On Monday, I was reading through Curbed’s list of all the New York City businesses that have closed largely due to lack of financial support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. On the list was a Brooklyn bar called Burnside, a place where I’ve played endless hours of pub trivia, celebrated birthdays, downed picklebacks, and even had my first date with my now-spouse.
The bar’s closure, as well as the loss of many other businesses that made up the beautiful and enticing fabric of the city, is objectively sad. The loss of livelihood and mounting hits to local culture was completely preventable, as we’ve pointed out again and again and again. If only there had been a rent freeze. If only there’d been better federal assistance. But there wasn’t, and now beloved restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, theaters, and all the other places that make life’s trudge more tolerable are disappearing. As calls for bailouts go unanswered, as the democrats and republicans of Congress fail to be remotely useful, and as Donald Trump spends his remaining days in the White House acting like a grotesque toddler who won’t let anyone change his shit-ballooning diaper (in this figurative portrait, we are — I’m sorry — the diaper), what left is there to do? Order takeout from your remaining favorite places and cry. At least that’s what I’m doing.
I describe my headspace to you so that you understand my overreaction to the news that KFC was partnering with Lifetime (Television for Women) on A Recipe for Seduction, a “mini movie” starring Mario Lopez as a sexy Colonel Sanders. This inoffensive, trivial branding is par for the course when it comes to modern marketing. In 2020, why wouldn’t A.C. Slater from Saved by the Bell be playing a tarted-up fried chicken magnate in what my colleague Jenny G. Zhang accurately described as an extended commercial? And yet, frivolous and unsurprising as it is, something about its existence made me furious.
The existence of this stupid mini movie appears to have excited a share of people, and I feel cruel for snuffing out that rare spark of joy. But while A Recipe for Seduction might seem like it’s not all that serious, KFC having the money for this kind of stunt only further illuminates the discrepancies between small independent businesses that are set up to fail and the major corporations that are propped up to succeed. Of course, KFC is only one small part of this. In a devastating year, McDonald’s “U.S. sales [roared] back in the third quarter.” Wendy’s is luring in customers with free gaming consoles and expensive Fortnite endorsements. These are things that small businesses are not able to do, especially when fast-food franchises have been given a whopping $1 billion of the limited stimulus loans allotted for small businesses.
While Twitter gets excited about sexy Colonel Sanders, restaurants are continuing to close at staggering rates. I write this not to chide — mature adults are able to hold multiple truths in their heads at once, such as “independent restaurants need help” and “let’s joke around about this KFC/Lifetime partnership because we need a break from being constantly depressed.” And just because I’ve grown cynical and scornful, it doesn’t mean everyone else needs to live that way. Honestly, I don’t recommend it!
Still, though, I can’t help but resent these brands and their hold over our lives when all I want — and what I really need — is to sit with my friends in our favorite dark bar while drinking Tecates, sharing a basket of matchstick fries, and joking around with a bartender we’ve come to know and love through years of being a regular. If that were safe and possible, maybe then I could lighten up. Only none of us can do that because our favorite dark bars are disappearing; chains, with their sense-dulling monotony and corny viral marketing campaigns, could be all that remains.