Help! My Couch Is Humiliating!

There’s a ubiquitous joke on Twitter that goes like this: “Sir, this is an Arby’s.” That sentence is the punch line, deployed after a setup in which an earnest speaker expounds on anything from elaborate pop-culture theories to sports to politics — only for it to be revealed that, all along, he was ranting at an innocent fast-food cashier. My favorite iterations are self-deprecating gibes at the speaker’s own spiraling neuroses and bugbears. (“Ugh, this paper has another logistic regression with way too many variables for such a small data set. You’d think by now people would know, but NO!” “Sir, this is an Arby’s.”) If the joke has a point, it’s that the pressures of modern life — or at least Twitter — lead us to blurt out decontextualized tirades to anyone in the vicinity; that we’ve lost our ability, or willingness, to read the room. Because the room here is a fast-food restaurant — a space that, like Twitter, helps produce the alienation that generates its business — there’s a recursive quality to the meme. Both are equally appropriate sites for a nervous breakdown.

It makes sense, then, that Twitter alerted me to a video that nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. It begins with a man sitting dejectedly on a twin bed, his voice cracking as he confesses: “Not everyone wakes up happy. Sometimes you feel sad, scared — crappy.” A misfit teenage girl arrives at school, finds the word “SKANK” scrawled on her locker and tearfully looks forward to the day she can leave her “closed-minded town.” Stomping down the stairs, a woman in business casual roars that her boss is “such a freakin’ creep!” and throws papers everywhere before storming out of frame. A 20-something collapses onto the couch and, shellshocked from his student loans, realizes, “I’m never moving out of my parents’ home.” A woman pushes a baby stroller down a hollowed-out suburban street and tells us: “They say I’m too young to raise my baby girl. Take your opinions and suck it, world.”

Sir, this was a Burger King commercial. Part of a partnership with the nonprofit Mental Health America — as well as an unsubtle dig at the McDonald’s Happy Meal — the nearly two-minute “short film” promotes a limited-time, select-city product called “Real Meals,” which correspond to a customer’s “real” mood: Blue, Salty, Pissed, DGAF and YAAAS. In place of information about where to seek help if you’re experiencing feelings of depression, which would usually appear at the end of a public-service announcement, title cards explain: “No one is happy all the time. And that’s O.K.,” followed by an image of each of the Real Meals, jarring pops of color after the gloomy video. (No matter which mood you announce to the cashier taking your order, or to the touch screen that has replaced her, each box contains the same thing: a Whopper, fries and a drink.)

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