Life & Liberty: Tell 'em to Stuff It, Herb


I love only two things really, my freedom and hamburgers—and one of these commodities is in short and shrinking supply. So I eat a lot of hamburgers.

I do not, however, worship the tasty little critters. I do not cheer at the prospect of entering a hamburger joint. I do not clap my hands, dance, and sing jingles about hamburgers when I order one. I buy my hamburger, I devour it calmly and with genteel restraint, and then I go home and read in the latest issue of REASON how my still extant liberties are being lopped off one by one. And immediately I start feeling hunger pangs again.

Much as I enjoy munching diced-up cattle flesh, I cannot fathom the sort of religious ecstasy that is experienced by its devotees in TV land, namely in the McDonald's and Burger King commercials. I know that advertising is a legitimate capitalist enterprise and that to grab the viewers' attention commercials are almost obliged to employ silly gimmickry and bloated claims. But enough is enough is enough. Hamburgers are not the be-all and end-all of existence, and self-respecting Americans should tell the burger purveyors that they are, uh, fed up.

In particular, I am disgusted and offended by the recent Burger King campaign which emphasizes the peculiarities and inexplicable weirdness of a Burger-King-avoiding creature called Herb. Herb, we are told, is different. Yep, Herb just isn't like the other guys. Herb is out of place, not part of the regular crowd. He is, you might say, an individualist (my label, not Burger King's).

And that is Herb's great sin. That is what marks him as zany, cuckoo, nuts, pitiable. C'mon Herb, shape up, get with it, join the gang. Our gang. The gang of sane patriots who gobble Whoppers and read the National Enquirer and trim the hedges and invest in blue-chips and go to church on Easter and Christmas and watch the CBS Evening News with Dan Palaver and think Ellsworth Toohey is an idealist.

C'mon, everybody, be like us. You don't want to be like Herb, do you? And become the laughingstock of everyone who thinks like we do? Don't you know what a terrible horror that would be?

Well…I'm not so sure about that. Maybe I kind of respect Herb for his independence. Maybe I like a guy who can go his own way even if Burger King calls him a weirdo, even if the whole world's against him. Maybe I'd be proud to shake his hand. "God bless you, Herb," I'd tell him. "God bless you for following your own path hamburgerwise no matter what the cost."

Yeah, I guess when it comes right down to it, I can do without hamburgers. Certainly I would never pledge on their behalf life, fortune, or sacred honor, as I should hope my allegiance to certain other values might inspire me to do in the clutch. Fact is, some things are more important to me than the taste of ground beef.

The huzzahs of my neighbors isn't one of them.

David M. Brown writes and eats hamburgers in Syracuse, New York.