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09/03/03 . Victoria Coren . Observer . UK  
McDonald's is now the true home of the whopper  
What's that on the horizon? Ah yes... it's a massive cultural revolution. I thought we were due one.  

A McDonald's advert has been banned by the Independent Television Commission because 'the meal on TV looked juicier and bigger than the real thing'. An actual McDonald's Steak Premiere, apparently, doesn't look as nice as the one in the commercial. The agency responsible admitted that the filling 'had been pushed towards the edge of the sandwich'.

On which grounds, the only way forward is to ban all advertising. And all TV. And, come to think of it, all Hollywood films. I once saw Tom Cruise at a party - believe me, the meal on TV looks juicier and bigger than the real thing.

That's what advertising is for: to sell you all sorts of things which are not really available. It might be a juicy steak meal; it might be the lifestyle of Cindy Crawford, which will certainly not become yours even if you, too, wear an Omega Constellation watch. If you upgrade your mobile phone to get photo-messages, you will not get them from David Beckham. You will burn up your battery looking at a grainy image of the elbow of a man who works in the same office as your mate Phil.

And, of course, you won't really become cool if you drive that car; you won't be irresistible to men if you use that perfume; and you certainly won't be chuckling on a Barbados beach if you do make 'one simple call' to that no-questions loan company. (Although, admittedly, you might be as uptight as that tiresome woman in the Britta Water Filter advert if you can't even make a cup of tea without obsessive preparatory hygiene methods.)

We know all this by now, don't we? We're pretty media-savvy. I figured it out the first time I walked out of a casino having put the whole lot on black when it came up red; I found my Volkswagen waiting in the street and it was absolutely no consolation at all .

This is the first principle of advertising: they all push the filling towards the edge of the sandwich. What is McDonald's supposed to do? How much reality do we want? I have sketched out an alternative campaign, just in case the company seeks my advice. It's in two parts. The broadsheet newspaper version is a little photo-story. A woman is shopping in the high street; she passes a McDonald's. She looks peckish. We see her thought process: a visual flashback to a hideous photograph of a dead cow she once saw on a propaganda leaflet. Then she imagines a rainforest, a slaughterhouse, and a boardroom full of wealthy men cackling like the last scene of Animal Farm . She walks under the golden arches. Slogan: 'IS YOUR CONSCIENCE WEAKER THAN YOUR APPETITE? HAVE A BIG MAC!'

The TV version is broader in scope. This time, the woman is harassed, cheaply dressed and accompanied by two grumpy and overweight children. One of them is shrieking. She lingers dreamily over a fillet steak in the butcher's, and looks mournfully into her purse. McDonald's gleams across the road. She grabs the children and darts inside. Slogan: 'CAN'T AFFORD ANYTHING BETTER? HAVE NUGGETS!'

But we wouldn't really want that, any more than we'd want Tom Cruise's female co-stars to loom a full two foot above his head and say :'You're no basketball player, but you've got a cute face, so let's give it a go.' Or a character in EastEnders to walk into the pub and say: 'Goodness me, I don't know anyone here. I'd better go home.' We like to dream. I am delighted to have my single woman's lifestyle sold back to me by Sex and the City as a world where I dress in Issey Miyake to have Sunday breakfast with my girlfriends.

Of course, it would be more realistic if Carrie tumbled out of bed, pulled a jumper over her pyjamas and crawled out to meet a couple of mates in the café where they were all too hungover to speak. But let's not confuse a TV set with a mirror. There is an argument which says a real McDonald's Steak Premiere will actually taste better if you shut your eyes and imagine the one on TV while you're eating it.

Here is the sharp end of reality: Pelé the soccer hero is currently spearheading a global advertising campaign for Viagra. Marvellous. In theory, a million sexually dysfunctional men will now dare visit the doctor. But in practice, it will be disaster for the 15 million men who, for the past 30 years, have only been able to get it up by imagining they're Pelé. The fantasy is suddenly denied them and the men are... well, they're what their wives now aren't.  
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