Through the Burger King Wormhole

I have discovered how fast food marketing and art has evolved.  And what has it evolved to say?

Our milkshakes bring all the urbanites to Burger King?
In Burger King’s Alternate Reality, I would get together with one of each of my ethnically diverse friends at the same time in my teeny, trendy dining room, and we would all crowd together on one side of the table because we love each other so much. We are even overlooking the fact that someone ordered onion rings.  That’s how tight we are.  Halitosis, be damned.

Not only that, we are so cool and classy that we not only unwrap Burger King food and put it on plates and in serving vessels, but we actually style it to make it look as fabulous as we do.  Soggy lettuce in the salads turns crispy.  The Whopper is stacked high with separate and distinct fresh vegetable layers.  Not a spot of extra grease can be found.  Someone actually took the time to empty sauce packets into bowls.

And here we sit, smug and self-satisfied with what we are eating, instead of the usual, “Well, at least we know what we are getting.”  Because that is the appeal of fast food.  It’s predictable, edible, and affordable.  That is why the Sprog and I ended up in Burger King yesterday.  We were short on time; we knew what we were going to get; and it will probably be another 6 months before we would consider setting foot in there again.

We were eating with a bunch of other people just snorking down meals in between trying to get from one place to another while eating off of wrappers and trays.  We were dipping our fries into paper cups full of ketchup, and our drinking vessels were festooned with Burger King propaganda.  Fluorescent lighting assaulted our eyes, and hard benches and seats made comfort difficult to “savor the moment”.  So the photo triptych on the wall was telling us to buy their food and get out.

It looks like maintaining the dining area is getting expensive.

Those Who Can’t Draw, Take Heart.

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
Pablo Picasso

I am sure Pablo would have made an exception upon meeting me when I was a kid.  It was bad.  It was awful. Looking back, I shudder.

Things were fine when I could just drag out the crayons and do my own thing.  Then people started with that whole “color in the lines” bullshit, and that’s when life started getting complicated.

All the art talent ended up within Older Brother #1, so I had to lag three years behind the reincarnation of Rembrandt while all I could offer were my lopsided clay pots and tissue paper flowers that barely stuck together with Elmer’s glue. I did go through an interesting art period through most of elementary school called the “Dog with People’s Faces” phase and was teased mercilessly because of it. Who knows if my parents still have any of the originals, but I can replicate my work pretty accurately.

Dog with People Face

So, all mammals’ limbs were basically platypi tails. True story: it was around this time that my elementary school art teacher, Mr. Kelly, quit his job and opened an aerobic dance/exercise studio. To this day, I am firmly convinced it was my artwork that sent him over the edge. You have to admit…a picture like that would make someone crack enough to wear leg warmers. At least, the connection makes sense in my mind.

So message received loud and clear. I sucked at art. I held my nose and pushed my way through the American educational system’s mandatory art classes. I learned to appreciate art as an observer, but not as a participant. Meanwhile, I remained envious of the people who could participate and participate well. I wanted to be like my big brother and still do sometimes.

But something interesting was happening of which I wasn’t aware. If I couldn’t resort to images, I could resort to words. So I would hide in our basement and scribble out my musings in my notebooks. (Hey, Mom and Dad! Now you know what I was doing down there all that time. I was writing.) And I started sharing those words with my group of friends by the time I got to high school. To my shock, they liked them. Whoa.

And what was even better, art was an elective, so I didn’t have invest any more energy into pencil drawings of bottles, so more time could be spent on words. Happy dance!

What I am basically saying is lack of talent in one area only gives you more time to pursue your talents and interests in other areas. It’s not a shortcoming within you, if you can’t do something well after giving it a fair effort. I know have to keep reminding myself of this all the time because I still slip into the envy trap sometimes. However, I get the feeling I am not the only one.

And the best use of Elmer’s glue is to let it dry on your hand, so you can peel it off. Hands down.

In Praise of Bob Ross

Older Americans are probably looking at the title of this post with a measure of disbelief, but I have to stick up for the man and his happy trees.

Now, to those across the Pond and you young’uns over here, Bob Ross was a landscape painting instructor who still graces our airwaves on our local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) stations during the daytime with The Joy of Painting, even though he succumbed to lymphoma back in 1995.  I know the show is still on the air because I was just watching an episode while waiting for my last doctor’s appointment.

No, PBS is not desperate for programming.  There are people who have learned or tried to learn to paint using the Bob Ross technique, although I have yet to meet anybody who has.  If you have done so, please comment.  I would love to know about your experience with it.  And if you Google it, you can find a full line of Bob Ross paint products to help you with your endeavors.

It’s not just the painting that pulls people in.  It’s Bob.  You had basically one of the most mellow men on the planet using paint, brushes, a canvas, and an easel giving you half-hour meditation sessions.

You have to understand where he came from.  He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as a medical records technician, and he rose through the ranks to become a master sergeant (E-7 to all the American vets).  To paraphrase what he said, he was put in the position where he had to be the enforcer, having to yell to motivate.  He vowed when he left the service that he wouldn’t scream anymore.  He also developed his quick painting technique on his work breaks while he was stationed in Alaska.  Even though I never rose through the ranks into a leadership position, as an Air Force veteran myself, I can understand wanting that sort of serenity when my career was over.

So he became the Bob Ross that we see on the screen today.  Let me share a small clip to show you what I mean.

He loved his Van Dyke brown and his stiff brushes.  Bob Ross also gave the viewer a quiet encouragement and reassurance that you did not need to pick up a paint brush to appreciate.  I never learned to paint.  I’m lucky if I can draw a circle.  But I have brain that has a very hard time switching off, and traditional meditation exercises are lost on me.  I have tried studying the raisin, and I end up eating it in 30 seconds.  Watching The Joy of Painting is as close as I can get to mindfulness.

I cannot go by without saying something about his hair.  There was power in it, if only because I wonder just how he kept it shaped that perfectly. Many have tried like:

Brian May of Queen  "Brian May Portrait - David J Cable" by David J. Cable/Arcadia Photographic UK - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Brian May of Queen “Brian May Portrait – David J Cable” by David J. Cable/Arcadia Photographic UK – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back, Kotter fame  By ABC Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back, Kotter fame By ABC Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
And the guy who keeps showing up in memes from women who joke about their bedheads.
And the guy who keeps showing up in memes from women who joke about their bedheads.

But few could do it like Bob did.

I think the reason why he is still on the air today is because of his sincere, quirky positivity.  Yes, you can laugh at corniness of the show, but it draws you in because you want to live in that world where you can just cover up your screw-ups by just painting birds over them and having some gentle father figure telling you it’s going to be OK.  Of course, you can’t cover all of your mistakes with a stroke of paint, but Bob does teach us not to get so het up about the little things.  If taken the right way, the show may just recharge your brain a little bit, so you can get back in and fight the important battles.

Hockey Lions Redux and Capitalism

Last week, I reblogged a post by Cher from the The Chicago Files about the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) sticking hockey helmets on their famous lions in support of the Blackhawks in their Stanley Cup run.

Well, Chicago clinched the championship on Monday, and the AIC added one more feature outside.  Playing off the famous American foam hand common at sporting events, the museum had to remind us that TripAdvisor rated it the best museum in the world in 2014.  Can’t pass up a little self-promotion on the heels of the Hawks.


This really isn’t any different than selling a T-shirt saying “Chicago Blackhawks – 2015 Stanley Cup Champions”. It’s taking advantage of what is current and timely to make money. It’s how a free market works. Therefore, someone came up with a clever idea to advertise to bring people into the museum to help raise funds, so precious pieces of art can be preserved. Works for me.

And, as much as it pains me to say it, congratulations to the Blackhawks for their victory.

This British-American Life’s Tips for Visiting Museums

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat otherwise known as the Ferris Bueller Painting in my circles.  It proudly hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat otherwise known as the “Ferris Bueller Painting” in my circles. It proudly hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Now, in the States, school is out for a lot of children, and families are going on vacation.  Actually, summer is a prime time for everyone to get away.  Since most people need a little bit of culture in their lives, visiting America’s museums remains a popular pastime, so here I am to give a few tips, and I am actually being serious this time.

1.  Check out the museum’s website before your visit. – You will know what exhibits are open and what artifacts/art are on loan to other museums.  Most importantly, you will be able to prioritize what you want to see that is important to you because…

2.  You will not see everything you want to see.  – Unless the museum is small, it is impossible to take in everything.  If you are going to Washington D.C., you will not be able to digest everything the Smithsonian complex can offer.  You can’t even handle what just the Natural History museum has to offer in one day.  Just accept that now and put in the planning, so you will not set yourself up for disappointment.

3.  Parents, know your children. – If your child’s mental saturation point lasts only two hours, do not try to squeeze another hour out of him or her because you want to see one more thing.  This is where tip #1 comes in.  And don’t be afraid to divide and conquer, if some kids are enjoying themselves in the museum and others have had it.  One more point: it’s great that you want your children to see something new, but make sure you understand a little bit about the subject too.  Just walking up to dinosaur fossils without being able to answer any questions about what they are isn’t going to impress them much.  And older kids can read the plaques too.  They are not stupid.  In fact, it’s a recipe for boredom, if you can’t come up with a good reason why the kids should be there.

4.  Follow the rules, and listen to the security guards.  – The guards are not there to be assholes.  A lot of time and money goes into the preservation of artifacts and art, and they don’t need yutz tourists like us to come along and ruin everything that was done.

5.  Get there before opening time at the really popular museums in the summer – I am a member of the Art Institute of Chicago and a seasoned traveler.  I cannot emphasize how important this rule is.  People want to see the Big Name Artists and the Big Name Paintings.  Special exhibitions only make the problem worse.  If you think you can get into the Musée d’Orsay in Paris after lunch, you must think spaghetti grows on trees.

6.  Now that I mention the Musée d’Orsay, the Impressionist section of any art museum will be a zoo.  People just lurve those wacky Impressionists.  Lord knows, those paintings show up on every coaster, card, magnet, tote bag, print and scarf in the museum gift shops.  I like them, and there was that rebel, individualistic quality about them.  But they were not the be all and end all of art, which brings me too…

7.  Try a different section of a museum that you normally wouldn’t. – If you are not into Roman history, just take a few minutes and look around.  You may be surprised at what you may learn.  If Native American handicrafts aren’t your thing, I think you can at least appreciate the work that goes into them, even if they don’t fit within your style.  Go into the less popular galleries.  They need love too.