I am my own person! I will make my own decisions! You can’t tell me what to eat for breakfast!
Or at least that’s what Taco Bell’s new commercial wants me to think.
This short film uses imagery right out of The Hunger Games and George Orwell’s 1984 to take a direct shot at rival indigestion-inducing-fast food behemoth McDonald’s. To give credit to the folks in charge at Taco Bell, my immediate reaction to their message was, “You’re right, I don’t want a bunch of totalitarian clowns telling me what to do with my life, much less what a cool breakfast is!”
And yet… if I want to be a member of a young, attractive, diverse, free-thinking community, the first step is…a different breakfast option that some other corporation is hoping to convince people to uniformly embrace? Well…that doesn’t seem to make any sense.
Like any fan of Mad Men, I’m fully aware that every advertisement that I see is trying to sell me a lifestyle, not just a product. Taco Bell itself is pointing out that people have bought into the lifestyle that McDonald’s is selling – if you eat this breakfast sandwich, you’ll be happy. As this commercial makes clear, that message is absurd. Just look at all of those people who have made an Egg McMuffin part of their morning routine – they’re eating what McDonald’s tells them to, but they’re so unhappy that they can’t even bring themselves to wear anything other than drab shades of gray!
Taco Bell’s proposed solution is to do the exact same thing. Company A has lied to you by saying that wholeheartedly embracing their product will make you the person you’ve always wanted to be. But now, Company B is going to help you out by telling you that an unquestioning utilization of their product will make you the best version of yourself. That’s hardly an improvement.
The flaw in this line of thought has very little to do with McDonald’s or Taco Bell. The rampant materialism of our culture equates buying things with flourishing. Add in a serious overdose of individualism, and we arrive at the ethos of our existing global capitalistic structure: I can choose to buy whatever I want, and that is what makes me a full, happy human being. This is complete nonsense.
I wish I had a neat, easy solution to offer here. Our days are completely saturated with advertisements, political slogans, and implicit influences of an endless variety. So many of these messages tell us that if we buy X or do Y, we’ll become the rugged, self-sufficient superhuman we’re supposed to be. Reaching this threshold of material independence, we will be able to lead a meaningful life. That isn’t an easy mindset to break out of.
Working against this destructive structure might have to begin with small, seemingly unimportant daily decisions. Rather than literally buying into the dominant narrative about acquiring more material happiness, it might merit considering whether that purchase contributes to the sources of love and support already in our lives. Or if that money spent helps to lift up our sisters and brothers most in need. Or how that decision works against the voices telling us that our life is equal to the things that we choose to buy.
Maybe this is making too much of a commercial about rival fast food breakfast options. But if this advertisement asks us what leads to fuller, more authentic humanity, how can the answer possibly be found in a wax paper wrapper?