Altered fast food billboard echoes classic movie scene ‘mutilation’

Posted by
May 20, 2014



In the original movie “Jaws,” there’s a classic scene in which a billboard for Amity Island is found to have been vandalized so that the female boogie boarder it depicts is shouting “Help!!! Shark” while a large, ominous fin looms in the water just behind her. This leads to a lively exchange between the somewhat fatuous and shortsighted Mayor Vaughn and Hooper, the marine biologist. The mayor refers to it as “a deliberate mutilation of a public service message” and tells Brody, the police chief, he wants the “little paint-happy” perpetrators caught and “hung up by their Buster Browns” – to which Hooper replies, “Now, why don’t you take a long, close look at this sign. Those proportions are correct.”

Well, something similar has now happened in real life – to an actual billboard. Only in this case, the correctness of the alteration relates to portions, rather than proportions – and what they consist of.


The sign in question (in case you didn’t catch it on YouTube) was an advertisement for Burger King, depicting a ‘meal’ consisting of a parfait “entrée,” an ice cream cone “side” and a milkshake “drink.” Whatever the ad agency that designed it had in mind – presumably, that the fast-food restaurant chain was a place to toss all nutritional concerns aside and indulge one’s childish appetites – it suggested another message. And it took some “paint-happy” graffiti artist in health-conscious Seattle to respond to the company’s unintended invitation – by turning the Burger King logo into a cartoon of an obese individual with the word “Diabetes” in parenthesis underneath.

Now, I can see where some officials (particularly those whose livelihoods depend on luring people into Burger King) might be considerably put off by such “deliberate mutilation” and want the perpetrator punished.   But the fact remains that, just like in “Jaws,” this defacing of private property was a very effective means of making advertising more accurate – and honest.

In fact, the added message actually reflected what may be a far greater threat to consumers than sharks are to swimmers, surfers and boogie-boarders at the nation’s beach resorts.

How so? Well, first consider the fact (one I verified this with the manager of a local Burger King) that all those desserts shown on the billboard contain high fructose corn syrup, the synthetic laboratory sweetener that studies have linked to the current high rate of diabetes. (In one University of Southern California study, researchers found that countries using HFCS had rates of diabetes that were about 20 percent higher than countries that didn’t mix the sweetener into foods). And consider, too, that this diabetes “epidemic” (along with that of obesity) has corresponded precisely to the widespread replacement of natural sugar with much cheaper HFCS in untold numbers of food products.

Now let’s look at the actual extent of the threats depicted in both the altered movie billboard and the real one.

A review of deaths from attacks by all types of sharks (not just great whites) in the U.S. over the last decade of the 20th Century and the first decade of the 21st shows that there were a total of just under two dozen on all three coasts combined – the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Gulf.

Diabetes, by contrast is the primary cause of death for over 71,000 Americans every year – and a contributing factor in more than 230,000 additional deaths. And nearly two million of us are diagnosed with the disease each year, according to the American Diabetes Association. In fact, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that from 1980 through 2011, the number of Americans with diagnosed diabetes has more than tripled, from 5.6 million to 20.9 million (far outpacing the rate of actual population growth).

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that those tens of thousands of diabetes deaths, or the explosion of new cases, or the incredible increase in obesity associated with them, are all attributable to eating Burger King desserts – especially given all the products that contain this additive.

But what I am suggesting is that the careless consumption of HFCS-laden confections being promoted by that billboard is the very sort of behavior that many experts have been warning can lead to a life-threatening diagnosis of diabetes – which is the very same point that graffiti artist was making.

True, the altered Amity Island welcome sign may have looked a lot scarier. But the message added to the Burger King billboard correctly identifies a threat that’s far more insidious, and that didn’t even exist back in 1975 when “Jaws” was released. I’m referring, of course, to high fructose corn syrup, which made its appearance in our food supply as suddenly and sneakily as that great white did in the waters off Amity Island.

And in respect, it’s one that has turned that billboard into a true sign of the times.

Screen shot credits: Jaws billboard, We are movie geeks,; Burger King, Foodista,