The Psychological Appeal of Angry Whoppers

Last Tuesday, I gave a seminar at a local college, on the psychology of food. The class explored the psychological notion that we are what we eat. Selfhood is on the proverbial table, when we sit down for a meal. For example, many people are repulsed by oysters and other slimy foods, for they feel that they will become slimy if they consume what is slimy. (See Jean-Paul Sartre’s analysis of the slimy in “Being and Nothingness.”)

On the other hand, if we feel alienated, we can eat whole-grain and organic foods and feel like we have gained wholeness, as we’ve discussed previously. This sort of thing doesn’t make rational sense, but we are certainly not rational creatures at the dinner table. On the contrary, our awareness is often on what can be called a “symbolic level consciousness,” where not only are we the food that we eat, but we are the clothes we wear, the car we drive, etc.

A woman, in the class, asked: “What’s the appeal of Burger King’s ‘Angry Whopper?’” (For those who never tried one, it consists of a regular Whopper that has ingredients added, such as Jalapeño peppers, that make it hot and spicy.) She was perplexed by the fact that we usually think of anger as a negative emotion. It would, indeed, seem counterintuitive that someone would wish to eat an Angry Whopper and thus — through the symbolism that you are what you eat — to become angry.

Before we could proceed with an analysis, another student in the class objected that Burger King’s commercials for the Angry Whooper are humorous, which they are. They are really poking fun at the notion of a burger being so hot with peppers and spices as to be angry, and that by eating one, a person would become angry. They may even be mocking the emotion of anger itself, in a way that professional wrestling, for example, does or Moe from “The Three Stooges” used to do. Along these same lines, Burger King created an “Angry Gram” website, where you can create an angry/humorous letter and send it to somebody.

But, as it’s been said, “Many a true word is said in jest.” Both Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer have written on that subject. They both distinguish irony from humor. When a person is ironic, he is outwardly serious, but concealing the fact that he is really kidding (laughing up his sleeve). Humor, by contrast, appears to be a jest, but conceals a deeper seriousness. The Angry Whopper ads for Burger King are, in that sense humorous. Let us, then, examine what deeper meaning lies concealed between the buns.

Instant Thumos
What, then, could be the psychological appeal of eating an Angry Whopper? To answer that question, we must analyze the psychological appeal of anger. Consider the fact that many people feel tired, complaisant and bored with their “ho hum,” quotidian lives. (That’s why there’s always a market for motivational speakers, who promise to reenergize them.) Sometimes they need a long vacation, or perhaps a more interesting and challenging job, or a new career. But oftentimes they may be suffering from a lack of meaning, purpose and direction in their lives. Anger is often employed as a surrogate for meaning, purpose, and direction. It can get our adrenalin flowing and provide an object for our frustrations. It serves to direct our energies, as does meaning.

Anger can also serve to remove inhibitions. Apropos of the motivating power of anger, I am reminded of a fellow I knew, when I worked, quite some years back, as a stock and commodities broker on Wall Street. He was one of the top brokers in our office. By that I mean that he was a topnotch salesman, for a stockbroker is essentially a salesman. He once confessed to me one of the secrets of his sales ability. During his lunch break, he would take the elevator down from our office at the World Trade Center and stroll over to the American Stock Exchange. As he walked along, he would smoke a joint, while listening, on his SONY Walkman, to a recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. (That piece is charged with anger, for Tchaikovsky, like his fellow Russians, was enraged by Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. The music expresses the Russian’s battle and victory against Napoleon’s forces.)

My friend would then return to the office and be sales dynamo on the telephone. The marijuana combined with the anger-charged patriotic music had the effect of drowning out all of my friend’s moral inhibitions. Those inhibitions were, to a large extent, founded on the fact that the product everyone in the office was selling — options on gold futures — although perfectly legal, was far from being a sound investment. (The problem was that that the high price of the options made their break-even point way to steep.)

I mention this because I think that the energy this fellow gained by listening to the 1812 Overture, while stoned, is akin to the type of energy that people seek by eating an Angry Whopper. After consuming one, we become like Popeye after having eaten a can of spinach. We become energized by what the ancient Greeks called thumos, the spirited part of the human soul. We would then have the courage to go out and do what needs to be done — from asking our boss for a raise to selling commodity options, from proposing marriage to our sweetheart to demanding that a store refund our money on a shoddy piece of merchandise. Thus do the ads for the Angry Whopper promise…

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Addendum: Who Needs Angry Whoppers, when We Have Obama
There is no doubt that anger is quite often justified. For example, millions of Americans have awoken to the fact that their government is threatening to rob them of their savings, undermine their values and destroy their liberty. Thanks to having elected a demagogue, those who had been suffering from a lethargic complacency no longer need alcohol or drugs, the 1812 Overture, motivational speakers, double shots of espresso, a can of spinach or an Angry Whopper to become prompted into decisive action, as evidenced by the “tea parties” and town hall meetings.

Nietzsche wrote something to the effect that “from a true opponent endless energy flows.” Obama has unwittingly reenergized many people’s lives, but ironically it was not from all his hopeless blather about hope and change. On the contrary, by threatening to undermine America’s core values, he has forced millions of Americans to reconnect with those values. Obama has, in so doing, reenergized those who now oppose him. If Obama doesn’t succeed in transforming America into Amerika, a third world socialist nation, it might be the silver cloud in the presidency of this dangerously deluded, arrogant and self-inflated windbag.

(Argh! Just writing about the demagogue has gotten me Irish up! And so I don’t think we shall be needing that Angry Whopper for lunch today.)

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