Happy Chef, Uncle Burger, and the Thai Root Bear
- Blog Post by: James Lileks
- August 9, 2012 - 12:03 PM
TODAY: Random internet stuff, or, how one thing leads to another.
URLs you just can’t not click:
Most unconvincing use of the first person plural:
When the rover Curiosity touched down on the gravelly surface of Mars early Monday morning, after the hubbub settled down, it occurred to us: what was the artist Tom Sachs doing when it landed?
Gosh, me too. Ah, but what kind of artist?
As he led us to the Mars project, Mr. Sachs brought us past earlier artworks of his, most of them made using his preferred technique, bricolage, meaning he’d built them from bits and pieces of stuff he’d found, bought and occasionally stole (black-and-orange striped Con Ed barriers being a signature element in his vocabulary). They include a piece made from four sewing machine tables and a bisected basketball, spliced together with carbon fiber, and a Darth Vaderish figure that dispenses drinks. “Darth Vader’s penis and bladder are both vodka,” Mr. Sachs noted.
Then there was the Jodie Foster lamp.
This got me thinking about sculpture once enjoyed by families on summer vacations: the popular sculpture of signage. Doesn’t make it into museums, because it’s intended as straight-forward commercial speech. If it was made as a commentary or ironic juxtaposition of commercial speech, it would be art. But if it’s just a statue for a pizza joint, it requires the application of meaning and interpretation by an accredited critic, and then it’s either “vernacular art” or “found art” or some other term that makes it easy for the artistic establishment to accept.
Sculpture like this: It’s a repurposed Happy Chef in , now selling pizza. Most of the Happy Chef statues were destroyed when the chain contracted, since the company didn’t want them used for other purposes. This would lead to confusion. If you saw a Happy Chef in front of a muffler shop, you’d go in and ask for breakfast, because you were so confused. Almost beside yourself with anxiety. This symbol of food has been recontextualized for automotive repair. I just can’t process it.
Pity they went away. Ugly buggers, but they gave the roadside some pizzazz. There used to be one in Roseville, and as late as 1997, I think. Whether the button that made it talk still worked I can’t say - given the margins in the restaurant industry, it’s hard to imagine an owner saying “I’ll put talking statue functionality right at the top of my list.”
Another Chef exists in Princeton, where it shills for a restaurant supply company, and of course there’s the last official one in Mankato.
I was thinking about the Chef after reading an article on roadside Pizza statuary. Rare as you might think. Most early pizza places wanted a neon sign with the Cliched European Chef kissing the tips of his fingers to indicate deliciousness. Or an animated neon sign that showed the cook throwing the dough. I prefer the neon to the statues, anyway; old advertising colossi could be creepy to begin with, and the more new paint was added over the years, the odder they looked. But then I came across these guys.
The A&W Burger Family. Can’t find a public domain picture - I know, I know, respecting copyright, it’s so quaint! I can probably get away with a panel from a Zippy cartoon under “Fair Use.” A google image search will show you plenty of
pictures of the gang - a series of smiling happy family members lofting burgers for your delectation. When I was a kid we went to the A&W Drive-in for burger and root beer; ate in the car. They brought the tray to the window. The art on the silver foil around the burgers had a Mad-Men era look; the Burger Family of the statues seems to have been redesigned to look like they had Charlie-Brown DNA.
They were fired when the A&W Root Bear came along. Only the Papa Burger is available today. But! The Canadian A&W chain has different ownership, and they’ve kept the classic lineup. Wiki gives away the recipe for the Teen Burger:
Teen Burger: beef patty, lettuce, tomato, bacon, processed cheddar cheese, Teen sauce, ketchup, mustard, pickles, diced onion, sesame seed bun
The menu has been expanded, and there’s now a Grandpa burger, an Uncle Burger, a Grandma Burger, and a Little Buddy Burger, in case you’re out with a friend role-playing Skipper and Gilligan.
Not sure anyone really wants to eat an Uncle Burger. Except, of course, that lovable Canadian screw-up, Ryan!
At the bottom of the Wikipedia page was a list of links to A&W in other countries. The Malasian page motto: “More than the Usual.” Here, have a Malaysia A&W hot dog commercial:
As for the Thailand site:
Nice to see he respects local customs.
There: I've completely written myself into a corner. Best step away from the keyboard.
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