Media Cirucus: The Supersize Mandate

I’d like to suggest changing the official motto of the United States from "E pluribus unum" to "Supersize it!" I realize this will take an act of Congress, but I feel the arguments for such a change are strong. No other phrase says more about our culture and the media that drives our national zeitgeist, and the fact that it was created by a fast-food chain is just icing on the cake — or ketchup on the processed meat patty, if you prefer.

Sad but true, all Americans know what "Supersize it" means, while relatively few know that the obscure Latin phrase found on coins means either "Out of many, one" or "More rum punch, please," depending on which alcohol-addled Founding Father’s translation you believe. Even though the notion of supersizing is nothing new for Americans (see "Manifest Destiny," "Louisiana Purchase," "Seward’s Folly," etc.), it was never so succinctly put until this insidious phrase was coined by McDonald’s.

Advertisers have known the value of supersizing for years. Faced with the low cost of a 1/16th-page ad versus the likelihood that the only person who will see it is the advertiser, many will opt for going bigger — supersizing. You can also get a lot more information about your product across in a 30-second TV spot than you can in a 15, and oftentimes the extra cost seems justified.

One of the few places where bigger is clearly not better is on airplanes. Small people have a much more enjoyable time of it in coach than their beefy counterparts, and if news from Southwest Airlines is any indication, things are going to get worse — and more expensive — for all the larger folks out there. No one has escaped having to sit next to a truly obese person on the plane, so we all know how unpleasant it can be once girth has spilled over the sides of the typical 19-inch airline seat. Several airlines have seldom-followed rules saying that once your ampleness necessitates a seatbelt extension or prohibits the lowering of the armrest, you have to pay for another seat. Southwest says it will now enforce this rule, effectively demanding a requisite supersizing and ignoring the fact that supersizing, by definition, is an option, never a requirement.

We love to snicker at the heavies, but statistically — as the media loves to remind us — most of us are in that group. Forcing the girth-challenged to pony up double the airfare to house their saddlebags may seem as if it’s in line with the imperative "Supersize it!" but the new motto is really more an enthused suggestion than a mandate. Southwest’s forced supersizing flies in the face of our new motto and sets a dangerous precedent, suggesting double the product should mean double the price. The term "supersize" implies excess, but it also connotes some sort of deal, something markedly absent from the Southwest mandate.

My guess is Southwest will be forced to recant in the face of withering opposition from all corners. They will have to offer heavies a true "super-size," recognizing that, since they already bought one seat, they get the second at a lower price. I suggest check-in include measurements taken with a set of large calipers to assess girth, with a sliding scale reflecting how much seat is actually being used. After all, fair is fair.

Next story loading loading..