It’s a classic moment in contemporary American cinema. Hitmen Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are deciphering the nuances between American and European life on their way to murder a room full of people in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 flick Pulp Fiction.
Vincent: But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?
Vincent: It’s the little differences…
Vincent:…Also, you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?
Vincent: No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the *** a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules: What’d they call it?
Vincent: They call it Royale with Cheese.
Jules: Royale with Cheese.
The scene is a beautiful portal into the way Americans look east and see themselves. The Simpsons parodied the scene beautifully, using the show’s infamous Springfield (Krusty Burger)/Shelbyville (McDonald’s) divide. But given that McDonald’s is a quintessential American food, how does the rest of the world see America through the glimmering embassies of its most benevolent ambassador Ray Kroc?
The perception is muddled. Earlier this year, McDonald’s franchises in Israel released the Big America Burger, a line of delectable burgers that included the Big Texas and Big New York. Each of the beauties were made with over one half-pound of kosher beef!
To mark the launch, Israeli television spots for McDonald’s capitalized on the “special relationship” between Israel and the United States by having Secret Service agents seize some Israeli McDonald’s employees from a nightclub/movie theater to make Big America Burgers for a President Obama look-a-like. The ad, which is almost entirely in English, ends with a burger-rich President Obama at the drive-thru uttering “God Bless Israel and the Big America.” It’s very poignant; you may want to have Kleenex at the ready.
Then…there is France. This week, there is some discontent on this side of the Atlantic over three new French McDonald’s burgers called the Grand Bagel Cheese, the Double Shiny Bacon, and the Double Cornbread Barbecue, all of which are served on bagels. (Though it pains me, I must first tip my hat in admiration for the naming of that second burger. C’est le pied!)
And how does McDonald’s in France choose to market these burgers? Surely, the estate of Edith Piaf was consulted, non? Nope. Turns out an expired, uncorrected proof of the American stereotypes handbook was used instead and it is to the detriment of centuries of Franco-American relations.
All three commercials feature pushy, swaggeringly dumb Americans invading (yes, invading) French lunchspace to requisition the new burgers. In all three commercials, each French citizen says no as if to suggest that the only remaining American virility lives in le boeuf. Most dismaying is the commercial for the Grand Bagel Cheese, which features an American hockey player(!) skating over a guy in a library to demand his Grand Bagel Cheese. In English no less!
Over at Slate, L.V. Anderson ponders:
The first question that comes to mind is: Why is the floor of this library made of ice? That doesn’t seem like a very conducive environment for preserving books. My second question: Where are McDonald’s French copywriters getting their images of American pop culture?
The commercial for the Double Shiny Bacon (B”H, what a name!) and the Double Cornbread Barbecue aren’t much better. They feature a Baywatch Pamela Anderson-type in a swimsuit and a cadre of American police officers, respectively, appearing from the ether to declare their burgerly rights. It’s a reverse Freedom Fries moment.
But most unfathomable of all, WHY ARE THESE BURGERS ON BAGELS? The short answer is (probably) anti-Semitism. The long answer is anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. Don’t be fooled by the hockey player, friends, these are not Montreal bagels. And while we may all have been desperate or injudicious or perhaps tipsy enough to make burgers on bagels at one point or another in our lives,* they are NOT the default setting.
That’s not even considering the religious slight of having a traditionally Jewish food supporting the supernal weight of either double cheeseburgers or double bacon cheeseburgers. What’s next? The Dreyfus Dégueulasse?
On all counts, this is a failure of messaging, a failure of imagination, and a betrayal of a crucial alliance.
*Author Note: Sliders on mini-bagels are the exception to any rule and I am unabashedly a burger-on-English muffin guy.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.