Well done, Taco Bell!
This delightful ad campaign works on many levels.
It's a jab at the ubiquity and uniformity of McDonald's, drawing a comparison between the fast food giant and the drab, uninspiring, staid life of Iron Curtain Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The commercial is cheeky and awash in 1980s imagery. Even the use of the punk-retro Ramones tune "Blitzkrieg Bop" (1976) during the Keystone Cops-like chase scene is a bit of nostalgia to people who remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of European Communism.
The commercial pays homage to dystopic literature, in particular, George Orwell's 1984, especially with the throwback cathode-ray TVs blaring out mind-numbing technologically-backward propaganda. We see a contrast between the dreary East-Berlinish skyline of Soviet-era concrete apartment blocks in stressful uniform rigidity over and against the beautiful, colorful, relaxed European scene of freedom and vibrancy at the end of the short. And yet, the commercial manages to invoke dystopia in a lighthearted way, with the dictators and apparatchiks appropriately portrayed as Ronald McDonaldesque clowns, with frequent humorous visual references to Mickey Dee's culture as the little story progresses.
Dystopia is an important genre. 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Atlas Shrugged, and others promote a worldview of liberty in describing a futuristic world of repression. These novels serve us as Jacob Marley's ghost to Ebeneezer Scrooge, a warning of what is to come unless we recover the "eternal vigilance" that Jefferson taught us is the price of liberty. And in addition to these classics, a good bit of modern literature aimed at young people falls within the realm of dystopia. These works have much in common, holding up for our examination the reality of original sin, manifest as the desire of one person to control another, and of this "lust for domination" (per St. Augustine) to magnify itself in groups, hence the inherent danger of government and of the state. These novels also typically show the contrast between the classical liberal and libertarian respect for individual life and spontaneous liberty, as opposed to the totalitarian collectivist impulse toward Marxist economics and top-down thought-control. The latter promotes a worldview that sees individual human beings as cogs in a wheel without rights, without purpose other than to aggrandize the state and serve party masters.
The commercial depicts these themes, even to the point of the heroes of the story, the defecting rebels, being a young man and a young woman. This is a common theme of dystopia, as hope of beating back the seemingly invincible apparatus of the totalitarian state lies in youth, in those willing to recklessly risk all for the sake of freedom and love, and it is the love between a man and a woman that leads to children, to new generations of those who will join the generational fight for freedom. Love is the antithesis of the totalitarian state. Love provides the impetus for freedom of association, which in turn drives the rebels to seek ways to outsmart the monolithic oppressive dinosaur by using whatever means necessary: technology, low-tech covert communication, tying up the state in bureaucracy (as heroic Soviet dissidents like Vladimir Bukovsky did - see his must-read To Build a Castle), and voluntarily working together as a team in order to promote the individual (which is anathema to the totalitarian state).
The climax of the story takes place at a wall, very much like the seemingly permanent structure that rent Berlin into two - into a free West and a captive East - from 1961-1989. There is a hole in this wall, a portal to freedom. It is covered by propaganda in the form of posters lauding the philosophy of the state. But there is a hole in the wall, indicated by a piece of graffiti, a spray-painted hexagon on one of the state's posters, that has become the symbol of rebellion against the Routine Republic. And as the couple rushes through the opening, they find freedom and humane civilization.
On the other side, they find color and youth and happiness and spontaneity. They find diversity and joy and life apart from the stifling and stultifying cradle-to-grave Big Brother.
Another theme of this three minute mini-movie is propaganda. Every oppressive regime relies heavily on propaganda, on controlling access to information, be it the printing press, radio broadcasting, television news, or the Internet. People of every time and place do well to always be suspicious of any government that would seek to regulate any aspect of the press and communications.
Part of what makes the commercial work is the idea of breaking free of a routine. Of course, in real life, nobody is forced to eat at McDonald's or to submit to an every-day same-same routine of an Egg McMuffin. But in the dystopian real-world economics of Marxist regimes, centrally-planned by bureaucrats and party functionaries, people are left with soul-crushing imposed sameness and drab routine. A centrally-planned economy in which people are not free to start businesses, invest capital, take risks, and go off the economic grid results in gluts and shortages, food lines, dependency on state welfare, devaluation of currency and hyperinflation, and possibly even starvation. Such economies lack the incentive of the profit motive, the production feedback of the price system, and the flexibility required to keep production going in a dynamic world of rapidly changing supply and demand paradigms. History has clearly shown the results of the warfare-welfare state, of cradle to grave "security," and the Orwellian surveillance state that falsely promises safety at the dear expense of liberty.
Life under Marxism is the motive lurking behind most dystopia. This commercial captures it. In a nod to the spirit of the age, the final frame shows a website URL made to look like it has been spray painted. It says: "Breakfast Defectors . com." The "R" in "breakfast" is reversed to look like the Russian letter Я. The word "defect" conjures up images of people escaping from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to start new lives in the west. Great attention to detail.
Some of this detail is, however, lost on people who were not around in the 1980s, and who are not conversant with the historical era and unique circumstances of the fall of Communism,
For example, this critique from The Daily Meal appears to miss the connection to Orwell's 1984 and the remarkable events of the real life 1980s. The author does pick up on the theme of dystopia, but only through the eyes of the Hunger Games trilogy. I believe her critique (which is admittedly about food and not about politics and economics) could have been better had she acknowledged the commercial's tongue-in-cheek homage to this unique epoch in western history and the literary tradition of dystopia.
Yes, it's a commercial for Taco Bell to sell breakfast thingamabobs. But it is a commercial rife with ideas - clever ideas, humorous ideas, profound ideas, and even ideas that are grand enough to be called ideals.
I'm not a fan of breakfast sandwiches, but I just might have to make a run for the border and try a hexagon in gratitude for a commercial like that.