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King-sized Controversy

Cheryl Jackson
The Chicago Sun-Times
April 14, 2009

The sight of SpongeBob SquarePants on television last week didn't elicit its usual laughs and giggles from 6-year-old Alsip fan Nya Brevik.

Instead, Nya was confused as the popular Nickelodeon network cartoon character popped up last week in a Burger King kids meal commercial with rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot proclaiming "Booty is booty" as a bevy of beauties with rectangular posteriors gyrated for the camera. Their bottoms also were measured by the Burger King character.

"She just sort of stared at it, with a sort of confused sort of look like she was not sure how to process it," said Nya's father, Marcus "Yunus" Brevik.

But Brevik, an Alsip teacher, was angered -- like many other parents. Brevik said the commercial has put him off on visiting the burger chain.

"It's really sad to see the combination of children's entertainment, fast food and the story of a well-known musician known for highly sexualized entertainment," he said. "They're using sex to sell food with the assistance of a well-known cartoon character."

The spot, which uses music from the rapper's 1992 "Baby Got Back" song, began airing during the NCAA basketball championship game last week.

Complaints from parents followed shortly, according to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which is leading a letter-writing effort against the ads.

"Associating a cartoon character who is wildly popular with young children with this kind of objectification of women and looking at and talking about their body parts, this is really a new low," said Josh Golin, the group's associate director.

Miami-based Burger King and child network Nickelodeon say the spot isn't aimed at children.

The ad is "meant to appeal to the adults who take their families to Burger King restaurants," the burger chain said. "This commercial is intended to show that even adults can have fun, laugh and be silly with entertainment genres -- such as rap and pop culture icons -- that have become part of everyday life."

A different SpongeBob spot is being developed for kids shows, the company said.

That explanation doesn't fly with the commercial watchdog group.

"We find that incredibly disingenuous considering this is an ad for a kids meal using perhaps the most popular kids character," said Golin, who added that Burger King, which gravitates to edgier marketing, might be trying to push buttons with the spot.

 

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