexa-enabled toothbrush. It took command of a user’s
credit card when Harrison Ford’s dog, wearing an Echo collar,
stocked up on kibble. It hijacked civilization at a supervillain
scale, with an Alexa-rigged space station taking down the country’s
power grids. The point was that Amazon would never actually allow
these things. But also, definitely, that it _could_.

The sense of mutating capitalism—of products gaining sentience then
running amok with horrifying results—also defined one of Sunday’s
more effective WTF moments. Bud Light has branded itself with a
medieval shtick for years now, but on Sunday night a campy joust of
beverage-affiliated warriors turned gruesome
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoLiRI5swVk], with the reenactment of
a _Game of Thrones_ scene in which a hero had his eyes gouged out.
Then a dragon swooped in and roasted Bud Light’s royal court, and
the _Thrones_ theme song started to play. Twist: This was an ad both
for beer _and_ for HBO’s biggest hit show. Another wall between
discrete cultural-commercial kingdoms has fallen, and not even the
stupidest mascots are safe from the ensuing chaos.

Bud Knight will be back, though, as no one—fictional or
otherwise—dies in ad land. Hence Martin Luther King Jr. returned to
the Super Bowl in arguably an even dicier context than
the much-loathed Dodge
[http://time.com/5132811/martin-luther-king-dodge-ram-super-bowl-commercial/] spot
from last year. The NFL has been buffeted
[https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/1857/11/maroon-5/581695/] by
fans and celebs swearing it off in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick,
who accused team owners of blacklisting him for his anti-racism
protests. The league, on Sunday, tried to strike back with an ad-like
montage of King’s words preceding the coin toss, which was overseen
by King’s daughter Bernice King, U.S. Representative John Lewis, and
former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young.

“Humanity is turning the tide and our efforts must include bridge
builders, strategic negotiators and ambassadors,” Bernice
King tweeted on
[https://twitter.com/BerniceKing/status/1092206397662658560] Sunday,
an implicit response to critics on Kaepernick’s side. Social-justice
leaders can and obviously do disagree tactically about when to build
bridges and when to refuse to participate with alleged oppressors. But
MLK’s words were being used, more than anything, for football’s
own PR efforts against dissenters. They were, in effect, being
weaponized against supporters of his own cause.

But the spookiest haunting, still, was by Andy Warhol’s ghost. The
late artist’s spiel about the universality of Coca-Cola—“A Coke
is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the
one the bum on the corner is drinking”—provided the seed for a
decidedly un-Warholian bit of doggerel
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Hcrz4Jq9WE] used to hawk that
drink. Warhol himself made an appearance, too, in a Burger King
commercial that showed him sitting at a table and eating a Whopper on
camera, at length. A pioneer of the postmodern blurring between art
and ads, Warhol is an apt figure for such treatment, but also an
ominous one. Count off another vertebrae engulfed by the snake eating
its own tail.

The Warhol footage came from the Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth’s
1982 documentary, _66 Scenes From America_, and the original
clip—of Warhol unwrapping the burger, eating it, sitting in
uncomfortable silence, and then saying his name—made the kind of
gnomic statement on consumerism that Warhol specialized in. Burger
King rebroadcast it undoctored, save for, in both the 45-second TV
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fIfPKpY7HQ&feature=youtu.be] and
the nearly five-minute internet version, a flash of text:
#EatLikeAndy. It also tried to mascot-ify him by handing out
[https://www.elitedaily.com/p/whats-in-burger-kings-super-bowl-mystery-box-it-ties-into-their-commercial-15910405] “mystery
boxes” containing white-bob wigs before the game. Said the brand’s
marketing materials: “You’ll know exactly what to do with
everything that’s inside the box, and you’ll have your own 15
minutes of fame, or should we say, flame.”

The Warhol ad did make for one of the most arresting spots of the
night, with silence and mystery cutting against the game’s loudness.
And it’d certainly be hard to argue impropriety in a fast-food chain
decontextualizing and commodifying a pop-art adman who famously
admired Madison Avenue’s talents for … decontextualization and
commodification. “Warhol’s great advance was collapsing any
distinction between commercial and noncommercial modes of
experience,” Stephen Metcalf wrote recently in _The Atlantic_
elsewhere citing his quote “Making money is art, and working is art,
and good business is the best art.”

Even so, a line is being crossed. Warhol said that the ad-swaddled
surfaces of modern life were canvases; now a corporation has taken not
only his art but also his own likeness in the act of art making, and
represented it as an ad. If he is the prime target for such treatment,
there is no reason to think he’d be the only one. In an almost
visceral way, the morbid mood of Sunday’s ads hinted at an expansion
of Warhol’s 15-minutes-of-fame principle past the truism it’s
already become. One day we will each leave this Earth, but our image
no longer will. If gods or accomplishments or loved ones do not ensure
immortality, at least the corporations might, as there’s no buyer
that can’t also become a seller.

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[https://www.theatlantic.com/author/spencer-kornhaber/] is a staff
writer at _The Atlantic,_ where he covers pop culture and music.

Twitter [https://twitter.com/skornhaber] Email

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