Stereotyping… and Worse

note: This describes an event in 2001. I originally wrote this for an Asian Cultures class at SDSU. To their credit, Red Robin has changed the marketing language for this product, but kept the same name…

While driving my daughter and her friend back to their dorms at Azusa Pacific University one Sunday evening, we stopped at Red Robin in the Tustin Marketplace for dinner. After being seated, a full-color ad display standing up on the table caught my eye. There I learned that Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc., has a new burger—a Japanese burger, if you will, or at least that’s what they would like us to believe about this menu debutant, the “Banzai Burger.”

The ad showed a dark-haired female chef in an embroidered robe of some kind (…ah, she’s Asian… I get it!) standing in her kitchen, razor sharp samurai sword held aloft and brandished threateningly. The caption read, “She’s got Zen… and she knows how to use it.” Reading on, I was also informed that “the sword is mightier than the pineapple.”

Apparently, Red Robin’s “Banzai Burger” is a thick hamburger patty “marinated in teriyaki” (of course—that would turn anything American into Japanese, right?) This new culinary delight also comes garnished with a “thick slice of grilled pineapple” (…so I guess we’re talking about Japanese Americans, after all—most likely from Hawaii.) This is topped off with the all-Japanese combination of “cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo.”

As a courtesy, the menu gives the would-be eater a fair warning: “Will attack taste buds with reckless abandon.” I was grateful for the heads-up; and now I realize that chef was simply defending the honor of her taste buds. I was confused then to read also that “every bite gives you inner peace” (attacks… inner peace… hmmm; hey, well, Asians can live with such contradictions in their world view, you know. To enjoy an Asian burger, I guess I’d better adjust.) I could use some inner peace, anyway, and this would be an easy way to find it. I’m going to tell all my friends.

How pathetic for a national restaurant chain to accept such a campaign from their ad agency. Stereotyping all Japanese as kamikazes and samurais is bad enough, but to imply that a hamburger is Japanese, and to name it “Banzai” simply because it was soaked in teriyaki sauce before cooking is ridiculous. And as for adding grilled pineapple—where did that come from? But what struck me most was the juxtaposition of an attacking samurai with the peaceful meditation of Zen; I guess American ad agencies, especially one that has created an oxymoronic phrase like “gourmet burgers,” can live with contradictions, as well… or more likely, it’s simply living with ignorance, which is enough to make you lose your appetite.

Of course, a person has to eat. Plenty of time to change the world tomorrow. I went for the “Five Alarm Burger,” myself; no foreign pineapple on that!

Please pass the ketchup.

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About Bill Davis

Writer, speaker and translation and language learning consultant. I write technical articles, poetry and humor, and I am working on my first novel which is set on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.
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