In a Times Square’s Burger King: Normative Structures Collapse

Imagine being in your favorite fast food restaurant, about to indulge in a cheeseburger and fries, when you notice something backward about your typical American burger experience. Your Time Square’s Burger King’s congruous arena of social consumption is defective, something is different for the first time in your typical mainstream consistency. Suddenly, your Prozac environment of fast food consumption starts to breakdown into variable points of sensorial experience; making you no longer the complacent consumer, but an active agent questioning the constructed reality around you.

You look up and see a discrete ceiling speaker pumping out music for the masses. The background noise you rarely noticed while gorging on your Whopper, is now the catalyst of a one-person riot. You realize Big Brother is watching.

Unexpectedly, a traumatic rift in reality occurs, because Burger King’s management has failed to notice that the musical soundtrack is playing backward. You look around the eating establishment, raw neon lighting blaring, generic wall images, trash cans with “thank you” didactics, over-weight customers, and that fried food smell, with a new perspective. The soundtrack still roars on backwards, and enlightenment continues. An aggressive attack on reality unleashes itself upon your dulled senses. Struggling, you try to place this backward noise wondering how long it will go on, while looking to see if anyone has noticed. Trying to figure out the song, and by which musical artist, becomes your imperative.

To quickly ground this oddity back into the reality of language, you focus on the muted backward noise, starting the process of verbal identification. These sequences of emergency like actions are to reduce your eschewed environment of inconsistency, trying to return it back to the norm as quickly as possible. Unfortunately your vocabulary of obscure songs from the 50’s is very limited and musical placement becomes impossible.

Burger King’s backward sound track becomes your explosive foil to gauge and analyze the immediate vicinity of reds and yellows, around you. Within this proletariat hurricane of capitalist consumption internal advertising is no longer just passive propaganda to help you decide which combo meal to get. Space and its formalities unfold around you like an accordion of social levels. Separation from the social herd has occurred, you are the chosen one, to record and recite this experience, and value has been left up to you. You realize Burger King’s lowest common denominator aesthetic and start accessing value through making relationships.

With eyes wide open and normative structures collapsing, your tweaked soundtrack pumps inwards from the ceiling speaker revealing a philosophical pivot point between formal object and icon of cultural paranoia. You the consumer are able to read the formal relations of this experience. Surprisingly, instead of repulsion you find yourself graced with a newfound awareness within the complacent space of fast food consumption, beautifully mundane in relationship.

A moment of liminal incomprehension was expressed from the lack of being able to contextualize the backward soundtrack infecting your life. A small documentary has played itself out; the climax was a changed normality of a mundane experience bringing self-awareness, because you’re the main protagonist.

You realize this tale of New York City must be told over and over again to place it within life’s consistency. Verbal repetition will contextualize this social exchange within society’s constructed strata of value, as another little one of life’s oddities. The consumer’s desire to exchange direct experience, for past memory and verbal noise occurs. Burger King’s little inconsistency has inspired you to continue, no longer a Gamma Minus or Alpha Plus, paranoia recedes.

Sitting at a brown plastic table, dipping your onion rings and sipping your coke the backward song of “Always and Forever,” becomes audible even in its state of mistake. The consumer’s newfound foil collapses into normality, it’s just a backward song. Now dwelling in urban isolation, while surrounded by millions you look about the restaurant, oddity has been placed back into language, and meaning established, situations socially acceptable. Even with smell senses over ridden, you survived something that has changed the way you think about things, even if it was just a moment or two.

Jay Evaristo Batlle, November 2000

for PS1 MoMA