The backdrop to the advert (which can be viewed below) is that a trio of humans of the male variety are sat at a table in their local KFC chain, each trying to 'out-man' each other. One of the three is clearly seen to be struggling more than his companions, trying hard but ultimately failing to prove how masculine he is with talk of his latest big-screen TV purchase. A friend across the table subtly informs him that he opted only for the 19", "because I'm a man". A third friend, armed with a KFC 'Mega Box' also immediately out-guns him in the bravado department when he arrives with his cardboard box of deep fried goods. So far, so hum drum.
The advert takes a slightly sinister turn when the apparent 'loser' of the group is reminded, mockingly, of his affection for scented candles. In a vain attempt to defend this apparently ridiculous and feminine appreciation, the poor chap blurts out "you know those candles help with my anxiety!". A simple, throwaway gag you might think, designed to achieve nothing more than a cheap laugh and increased sales of fried chicken. The premise behind the gag however, when closely scrutinised, is that the man who suffers from anxiety and uses scented candles in an attempt to alleviate his symptoms, is somehow less of a man than his very manly friends.
Anxiety is a real-life problem which many millions of people struggle with daily. Real anxiety, the kind that affects a human being's ability to work, to socialise, even to raise a family, is not the sort of issue that those who struggle with should expect to see laughed at on national television. The portrayal of anxiety in KFC's advert promotes the idea that those who experience it are somehow 'weak', the suggestion being that the anxiety sufferer and his candles are viewed by his friend as something to be mocked, belittling the man's attempt to join them in their masculinity contest.
As someone who lives with Social Anxiety Disorder, KFC's willingness to promote this idea of weakness in mental health sufferers doesn't sit comfortably with me. I should add at this point that I am a big believer in freedom of speech and, when it comes to comedy, would always stand up for the artist's right to go to any length and any subject in order to achieve his goal of making his audience laugh. It's perhaps true that people are too quick to complain about things nowadays, inspecting every aspect of everything to ensure it meets their standards. Sure, no-one has the right 'not to be offended'. Offence is subjective and, in the cold light of day, a 30 second television advert probably isn't the most important thing to be worked up about in life. That said however, is it really right and proper to accept, when 1 in 4 of us experiences a mental health issue at some stage in our lives, that a fast-food chain can so openly contribute to the myth and the lie that mental health sufferers are somehow 'weak' or, in the case of men, lacking in masculinity?
In a world in which suicide remains the most common cause of death in men aged under 35, it seems bizarre to me that this sort of lie about mental health issues can be perpetuated on our television sets. Promoting the myth that experiencing mental health issues is somehow a sign of weakness, particularly amongst men, is, at best, distasteful and, at worst, dangerous.
For clarity, I'll repeat what I said above about my being very much a supporter of freedom of speech, even where it offends. I don't want the KFC advert banned or anything and actually, having written what I have, I'm already bored thinking about it. If they're free to suggest that anxiety sufferers are 'weak' however, I'm certainly also free to suggest that their advertising staff are idiots whose humour stood a slim chance of being funny 20 years or so ago. For good measure (and to return to the topic of food), I'll also throw in the undisputed fact that their chicken is actually very, very average and is commonly delivered to customers with far more grease than they like to include in their 'amusing' adverts.
In short, fuck KFC. I do like fried chicken though. And scented candles.