Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Most American Thickburger!

The fact that it even exists in the first place isn't the only astonishing thing about the new product ... it's also a pretty damn good fast food burger, too. 

As soon as I heard about the Most American Thickburger, I simply had to be there for its day one launch. This wasn't just a new fast food item release, it was the veritable zenith of fast food excess; unless McDonalds starts selling Turducken around the holidays, there's just no way any burger joint can outdo what Hardee's and Carl's Jr. has done here.

Of course, the 1,000 calorie-plus abomination is really nothing more than a shameless publicity stunt. In this, the era of Sriracha Quesaritas and Dr. Pepper bubblegum and suburban-white-girl-flavored Oreos, the Most American Thickburger -- henceforward referred to as the "thickburger" -- stands out as the final punchline to a cruel, commercialized joke that's been running rampant since the late 2000s.

This isn't food designed to be eaten, it is food designed to be ridiculed and absorbed in a smarmy, ironic manner. The marketing angle for the burger isn't the burger itself, it's the sublime absurdity of the product even being thought of; it's like some big, fat, post-modern, self-reflexive commentary on the general excess of American spending habits and the unconscionable guiltlessness of corporate marketing practices. Instead of shying away from the fact that high-calorie slop of the like is literally killing people en masse, the advertising wehrmacht behind this thing is openly mocking both the inherent unhealthiness of its literal bread and butter (and ketchup, iceberg lettuce and probably safe-for-consumption beef) and the unbelievably tasteless (and reckless) palates of the American fast food consumer.

The release around Memorial Day is no coincidence. The entire shtick behind the marketing of the product (and indeed, the very product itself) is a self-deprecating ode to American overconsumption, a gimmick that scornfully embraces the grandiose ridiculousness of both American patriotism and American waistlines. The thickburger really is the ultimate post-911 social commentary; we now live in an ecosphere so detached and so devoid of existential meaning that corporate entities can come out and call its consumers fat-ass, nationalistic slobs in their own advertisements and instead of being offended, the general public embraces it like some sort of loving Don Rickles zinger. Welcome to the new world order, folks: we are literally eating contempt and disdain of the common man for dinner.

Before we even get into the burger itself, the packaging alone is probably enough to be considered a hate-filled critique of fast food culture. The carry-out bag proclaims "eat like you mean it" in a bold, aggressive font that almost feels like it weighs 300 pounds and wears a CPAP mask at night. The strangely confrontational motto almost seems like one of the blunt advertisements of "Idiocracy" carried over into the real-world ... or even more unsettling, one of the Reptilian 1-percent mind-control coded messages from "They Live." And to think ... those pus-faced alien totalitarians wouldn't even have to make their threats subliminal to be effective in the wonderland of 21st century marketing.

As something of an homage/deconstruction of the old "Made in the USA" iconography, the thickburger paper container also comes with a special sticker proclaiming that, yes, it is indeed quite "American." I am not totally sure if this is something that is being done coast-to-coast or if it's just the brilliant, lone actions of my local Hardee's, but it's such fantastic, unintentional commentary. That same emblem thousands upon thousands of our fellow countrymen have died for, relegated to a piece of sticky art, plastered on a greasy cardboard cube so high-school-aged cashiers won't confuse it for a chicken sandwich. And of course, after we're done ingesting our monstrous hamburger? We just toss Old Glory into the refuse bin, where it takes up residence alongside discarded, half-eaten milkshakes and cigarette butts. God bless these United States, no?

Odds are, if you stumbled across this blog, you already know what a Most American Thickburger is. Alas, for those in South Africa and the former Soviet bloc states that somehow get redirected here after trying to figure out why American college students are so dense and why "Daikatana" on the Game Boy is so fucking great, here's the gist of it.

In America, there is a fast food chain called Hardee's. Actually, that's just one of its names; on the east coast, the franchise goes by that moniker, but on the west coast, it's called Carl's Jr. Now, one minute on the Wikipedia would probably explain in full why the corporation uses two distinct operating titles, but just taking a wild guess, I'd say that's probably to save money on taxes or something. And if that's not confusing enough? The parent corporation also has two extra Mexican restaurants, called the Red Burrito and the Green Burrito, stapled onto some of its Hardee's/Carl's Jr. locations.

If you've ever read "Fast Food Nation," you know the story of how Hardee's came to be. While today it is not really considered one of the heavier hitters of the U.S. fast food racket, it's probably a top ten franchisee. Again, I could look up factual data to confirm or disprove my guesstimations, but how has time to fact-check when Google let's you play "Pac-Man" on its virtual maps? That's right, not a single damn one of us.

So, uh, anyway, Hardee's. Their big claim to fame is this thing called a thickburger, which is allegedly fatter, plumper and juicier than your standard McDonalds or Burger King offering. I am not sure if such is truly the case, but it probably is -- the last time it was at each of those restaurant, the patty I received was about as flimsy as a sliver of store-branded bologna. The burgers are a bit pricier than the average offering, and considering the staggering volume of the Most American Thickburger, the $5.49 MSRP seems pretty understandable.

As stated earlier, if you got here, you most likely know what this thing is all about. Alas, for those of you not in the know, I'll just let the product visually introduce itself...

That's right, amigos y amigas -- it's a split hot dog wiener on top of a cheeseburger patty on top of lettuce and tomato on top of potato chips, with ketchup smeared on both buns. That sounds revolting/incredible/delicious enough on its own, but take this into consideration, folks -- the pictures above and below are actually the smaller of two different Most American Thickburger variations the restaurants are hawking.

The social scientists we are, however, how about we take a look at the product more in-depth, why don't we?

Layer one is a catsup-coated hot dog. To the untrained eye, it may look like two wieners, but it is actually just a wiener halved down the middle. I mean, do you really think a restaurant would have the audacity to release a product with two hot dogs resting atop a hamburger patty? Get real, folks.

Layer two is your standard American-cheese coated hamburger patty. For an extra dollar, they will actually throw on another patty for you, in case you just goddamn demand two hamburger patties to go along with your hot-dog and potato chip sandwich. I am not sure if they will throw in another wiener for you, though ... next time I am around one of the restaurants, that is something I will be sure to bring up to the store manager.

Beneath the beef, we've got your hippie-liberal-vegetarian nonsense, in the form of tomato slices, onions and iceberg lettuce. There's really not much to say here, so let's just travel to the final layer, which consists of a vegetable we actually give a shit about ...

That's right, fellas, this thing concludes with some extra-crispy Lays kettle potato chips, which is capped off by some pickle slices and about half a bottle of Heinz squeezings. Keep in mind, readers, that this isn't just a random screencap of the bottom of a compost pile ... this is actually the shit Hardee's is jamming between two buns and selling to people for actual money. How in the bluest of hells stuff like this got past the FDA is simply beyond me, folks.

You know, you never really notice just how gross the stuff we eat is until we look at it up-close. For example, is the above a picture of the final layer of the Most American Thickburger, or is it an up-close biopsy photo I scammed off a medical website? The fact that you even have to second-guess yourself tells you so many things about modernity that quite frankly, we just don't want to have to acknowledge.

All of that said, as conceptually disgusting as the Most American Thickburger may sound, the product itself -- as much as I loathe myself for typing this -- is actually, shockingly decent-tasting. You would assume that what is virtually an entire picnic lunch between two buns would taste about as pleasing as prune juice frozen yogurt, but somehow, this thing actually tasted fairly yummy. Logistics, as to be expected, were a problem. As huge as the burger was, I had a hard time actually fitting the thing in my mouth for a first bite, and it was hard to snag a piece without watching about four pounds of lettuce fall out of the side. Needless to say, this is an extraordinarily greasy burger, which was so soppy I actually had to eat it with a cloth towel underneath me, lest ketchup-coated chunks of wiener rain down upon my carpet. 

Is this "great eating" by any stretch of the imagination? Absolutely not. However, as a stand-alone experiential product (there's no way anyone should be allowed to eat more than one of these in a human lifetime), it ain't too shabby. As strange as it may sound, it actually tasted a little bit crispier and more verdant than most fast food burgers, which is most definitely not the thing you would expect to say about a hot-dog-potato-chip burger. Additionally, it really wasn't as salty as you would think it would be, and the mish-mash of textures and flavors really didn't clash at all. 

You know, it is not often that a fast food product gives you something philosophical to think about when you eat it. Sure, the theory of the burger may be utterly repugnant, but think of it this way: what's the difference between eating this burger and eating a big plate of the individual components of said burger? Ultimately, they all wind up being a jumble of chewed up mush awaiting an acid bath in your tummy, so who cares if you eat the ingredients as stand-alone offerings or as one mass-marketed clusterfuck of a sammich? Really, this product is just as much a critique of our cultural perspectives on eating as it is a criticism of our collective consumer penchants for more. Yeah, it's gross and over-the-top and indicative of our further deterioration as a social body, but at the same time, we can't help but enjoy what we're being served

The Most American Thickburger, then, is perhaps the ultimate decadent and degenerative foodstuff for a society hellbent on becoming more decadent and degenerative than any culture before it. We've no wars to wage, no gods to worship and no empires to build ... but goddamnit, we have hamburgers with hot dogs and potato chips inside them. I'm pretty sure our grandfathers would have preferred having that to fighting Hitler and Hirohito, wouldn't they?


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