Burger King's Bullying PSA Is Just Ham-Fisted Manipulation
There's a good chance you're one of the 2.3 million and counting to have watched "Bullying Jr.," an anti-bullying PSA brought to us by the paragons of virtue and good conduct at Burger King. Time called it "emotional." Fortune declared it "powerful," and so did Sports Illustrated, for some reason. It "will leave you in tears," it's "the realest," and it's an "eye-opener." The ad is getting a string of accolades normally reserved for Best Picture nominees, and it deserves absolutely none of them.
If you don't want to watch it for fear that it's so powerful and real that all the crying from your opened eyes will dehydrate you, the gist is that some teenagers fake an act of bullying in a Burger King in front of (supposedly) real customers. We're told that only 12 percent of customers responded to the bullying, but 95 percent complained to employees when their Whopper Jr. was "bullied," which means smashed to an inedible pulp and then served to them as though nothing was wrong. Wow, people care more about their hamburgers than they do about another human being! I'm sure that shocking comparison won't fall apart at all! (Also, who were the 5 percent who didn't complain about their burger being punched to pieces? They're the ones who could use a PSA.)
First of all, nice job passing the buck, Burger King. If a bunch of teens shove another kid to the ground in one of your restaurants, why is it the other customers' job to break that up? Shouldn't your managers be trained in conflict resolution? Should your slogan be updated to "Have It Your Way (Because We Don't Give A Fuck)"? One of your supposedly selfish customers whose burger you pulverized to prove an insane point was an older man. What if he was worried that confronting the bullies would only turn the conflict physical? Another is a dude in scrubs, who's probably exhausted after a long day of nursing or surgery. Let the man enjoy his damn burger and have your own staff take care of the bullies who are on your property, if this is an issue you care about so much.
And this is not realistic bullying. It's bullying as seen through a crappy sitcom in which everyone learns a ham-handed life lesson within 30 minutes. It's hard to tell precisely what's happening, given that A) little happens, B) we don't see much of what little happens, and C) it's edited to suggest that the restaurant was adrift on the choppy high seas, but it starts with a couple of kids kinda waving their hands at another kid. He tells them to stop, but it doesn't sound like he actually cares. So far, to the average Burger King customer who apparently also needs to be trained in conflict resolution to be allowed to eat there without judgement, this looks like standard teenage stuff. This is all set to "shenanigans are afoot" hidden camera music, by the way. You know, to really drive home how serious bullying is.
Then one kid asks "Do you have any friends?" to which our victim responds, "Yes, I heard you." What? Did they fuck up their script? Did they cut two different scenes together? Another asks "What are you doing here?" and there's no response. That could be a bully being a jerk to his victim, or it could be a legitimate question. There's no context to any of this, and we don't see most of the supposed bullying. At one point, that older man walks by the kids to complain about his ruined burger as they, gasp, kind of annoy their friend a little bit by touching his hair. This is supposed to be proof that he's an ignorant asshole. The whole thing is presented to us with more cuts and edits than a shaky-cam fight scene, making it impossible to tell if any of this played out like actual bullying or just kids screwing around when they filmed it.
Bullying is complicated, but the average bully usually doesn't act in front of a room full of adults. Go read stories of non-staged bullying. Most of the incidents took place when there wasn't anyone with more power (like, say, a manager with the authority to kick people out of their restaurant) around. Kids don't have to worry about getting into an anemic slap fight in a crowded fast food joint; they have to worry about being bullied in private or in a situation where their peers do nothing and then, after finally working up the nerve to tell an adult about it, risk having the problem ignored or ineffectively acted on. Here's a story about how a student was called racist and homophobic slurs before being shoved into a recycling bin. Where's your hard-hitting PSA on that, Burger King?
The video ends by announcing that "No Jr. deserves to be bullied." Yeah, and no teenager deserves to be equated with a shitty hamburger, you lunatics. It doesn't prove a thing to state that more people complained about their "bullied" hamburgers than a bullied teenager, because one's a bunch of food you wasted while denying customers what you promised them for their money, and the other is an awkward scenario you clearly staged. Maybe a corporation that's drawn criticism for "tax inversion" and a bunch of other things, from misleading consumers on the nutritional value of their food to having abhorrent labor practices, shouldn't be taking the moral high ground here. Oh, interesting, they've also been accused of employing manipulative advertising. Weird, huh?
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