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Video Vault Friday: McDLT

February 5, 2010

There’s an unspoken competition between Baby Boomers  and those of us who identify as “Generation X” as to who has the most overly idealized recollections of their youth.  Baby Boomers have convinced themselves that people just cared more about the world when they were young, that no one was afraid to speak up when they witnessed an injustice while they were busy spreading messages of love, peace and brotherhood.  Every time one of them waxes nostalgic over his or her past, you almost expect to hear someone start singing “Come on people, now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.” Meanwhile, Generation X’s rosiest pictures of their younger days are more focused on pop culture.  Movies, music, television, books, it was all better than what these damn kids are crazy about these days.  Why? We don’t know why, but it probably has something to do with George Lucas and Kurt Cobain.

Every once in a while, though, we get a jarring reminder of how undeniably lame certain aspects of our childhoods were, particularly the 1980s as a whole.  Usually this comes by way of commercials.  Old commercials have long been a fascination of mine, and as I mentioned in last week’s Video Vault post, YouTube is an endless gold mine of them.  Some of them inspire warm, fond memories of my past, but more often than not they make me wince in discomfort.  What I’ve included in this week’s post is among the winciest.

McDonald’s and all its myriad, artery-clogging delicacies have so long been an innate part of Americana that it’s hard to recall all of its failed attempts at expanding its menu.  Nevertheless, there was the Arch Deluxe, which, despite it being pushed as “for adults only,” did not come with a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels or a copy of Playboy, McHotdog, McPizza, the McLean Deluxe, McSpaghetti.  McSpaghetti, I shit you not, served at restaurants in the south and New York State in the early 90s.  Contrary to popular opinion, not every food sounds even more delicious with “Mc” in front of it, but God love ’em they still keep trying ever few years, even recently reviving the horrifying McRib, made from the ribs of a creature whose existence is so far only speculated upon by cryptozoologists.

Another failed menu experiment was the McDLT, presumably created to compete with Wendy’s, whose claim to fame was cooking all of their burgers fresh to order.  McDonald’s wanted it both ways: they wanted to be able to cook dozens of burgers in advance to save time, but they also wanted to put toppings on them that weren’t going to be rendered a lumpy, sodden mess after sitting under a hot light for long stretches of time.  Thus, they created the McDLT, a burger served in an extra long, two sided Styrofoam container, “where the hot side stays hot and the cool side stays cool.”  It was up to you to put the burger together, as well as to figure out what the “D” in “McDLT” stood for (apparently it stood for “Donald’s,” which I didn’t realize until seconds before I wrote this sentence).

It certainly seemed like a reasonable idea, but the McDLT never really caught on with the public. I suspect this excruciating commercial, now something of a legend, had a lot to do with it.

Lettuce and tomatoes on your burger? Welcome to Mars! Before you ask, yes, despite the presence of hair, that is Jason Alexander, the least likable cast member of Seinfeld, which, unless you’re one of those people who soils themselves in glee every time Seinfeld is mentioned, is saying quite a lot.  And yeah, he appears to be wearing the sleeves of his suit jacket rolled up Miami Vice-style.  The McDLT commercial is a benchmark, nay, an apex in Lame White Person History, bursting at the seams with blissfully unself-aware Caucasians trying desperately to look cool.  I realize that we’re still trying, with most of us spectacularly failing at it, but this…this is both glorious and deeply painful to watch, sort of like watching a replay of a championship football game that ends with the quarterback snapping his leg the wrong way.  You want to watch, you want to watch, even though you know it’s going to be awful, and when it’s over you wish you had just turned away at the last minute.  And yet, you find yourself going back and watching it again.  To steal a phrase from the great Joe Queenan, it’s mesmerizingly heinous.

I was about 13 or 14 when the McDLT debuted, and I don’t recall ever trying it.  Perhaps it was because I was one of those odd ducks who was loyal to the Filet ‘o’ Fish, of all things, but it’s entirely possible that the commercial made McDLT fans look like such hopeless duds that I didn’t want any of it to rub off on me.  I was enough of a dud on my own without having to make it worse by eating anything associated with some singing and dancing asshole extolling the virtues of  a burger rendered edible by several extra inches of Styrofoam.  Rare has a commercial had the complete opposite effect on its market than was intended, but McDonald’s has achieved this a number of times: read about the “McAfrica” burger and give thanks that it never made it to the US.

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