For a year or so now I’ve been noticing GrubHub ads:
…deliberately crude post-South Park pieces reminiscent of Tao Lin’s visual art. (GrubHub’s website continues the aesthetic; see, for instance, the About Us page. And it’s a good thing they made these new ones—their original, older ads were pretty boring.) Two-dimensional revels, they seem all surface.
But there’s more going on, I’d argue, in these pictures. Let’s start with the most obvious one:
(Image taken from this Tumblr account.) When I first saw this ad, I was slightly startled by its raunchiness. Its maker didn’t even swap out the “S” in “S#!t” for a dollar sign, a longtime comics practice. But while I imagine some people complained, the ads are still everywhere in Chicago; my friends who have commented on them have told me they find them clever, cute.
I started paying closer attention, a decision rewarded by this ad:
That photo is taken from a blog post whose author was offended by the image. I don’t share her assessment; rather, I appreciate the, um, lengths the advertisement goes to in establishing its phallic subtext. Although the male painter’s easel and canvas blocks the life model’s genitals, his right arm sweeps upward to the left, making a suggestive trajectory. If that weren’t enough, the brush he holds in his left hand leaves even less to the imagination. Beside him, the female artist’s wide-eyed eyeline reinforces the pattern. Even the word balloon that contains the revelatory phrase “hot dog” complements that sexually-implicit diagonal (“sexuagonal”?).
We can read even deeper: the male artist has already completed a good deal of the figure, while the female artist has barely touched her canvas. Has she shown up late to the class? Or has she been ogling the life model’s crotch the entire time? Meanwhile, the male artist holds his palette, Austin Powers-style, in front of his painting’s groin. (He’s mulling over which shade he wants to use?)
Let’s tread deeper still: why is the women so intent on the nude man’s crotch? Why has her more industrious classmate yet to paint that portion of the fellow? (The palette represents potential.) Why is the model longing to be delivered a hot dog? The answer is simple: the ad is conflating two classic Freudian “anxiety dreams”: appearing naked before others, and taking a test you’ve forgotten to study for (or having to go onstage in a play where you’ve forgotten all your lines). The life model clearly has no penis.
After these two ads, I was hardly surprised when I kept finding sexual subtexts in others:
And another one—I wish I could find a copy of it—features a man and woman in bed. He’s asking, “What are you in the mood for?” She answers, “Something spicy!” Pretty overt. (The cute touch in this one is that she’s blocking her chest with a laptop, which has a pear in lieu of an apple. Which is a bit of a loss, in terms of straight sexual symbolism, even though it does raise the question of what pears represent, and what they cost you.)
My favorite GrubHub ad, however, is actually the one at the top of this post:
(Image taken from here.) I overlooked this one myself, until the more explicit ads taught me how to read them. Four folks, two men and two women, hungry for burritos.
Where are they? I see two readings. In the first, they’re at work in some office: the men have ties, and two sheets of paper litter the ground. The white boxy thing in the image’s center background could then be a photocopier, which would explain why the one woman’s perched on it. This is clearly the end of the workday. (Those two sheets of paper on the ground, then, are copies of…)
In the second, even dirtier reading, the photocopier transforms into a bed, and the four folks (two couples?) are at someone’s home, are in fact in someone’s bedroom. And why are they so happy (or as the ad puts it, so “excited”)? They’re super-hungry? They’re such big fans of Mexican food? No, clearly they’re already in a good mood. I don’t see any alcohol around; maybe they’ve taken ecstasy? No, that’s too much a stretch… But the men are in a state of partial undress, and the one woman’s sitting on the bed. A-ha! We’ve cracked it: they’re ordering burritos as a prelude to group sex.
Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And I suppose the office reading still permits a ménage à quatre. That said, the artist missed a real opportunity here: the man should be saying “¡Fantástico!”
I’m convinced in my orgiastic reading of this last one, although no one else I’ve explained it to has so far quite agreed with me. The fact that more recent GrubHub ads have been tamer has not helped my case:
“She’s so drunk that she thinks the birds are talking.” Pretty weak (although the post I nabbed the above picture from argues that those birds are Twitter mascots, which is cute). Another recent ad—again, sorry no image—features a vampire rejoicing over his ability to order pasta without garlic. Um, he’s a vampire ’cause of Twilight? C’mon, GrubHub! You’ve built your brand on this—don’t disappoint me!