Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cheeseburger in Paradise Lost

I'm just going to go ahead and apologi(s/z)e for this one beforehand. It started out as a rant about Burning Man - specifically why I refuse to write about it - but then it turned into a diatribe about cheeseburgers and the destruction of Western civilisation. Yeah, another one of those. Sorry...

Several people have asked me to "write something about Burning Man" for ze blog. But since 1998 I have pretty much resisted any temptation to write about it. That year I tried, and the results were... not good. It seems impossible for anyone, especially some talentless egomaniac like me, to write about Burning Man without sounding like either a hippie or a lunatic. Everything ever written on the subject has been crap. The fundamental problem of writing about Burning Man is that for a lot of people it is such a singularly weird and abnormal experience that conveying it in print would be like trying to explain sight to someone who has been blind since birth. And the rest of the people who write about it do so because they hate it... Whoops! Stuff like that blindness thing are exactly why it's a bad idea to write about Burning Man. I feel dirty just for having typed it, but that place gets under your skin and makes you want to talk about it. (Here we go again.) There is something incredibly wonderful and refreshing about people doing nothing but creating and giving and entertaining each other for an entire week in a place where money, television, and the rest of the world do not exist. Yes, it's an indulgence - a fantasy, and a chance to play hippie for a week. That's the accusation most frequently leveled at the festival - that it isn't countercultural at all, and that it is the spiritual sibling of those fake biker festivals, overrun by weekend warriors who live in architect-remodeled modernist houses in Palo Alto. This is completely true, but entirely beside the point.

Only in America could you conceive of a festival based on a mix of liberterian fire insanity and hippieism, where absolutely no entertainment is provided by the festival organizers, and get people to pay $250 for the privelege of being dust-blasted and lobster-fried on a dry lakebed. It wasn't until I moved to the UK that I realised that Burning Man was unmistakably, quintessentially American. Nobody else could have come up with the idea, or made it work so well. The Australians might have tried, but their interperetation would no doubt bog down in alcohol violence. There is very little violence at Burning Man, at least between people. Burners only torture and immolate inanimate objects - never each other. At least not on purpose. Even the leather-clad lunatics who run Death Guild's Thunderdome (which is exactly what it sounds like) will give you a hug once the beatings are over.

Well now, that is enough writing about Burning Man to last me the rest of my life. I came close to deleting the whole damn thing until I realized that at least some of it is relevant to understanding my frame of mind when confronted, upon my return to reality, by the imminent destruction of American civilization. Sometimes you encounter something so horribly obscene that there is no logical way of dealing with it, except to anticipate or maybe even pray for the destruction of the entire civilization that created it. This happened to me in the Burger King at San Francisco International Airport, and the obscenity in question is the Burger King Quad Stacker - a quadruple bacon cheeseburger. Bottom to top, this thing is bun, cheese, burger, cheese, burger, cheese, burger, cheese, burger, cheese, ketcup, mustard, thirty-seven strips of bacon, bun. Even the airbrushed pin-up photograph on the backlit menu couldn't hide its girth, its inner darkness. It looked menacing and evil, like an over-the-hill bodybuilder shattered by steroids, no way of dressing it up. But like all pure evil, there is something strangely irresistible about these burgers. So of course I ordered two of them as an experiment, to gauge the staff's reaction. They did not recoil in horror as I removed the top bun of one, the bottom bun of the other, and combined the two burgers to made the OctaStacker of my dreams. "Do you have a skewer?" I asked.
"No, no skewers, but you might need some extra napkins." A sticker on top of the napkin dispenser informed me that "Paper comes from trees. Save paper to save trees."

There is no such thing as a vegeterian Quad Stacker, and there never will be. There isn't even a veggie double cheeseburger at BK, but I wonder if there might be an untapped market for such a sandwich, especially in places like San Francisco. I suspect that you could make a fortune by opening a restaurant that wallows in these two fundamental American desires - the desire for a healthy, long life, and the desire to be an unmitigated pig. A country that embraced the Veggie Quad Stacker might have a future, even if it was full of soy protein and wheat gluten bacon substitute.

Living in the UK, I've have had to put up with a lot of stereotypes about Americans and America. I have defended this country against all sorts of baseless accusations and ignorant holier-than-thou bullshit. So now here's Burger King, confirming every single one of those stereotypes. The obesity. The brain-dead overconsumption. Bigger is better, even if it kills you. If the Quad Stacker really is the future, then we are in for a stupid, self-destructive orgy of consumption unlike anything in recorded history. Now that someone has broken the "four patty barrier" in the burger arms race, the quntuple burger cannot be far behind. And sooner or later someone is going to eat one of these things, and that person is going to die from bacon cheeseburger poisoning. Then there will be a lawsuit with millions of dollars awarded in damages. The Quntuple Big Mac and its bretheren will be required to carry a warning label explaining that their consumption will most certainly lead to death. And when that happens, I will be called upon to explain the situation to a bunch of sneering Europeans who smoke cigarettes for breakfast and think that beer is a vegetable.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry. i'd comment but couldn't get passed the word Burning Man.

4:47 PM  

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