Brad alerted me last weekend to the existence of the hands-free Whoppper, ostensibly a product released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Burger King in Puerto Rico. Sadly, the HFW is not real. When you know that it is not real, the commercial above looks like exactly what it is: a gentle exercise in absurdity that also provides occasion to say that word “Whopper” 78 times. It seems impossible to believe that such a product could exist. Yet the hands-free Whopper was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning, and I was all set to write some funny (read: lazy) screed about it. Apparently, I was not alone. At all.
Interestingly, the same qualities that make the hands-free Whopper an amusing satire piece also make us want to believe it is real. The ways in which it is funny are too good to be true, but we kind of want them to be. The idea of a plastic harness that holds a burger up to your mouth for use “en un mundo ‘multitasking'” skewers the laziness and indignity of fast food a little too perfectly. The bathetic juxtaposition of Whopper and boxer or Whopper and massage-on-the-beach should read as clear signals that it’s all a joke. There’s a literal wink at :33, yet Gawker and Fox and all manner of other semi-respectable news outlets reported the HWF as fact. We wanted to believe.
First of all, let that be a lesson to you, Daily Currant. Second, what is it about the hands-free Whopper that A) went viral so quickly and B) encouraged so many editors to suspend their disbelief? The reasons seem to be a restatement of the last paragraph in more misanthropic terms: the HWF is further evidence of the laziness of western culture, the disturbingly livestock-esque routines of modern life, the way in which contemporary existence has taken on an air of vague, constant distraction. Basically, the reporting of this absurd advertisement as news is the embittered rather than amused reaction to the joke. Instead of laughing at the conceit, we said, “That would be real.”
So that kind of pervasive self-loathing from the western culturo-mediasphere is one explanation. Another is that everyone was skeptical of the hands-free Whopper all along, but we reported/consumed it as real news because we approach the internet in roughly the same way we approach satire. Like satire, the internet reveals essential truths about individuals and society, even if the events it reports are not strictly factual. We read it to know how things are, not what actually happened. When it comes to “news” like the HWF, the important thing is not that Puerto Rican Burger King actually handed out 50 of ’em, but that it is a trenchant observation of how we live now.
That explanation works for the HWF phenomenon, but it has alarming implications on, say, reports of war crimes committed in Syria. Even if we accept the farfetched notion that we engage much internet reporting as satire, we could say that we recognize more obviously not-funny news as real. Still, there has to be some middle stratum between thermobaric bombs and feed bags that we are approaching as kind of fake even though it is factually real. That seems bad.
Lucky for us, my internet-as-satire hypothesis is probably wrong. It might hold up failed birthday cakes or whatever, but probably we still have a keen sense of the distinction between real and false. I’m sure it will remain intact generations hence, and phenomena like the Great Whopper Credulity will go down as glitches in an otherwise smoothly functioning discourse machine. Or nothing will be true and everything will be permitted. Either way, I’m sure burgers will remain plentiful.