Some thoughts on identity and inclusion, precipitated by a disturbing fast-food commercial
I was just settling in on a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon to watch college football on television. Some young men. A pig skin. Serious rivalry.
I did not expect theology or anthropology to come sniffing around. I was just ready to see some athletes play ball. Wisconsin vs. Illinois. I didn’t really care who won—I’m from Minnesota, after all. I was just excited that it wasn’t the NFL. I didn’t think there would be as many beer, truck, or fast food commercials. I thought I’d be safe. This was going to be about athleticism, the discipline of teams working together, the excitement of a full stadium of screaming people. They don’t advertise during Big 10 games, right?
Confession: I don’t own a TV. When I go home to visit my family, I usually indulge in some “screen time.” Not having a TV has its perks. But, then again, I also feel like I live under a rock sometimes. I can’t keep up with the shows people talk about, certain games, or mainstream (also known as “lamestream”) media portrayals of the “news.”
It was a good game. I was pretty into it. But then a commercial came on. Usually we mute commercials and don’t watch them, for obvious reasons (like, we want to keep our brain cells. . . .) But this time, we did not mute the TV. My mom and I were transfixed. We could not believe what we were seeing. Let me describe it for you.
There is a young woman sitting at a game in a football jersey. She is holding a gigantic hamburger. As she attempts to take a bite, some ketchup gets on her jersey. Hmm. . . . What does she do in this predicament?
Well, that’s a no-brainer. SHE TAKES THE JERSEY OFF. Oh, yeah, and the rest of her clothes, too.
Instantly there is wind blowing through her long hair, she is suddenly clad (semi-clad? Even that’s too generous) in a short black skirt, some sort of half-top, she has an ice cube in her hand which she runs along her neck and chest. There are close-ups of certain parts of her body, and somehow, there’s still a burger involved in all this?
I looked at my mom in disbelief. What is this?
Yup. Using sex to sell hamburgers. The extreme objectification of a woman’s body, coupled with the sale of beef that probably comes from somewhere in Latin America where multinational corporations (read: corporations from the U.S.) cut down the Amazon rain forest to make more grazing land for our beef addiction, thus contributing more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.
Uh. . . . I just wanted to watch some football. What happened here?
Who else in the world saw this commercial? What if young boys did? What if old women did? What if young women did, and they think they have to look like that? What if my grandpa saw this? What if my boyfriend saw this? Is this ok? Is THIS ok with our society? Do people take this seriously?
And then I realize: this is “normal.” Unfortunately. And it says a lot about what our society thinks about people.
No one saw that commercial and thought, “Wow, that is someone for whom Jesus Christ lived, died, and was raised.” No one was inspired to serve God or serve neighbor by this commercial. No one learned that they are loved by God. No no no. People see it and think: Sex. Food. Please tell me if I’m wrong.
There are some powerful (and dangerously subtle) messages out there about our identity: things telling us who we are, what we should like, what we should consume, how we should be. In our society, the message of the gospel is often drowned out by the message of consumerism, success, and accumulation of wealth/beauty/power.
No one looks good in these commercials. Human beings are dumbed down. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. Just observe commercials sometime. Think about the doctrine of justification, and then watch a commercial and hold those two things in tension.
As a young woman who does not own a TV, I often escape commercials, but this one smacked me full force in the face. How do I talk about God to a society that views human beings as such dispensable creatures? As means to an end? How do I tell people that God is redeeming this sinful world? That they have incredible worth in Jesus Christ? And how do I show people that I, as a young woman, do not have to live up to society’s expectations of beauty, etc., to show that I’m worth it? I’m worth it because Christ makes me worth it.
Lately when I’ve been looking at society, I hear “Include me” screaming from everywhere. “Include me” is what I hear from that commercial. Maybe if I buy this or look like this, or go there, people will think I’m desirable. People will want to know me. This product will drive away all my loneliness and despair. This says nothing about the God that loves and forgives the things we’ve done and left undone.
“Include me”—that’s what I hear when a 7-year-old girl tells me she has no friends and that she is made fun of every day in school.
“Include me”—that’s what I hear when a group of high schoolers talk about having friends who cut themselves and they have held the razors for their friends in hopes that the cutting will stop.
“Include me”—that’s what I hear when one of my college roommates confesses she’s felt estranged from herself for awhile.
“Include me”—yes, even that is what I hear from this commercial that shocked me out of watching a college football game.
As an optimistic seminarian, I think, “Hey! Let’s include them IN THE CHURCH!” But then, as a pessimistic seminarian, I think, “Yeah, right. Is the church even aware that people are screaming out for inclusion? And anyway, the church has already hurt them in some way. The church has already excluded them.”
Why is the church a place where people do not feel included? Shouldn’t it be the place where we can come with all our brokenness and shame, and even bear it to one another? Shouldn’t it be the place where we are welcomed and forgiven, reflecting the reality of God’s love for the world? Shouldn’t it be the place of ultimate inclusivity? Do we not trust that nothing is outside of God’s saving love and grace? Then why do we not live like this?
How do I encounter these people screaming out for inclusion? What if I met that commercial’s actress on the street? Maybe she’d say something like this: “How will you speak about God to me? How will you speak about God with me? And will you listen to me? Will you listen when your language doesn’t match mine? Or when your experiences don’t match mine? What does the God of which you speak have to do with me? Will you make the effort to get to know me on my terms? Show me. Tell me. But not without listening to me and knowing me. Maybe you shouldn’t judge me for being in that commercial. Include me.”
I’ve just been convicted by a fictional character from a commercial.
I didn’t think a commercial would lead me to think about inclusion. I hated the commercial. I was extremely offended by it. But it led me to a deeper issue facing humanity.
This is about more than just language, verbal and non-verbal. It’s about being and being with. It’s about the “who”: who God is and who people are.
This commercial is about so much more than sex and hamburgers.
What began as a rant I will end with a prayer.
God, please help us trust that you are reconciling all things: the brokenness, the hurt, the loneliness. May your church have the wisdom and courage to include, and to participate in your redeeming work. Help us see people and include them. Give us the words to share your love, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.