The Fallacy of Phallus: How the BTS Meal Unveiled How Society Still Dislikes Teenage Girls

By Regina Toh

Another year has passed, yet BTS still demonstrates that their hold on the industry is incomparable to any other. Although BTS’s involvement may have flown under the radar this time around, make no mistake; the marketing for McDonald’s newest launch of the Jjang! Jjang! Burger has been explicitly punctuated by BTS’s character creations from the Line Friends series. 

It has spurred me to recall how it has already been nearly two years ago when BTS unveiled their first “McDonald’s Meal” to the world, and Singapore had been one of the fortunate ones to have been able to experience the band’s fast-food concoction. Sure, it had arguably been a surprisingly unimaginative release for all the publicity it had behind it; objectively a terribly hidden marketing ploy to sell something unimpressive by plainly plastering the group’s faces to the product. But instead of speaking about the quality of the food, I want to instead discuss the people who reviewed it; who in my opinion, are a lot more fascinating to understand. 

I was compelled to write this article after coming across this BTS Meal Review by YouTube Channel ‘A Singaporean Life.’ In his video, he was evidently hostile towards the band’s partnership with the fast-food chain. While he had scattered backhanded and outrightly rude remarks throughout the video about the group, it was at the end of the video, where he made it a point to film himself deliberately tearing and ruining the packaging before he filmed himself discarding it into the bin, that had provoked something peculiar within me.  

The crude and almost childish way he performed this act was in direct reference to the publicized way fans had saved the packaging as a way to sentimentalize the group’s newest endeavor; treating the material as precious in contrast to how he ruthlessly desecrated it for his audience to revel in the supposed schadenfreude. 

What continued to make this issue one that stuck with me were his own comments that were meant to clarify his position in this mess he has made; where in my opinion, he continued to dig himself further in by inarticulately calling the fans that were unhappy with his outwardly belligerent attitude “10 year old KPop bigots.” He states that his review was of the food and not the band; that they should be able to recognize that his criticism was targeted at two separate things. But his purposefully dramatic display of how dismissive he is of the band and the subculture they are part of says otherwise. 

Credit: YouTube

This YouTube channel was not the only place to have done this, but it quickly became a trend to post evidence of your ruined and carelessly discarded BTS meal, eaten or not. 

While I do not go out of my way to listen to BTS’s music, I found this trend to be appalling but also one of great anthropological interest. The way that he and many others needed to blatantly spell out their disapproval of BTS and their fans smelt of something familiar; something that I endlessly encountered in my adolescence whenever I took part in a collective interest that mainly involved girls of the same age I was. 

This trend of feminine-oriented subject matter being seen as worth the condescension it receives is nothing new. In the 2000s, the popular sentiment was that female-targeted films had no real cinematic merit; for instance, the term “chick-flick” is synonymous with low-grade films that are not meant to be taken seriously. In the 2010s, the advent of the internet saw an evolution of such consumption pathologies, with Twilight being the ultimate victim of their fans being overwhelmingly shamed for their interest. 

Today, we see that the discourse has reversed entirely, with prominent commentators becoming aware of the internalized misogyny they held when it came to their past critique of Twilight. As YouTuber Sarah Z finds, many have come to revisit Twilight again, whereupon they began to recognize the role they played in their over-degradation of Twilight and the culture associated with it. This would then spur them towards delving deeper into psychoanalyzing the instinctive mentality to minimize and undermine female subcultural interests. 

The person who arguably brought about the biggest pivot to this discourse is prominent YouTube critic and author, Lindsay Ellis, who speaks of feeling apologetic and revisionist of her past approach to Twilight. She similarly disclaims that she does not think that Twilight deserves to be seen in the same likes as Oscar-winning classics that will outlast our lifetimes, just like how I do not contend that the BTS Meal is or ever was a culinary innovation to behold. However, it is disappointing to witness that we have not outgrown our overly unwarranted disdain for the things that primarily girls, young or old, are interested in. 

The thing about this type of misogyny is how almost cunning it is. After all, the meal was universally and objectively considered shallow and disappointing even among fans, so the way that ‘A Singaporean Life’ echoed this sentiment should not be of one that is considered wrong by any means. Fans should never gatekeep BTS and invalidate criticism; making them empowered to become unaccountable and infallible would just further degrade the fandom and its reputation, wouldn’t it? 

Detractors often depend on this bad-faith fallacy when they come into the conversation and spit their unwarranted attack onto the fans. Objectively, the demonstration of the deliberate ruin and discard of the BTS packaging is not the most constructive way to demonstrate your problems with BTS and their fans. In fact, I argue that doing so arises from the need to protect and enhance one’s masculinity. 

Take the phrase, or rather, “praise”, “She’s not like other girls” — a backhanded impression to have on someone at best. Behind its banality lies a condescension that has been brought to light with the recent events surrounding the instinctive need to direct excessive critique on female-oriented media. It not only culturally convinces young girls that they have to strive for validation by the same men that are dictating what is good and bad media, but it tells girls that they have to repress their feminine wills and reject the very media they are catered towards; because being like “other girls” is bad, and thus being excluded from being categorized as such is framed as a prideful thing to strive for. 

On the other hand, male-targeted films that are objectively bad are not as panned to the extent as the ones we see on the female spectrum. Ellis also brings up such male-oriented media that are objectively questionable in quality, such as the Fast and Furious, Transformers and Ready Player One franchises, yet they do not receive the same amount of derision. 

In fact, it has been theorized that men specifically gatekeep these male-dominated interests from women in order to protect it from being “tainted” by the femininity that girls will carry with them into their spaces, diluting its masculinity and making these interests a bane on their own. It speaks to a subconscious level of calculative perception where men have the proclivity to “test” women on their knowledge and familiarity if they would also like to be included. For example, if you identify as female and are a fan of video games, or an avid participant in the ongoing saga within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is not unheard of for one to experience the odd requirement of proving yourself worthy to be seen as part of the subculture. 

Men do not just enforce these “tests” onto women, but they institute a different kind of test among themselves as well. Because masculinity is seen as something that is earned, they often experience the compulsion to perform irrationally in ways that would grant it to them. What makes it more insidious is that the arbiter of masculinity is often themselves, which speaks to low self-esteem when they do not think of themselves as manly enough that they project these feelings of inadequacy outwards. It manifests in ways where these men act out with the aim to put others down; particularly women, in order to be deemed as mightier, and thereupon, manlier. A mediocre fast-food endorsement thus provided the cover for a legitimate charge to levy against and target the majority female BTS fanbase.

Credit: Mothership.SG

The intense wave of success and reverence BTS has been experiencing has inevitably caught some attention from people invested in pop-culture. But it was the McDonald’s Meal where BTS had seemingly chartered into a space that is shared by the general public and is widely put out for their intended consumption, rather than the allocated niche spaces where it was acceptable to embrace their brand. Thereby, the McDonald’s Meal inadvertently became the “test” whereby BTS and their fans would find themselves being given the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of wide and unabashed public acceptance where it would no longer be cringeworthy to admit that BTS’s content was enjoyable to consume. The stakes for this meal release thus went far beyond whether it was delicious, and the critics that went above and beyond to determine that it was not, was subliminally emphasizing the message that they had graded this test a big fat ‘F’. 

There is undeniably something for those who partake in the ostentatious display of distaste for the BTS meal to gain — the compensation towards their perceived underperformance within their self-constructed gendered politics. Arguably, doing so asserts their separation from enjoying something so female-driven, as well as distance themselves as far as possible from femininity, which would prove themselves to be of masculine worth over those that have yet to do so.

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