Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Memories of the Day-Glo Years: "Where's the Beef?"

Remember "Where's the beef?" It was the tag line for Wendy's, one of America's prominent fast food chains. (I have no idea if they're established anywhere else in the world, but they're pretty widespread here.) In 1984, they had a very popular ad campaign on TV where three old women ordered hamburgers at some fictitious fast food restaurant. The shortest, most cantakerous-looking woman lifted up the bun to reveal a small circle of meat that was maybe one fifth the size of the bun. This woman raised her head and squinted at the hapless, bored counterman, and demanded in a loud, creaky voice: "Wherrrre's the beef?" The old woman, Clara Peller, had never acted before, but this series of commercials gave her a kind of fame for a while in the United States, and there was talk about her capitalizing on this, perhaps taking bit parts in movies or on TV shows, but she died.

This snappy ad campaign might have been completely forgotten about if not for the 1984 presidential debates, in which former Vice President Walter Mondale turned to Ronald Reagan and asked, "Where's the beef?" It was widely agreed that Mondale had made a snappy, clever use of popular culture to skewer Reagan, and he was thus rewarded in November with the electoral votes of his home state of Minnesota, the District of Columbia and... well, that's it. And as to Reagan: he never answered Mondale's question.

I don't know if Wendy's famous chief Dave Thomas backed Mondale that year, but he owed him big.


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