A fast-food chain is a calorie and pleasure distribution center. There is no art here. No one spends years training to cook at McDonald’s (this is not to denigrate its cooks). Thus, just like Hamlet, all fast-food chains confront a choice: to be what they are, or pretend to be something else. McDonald’s has opted for the latter, but no amount of hip and modern furnishings or “artisanal” buns will disguise the fact that it is, at bottom, a fast-food chain, and that to be a fast-food chain is to be a horrifying absurdity — a sprawling delivery network for the untold quantities of meat and cheese and potatoes and everything else that gets processed and pre-packaged and shipped out to franchises all over the world. The amount of organizational energy and poorly paid human labor that goes into your $3 burger is staggering. It is fundamentally dishonest for McDonald’s to want to have their cheap, shitty food cake and eat it too, in the form of restaurants that would look, to the unsuspecting eye, like upscale lounges. I appreciate Burger King because it has no such pretensions.
I am writing here about Burger King’s most magnificent offering to date, their Mac and Cheetos™. This essay does not attempt to gloss over all of Burger King’s culinary history, but let’s be clear, in case you forgot: This is a fast-food chain whose advertising mainstay was, for a long time, dudes in hamburger costumes doing cheap imitations of already cheap reality-TV shows. Their main food item is the Whopper, which comes in: Normal Whopper, Whopper with More Meat, Whopper with More Meat and Also Bacon, Whopper with More Meat and Also Bacon and Also Barbecue Sauce, and Slightly Smaller Whopper (“what are you,” the menu seems to whisper here, “a small child?”). Also they have fried chicken, but who gives a shit? Whopper.
But Mac and Cheetos™ are sui generis. They are more a meme than they are actually a food item; they only barely taste like Cheetos™ but they fully taste like what you came here for: cheese and carbohydrates. I struggled to keep a straight face when I ordered my Mac and Cheetos™, and the cashier didn’t even try. “Hey,” he yelled into the kitchen, “we got any more of those MAC AND CHEETOS™?” Eventually the laughter subsided and — after a pulse-pounding interval during which I feared the entire expedition had been for naught — a choked yes sounded from the back.
It is impossible to feel sophisticated at any point during a Mac and Cheetos™ experience, and that is the whole point. You are eating deep-fried cheese goo. What do you want this to be? Starbucks with burgers? Go to McDonald’s for that. You’re at Burger King, you are eating processed slime and you are going to like it.
The Burger King where I ate this splendid dish had four small flat-screen TVs and one very large flat-screen TV, all playing CNN. Whatever anchor had been given that time slot was “covering” the Istanbul bombing, though she also found the time to “change topic a little bit” and ask her guest, Michael McCaul (R-Texas of course), about Trump. Trump, it appeared, had recently walked back his comments on banning immigration from Muslim countries, choosing instead the more palatable dog-whistle “countries linked to terrorism.” Mr. McCaul clenched his jaw thoughtfully and said well — terrorism is bad, as he has been saying all along, and we need to secure our borders and make sure we’re being aggressive, but he personally had never advocated for banning all Muslims, and he was glad Donald was coming around …
Then, “we” returned to the Istanbul bombing, regarding which we heard from a “Counterterrorism Analyst,” whose main insight was that the Istanbul bombing had to have even presidential candidates thinking about terrorism, go figure. And then CNN’s “Justice Correspondent” talked vaguely about terrorism a little more, and then a pleasantly windswept and handsome reporter “on the ground in Istanbul, in the neighborhood where the terrorists plotted” confirmed that yes, once again, as in every terror attack that has come before, the grainy surveillance-camera picture CNN had been showing nonstop was indeed of the people who had planned this particular attack. Mr. McCaul wandered back on screen once more to talk about how he had it from very reliable Turkish intelligence that this attack was planned by an important Chechen terrorist, or something.
Cut to commercials: antacid medication, hearing aids and, still alive after what must be over a decade bleeding out in the back alleys of cable television, a grainy advertisement for the SunSetter Retractable Awning (“It used to be so hot outside — but then I got my SunSetter Retractable Awning! You are going to love your SunSetter Retractable Awning. SunSetter Retractable Awning!”). Finally, CNN advertised itself, with a Clinton-Trump sequence that owed a lot, aesthetically speaking, to Pay-Per-View advertisements for boxing matches, except boxing match advertisements don’t yell at you about how substantive they are.
This was, on the whole, more than I signed up for when I wandered into a Burger King to stuff my face with cheese goo. “God,” I thought to myself, “we really are living in Hell.” My Burger King Mac and Cheetos™ beamed at me. “We sure are!”