When you think of a fast food worker, what do you see? Probably something along the lines of a teenager that may not be too bright. The portrayal of fast food workers in pop culture has largely remained the same over the years. What you usually see is an uneducated teenager who is constantly messing up. While these portrayals are often used to incite laughter, it has become a classic stereotype. When something in pop culture or the media is constantly repeated, it can be easy to start thinking that it is the truth. Through shows like Mr. Meaty and movies like Good Burger, the image of a fast food worker has been made to resemble an uneducated teen that messes up on the job. However, trends in the fast food workforce show that the current stereotype isn’t completely accurate.
Mr. Meaty is a show centered around two teenagers, Josh Redgrove and Parker Dinkleman. Each episode is focused on the two as they work at a burger joint called Mr. Meaty and get into some wild situations. In one episode, Josh and Parker are forced to get inside a buffalo costume to advertise a new item on the menu. It’s pretty obvious at this point that something bad is going to happen. Shortly after getting in the costume, Parker farts in the costume and chaos ensues. Josh tries to get out of the costume, but in doing so, he just keeps ramming into customers causing a huge mess. This scene depicted a few common stereotypes of fast food workers. The first is that they depict both of the workers as pretty dim-witted. You would think that they would have been able to handle the situation better than going on a rampage and knocking customers over. The second is closely related to the first in that they are messing up to the dissatisfaction of the customer. Their inability to rationally deal with the problem caused them to make such a huge mess. As a whole, the show also chooses to center around two teenagers, another common stereotype among fast food workers.
Good Burger is a movie about two teenagers, Ed and Dexter Reed, as they try to help their restaurant from going out of business due to the competition across the street. One scene that I found both funny and very over-the-top was during an interaction between Ed and a customer. In the movie, all of the items on the menu at the Good Burger restaurant begins with the word “Good.” The scene begins with a customer asking Ed for a Good Shake. Ed responds with “OK,” and proceeds to vigorously shake the customer thinking that the customer wanted a literal “good shake.” I think most people would agree that fast food workers or people in general wouldn’t be that dense. Still, Good Burger depicts fast food workers as brainless employees that can’t do their job right.
Fast Food Workforce Statistics
Contrary to what is shown in pop culture, not all fast food workers are teenagers. John Schmitt and Janelle Jones, a Senior Economist and Research associate, respectively, conducted an analysis of government data on the fast food workforce from 2010 to 2012. Their research showed that just 30 percent of fast food workers were teenagers. Furthermore, they found that over 40 percent of fast food workers were at least 25 or older (Schmitt & Jones). The classic teenage fast food worker that is shown in pop culture no longer an accurate representation. When over two thirds of the workforce is comprised of people 20 or older, using teenagers to depict the average fast food worker isn’t fair. Another stereotype or trait that is commonly associated with fast food workers is that they are either uneducated or not very smart. Using the same set of data, the analysis showed that over 70 percent of the workforce has at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. It also showed that almost a third of the workforce has some college education. With the majority of the workforce having a high school diploma (or the equivalent) and nearly a third having some college education, the stereotypical dim-witted fast food employee is a poor representation.
From the two artifacts that I examined, the overall representation of a fast food worker was that of a dim-witted teenager. Pop culture seems to do this more as a way to get laughs than to make fun of fast food workers and that is understandable. It just becomes a problem when it is perceived as a fact. However, data suggests that these depictions aren’t accurate. The large majority of the workforce is comprised of people 20 or older, not teenagers. They also have at least a high school education or higher. Even though the depictions of fast food workers aren’t entirely accurate, I can understand why some of the stereotypes have stuck around. Where I work, I’m considered one of the older workers at just 20 years old with the majority of the employees being teenagers.
One learning moment for me was Week 9’s blog topic. Media literacy is extremely important now more than ever considering how readily available information is for everyone. One google search can lead to millions of results, but not all of them are reliable or trustworthy. It’s important to be able to distinguish between what is reliable and what may be skewed in a way that is limiting some of the information.
Another learning moment was breaking down advertisements. Looking at ads critically and breaking them down to understand what they are doing and why was both informative and fun. It helped me understand why some companies choose to portray products a certain way and why other companies choose a different direction. It was interesting seeing the ways companies would try to get you to remember their products.
Good Burger. Dir. Brian Robbins. Perf. Keenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. Paramount Pictures, n.d. 1997
Lenz, Jack, prod. Mr. Meaty. Nickelodeon. 30 Dec. 2005. Television.
Schmitt, Josh, and Janelle Jones. “Slow Progress for Fast-Food Workers.” The Center for Economic and Policy Research. N.p., 6 Aug. 2013. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.