By now, you've probably seen this commercial. In case you haven't, it's part of a new campaign to McDonald's new foray into serving espresso. It's called "Intellectuals." (Their quotation marks, not mine.)
(I'm sorry this is huge, and topped with a boston.com logo. It's the only place I could find the video)
Sure, this commercial is all about the commodification of a lifestyle. If you buy your coffee from Starbucks, you're one type of person, and if you buy your coffee from McDonald's then you're another, presumably more real, kind of person. While that's always frustrating, it's nothing new; it's the basis of almost every commercial out there.
But before we go further, let me confess: I am a devoted coffee shop girl. I don't even like coffee, but drinking tea & reading a book in a coffee shop is pretty high on my list of favorite-ways-to-pass-the-afternoon. So my initial reaction to this commercial is defensive; that's me they are making fun of.
But ego aside, this is a messed up commercial! From the other side of the fence, Starbucks is pretentious. So in criticizing Starbuck's, McDonald's is suggesting that everyone at Starbuck's would rather be some place more real, more down to earth. Some place like McDonald's.
And so, in this commercial, we see a series of confessions unfolding after the initial excitement of McDonald's coffee, starting with the exclamation, "We won't have to listen to jazz anymore!" The two women, additionally, have only been pretending to speak French and don't know where or what Paraguay is. Thank God for McDonald's; they can finally be themselves! All along they've just been faking it for Starbuck's, but now liberation in the form of a $1.99 latte.
And this idea that book-reading, coffee-shop going "Intellectuals" are some how just full of it is insulting. It's the same ideology behind Sarah Palin's condemnation of "those East coast states." (Read: those liberal, urban, intellectual hot beds of sin like NYC and Boston. But that's a post for another day.) As the title proclaims, it's anti-intellectual through and through.
But here's where we get to my favorite part. The concept that Starbucks-going intellectuals are phonies is reinforced, I think in a forced way, through gender stereotypes. The excitement over McDonald's coffee shops elicits the response: "I can wear heels again!" It doesn't matter that no one would ever dress up in their stilettos for McDonald's. Being an intellectual is completely opposite to being a traditionally feminine, high-heels wearing, sexy individual. Not only is this reinforcing normative gender roles (Woah, just took you back to that Women's Studies class from sophomore year, right?), it's suggesting that a) intellectual women are defying their true desire to be vapid, gossip reading airheads and b) being intellectual, if you're a woman, can't be sexy.
The exclamation at the end, "I just want to show my knees, you know?" is confusing and awkward. The source of her frustration, however is not that she was apparently was raised by Puritans, but that she spends her time at Starbucks wearing flats.
Recently McDonald's released round two of this campaign. You can watch it here. It actually has humorous moments, but is still severely messed up, and while there's lots to say about this commercial too, this post is probably long enough.