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Cheeseburgers Are Beautiful

by Jason Edwards

Lately I’ve been wondering why it’s okay for advertisements to blatantly lie when they’re trying to sell me something. Here’s a straightforward example: food photography. They show us pictures of juicy cheeseburgers, but no cheeseburger I have ever purchased has ever looked like that—why is this allowed?

Maybe it’s this. The truth is I want a cheeseburger. And their job is to remind me that I want one. They can’t show me the actual one I will get, and they can’t show me a real one that I won’t get, so that have to show me the idea of a cheeseburger. And the only way to do that and be truthful to cheeseburgerness is to show me the Platonic ideal. This ideal cheeseburger is not supposed to take the place of my cheeseburger desire, but to communicate with that desire so that I remember I have it.

That’s all well and good. If I then go and get one, and it doesn’t look the one in the commercial, that’s not their fault—they can’t control which shadows I see on the cave wall. They gave me the idea of cheeseburgerness, and it’s up to me make the most of it. In fact, before I become one with cheeseburgerness (by eating it) I can probably return the artifact and get my money back.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to defend the way marketing manipulates, distorts, lies. I’m just trying to come to terms with it. The real problem is when the lie is blatant and meant to seduce. Nutshell time: beauty is truth; false beauty is a lie; false beauty seduces; seduction is evil; lies are evil. Fine, but what part is the actual lie?

The Platonic cheeseburger is beautiful, so it’s not a lie. Their representation of it might be lie, if they misrepresent what I will have access to—they already know I want a cheeseburger, but I can get one from their competitors, so what else will their’s give me? This is where the evil comes in, when they begin to convince me to want things I didn’t want before. They put the cheeseburger together with fries and a cola, and tell me they’re giving me a great value by providing all of that at a package-price.

The suggestion is that cheeseburgerness is not enough—I have to pay a low price too, or it’s not worth it. But we know they’re not giving me the goods at cost, or at a profit margin to support business growth. They’ve set the price one penny less than the highest they think I’m willing to pay. And that’s not value, that’s gouging. I could buy the cheeseburger at its own price—but if I am willing to spend more money, I can get the cheeseburger for less.

Putting it out there like that, in sentence form, really is an eye opener for me. That’s the lie, the seduction—convincing you that spending more is spending less. I’m not sure what my take-away is here, other than “duh.” But I am starting to get hungry, so there’s that.

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