Essay: The Salty Sexual Politics of Cheeseburger Pizza

THESIS: “Sure, people happily go slumming with a 1,000-bacon-strip-covered Burger King without batting an eyelash. But eating a pizza with cheeseburgers surrounding it—essentially just a combination of two great things? (Well, it does sort of have nacho-like toppings as well, so let’s say  three great things…) That isn’t something NICE girls or boys do.

Which is why I argue that this poor, cheesetastic Crown Crust pizza is a victim of sexual politics. It is, perhaps, the last frontier of prudery.”

Crown Crust Pizza

Something occurred on the internet a few days ago that challenged my most cherished beliefs about Twitter and the nature of modern sexuality. So, yes, obviously, it all comes down to pizza.

Mini-cheeseburgers as pizza crust.

No, not the cheeseburger style fillings stuffed inside a pizza crust (that, in certain circles, the very definition of passé). Rather, I speak of a circle of meat-ilicious studs encased by dough and covered with a square of melted cheddar… a circle of several such morsels completely surround a flat bread of mozzarella and happiness. The Crown Crust pizza, it’s called. A product of Pizza Hut (naturally). And, much to my despair, a tantalizing monstrosity only available in the Middle East.

A pizza surrounded by cheese-covered hamburgers. Of course. It is the natural progression of Pizza Hut’s insane genius.

I remember well, that spring night so many years ago when my friend Eve Tobolka and I were planning our weekly America’s Next Top Model meal and excitedly called up Pizza Hut in Toronto to request the “cheesy bites crust” advertised during commercial break. (This was the timid precursor to the Crown Crust, offering only cheese-filled garlic knots as the studded crust of the pie.)

“That’s not available in Canada,” said the voice at the other end of the line.

And thus a small wisp of our youth and optimism expired forever. We ordered the consolation: cheese-stuffed crust. And it was amazing, obviously, and a great thing to shove in your face whilst watching skinny girls stomp along the catwalk in prime time. Yum yum.

And yet, it was like a really great Shirelles song in the time of the Motown Girl Groups. OF COURSE it’s fabulous, but it’s just one of many of the same kind of thing. It’s not a creative explosion. It’s not a market disruption. It’s not, in itself, the birth of a new era.

When I read of the Crown Crust Pizza, I knew I was witnessing such a renaissance in food.

CHEESEBURGER PIZZA. It takes a risk and re-aligns the paradigm and, honestly, I am asking, WHO doesn’t love revolution and cheeseburgers and pizza?

Apparently, those of you whose opinions I turn to on a daily basis: my small, manageable, always entertaining and intriguing list of people I follow on Twitter.

This Crown Pizza had gone viral, and not in that good way. Even the most progressive and normally open-minded folk in my TL were sounding off about the sheer disgust and offense they felt towards this new pizza creation.

To be frank, I can’t remember exactly who was writing about it except for two:

One, Chandler Levack, a plucky music critic, culture writer, prolific Tweet-ess and all-around liberal-minded individual. Due to the difficulties of tracking down old tweets I’m not 100 per cent sure but I believe she linked to the BoingBoing news item on the Crown Crust and wrote, pizzamockeryofsomethingPIZZA

Chandler seems to be, most of the time, a freethinker to the extreme. This is a lady who revels in the edgy, the fun. This is a lady who once started an article for Toronto Life with the quote, “Let’s get drunk and fuck! Let’s get drunk and fuck!” But pizza and cheeseburgers? Too much? For such a progressive writer to balk at this dish so viscerally, it suggested to me that controversy surrounding this menu item is evidence of a tension in our North American culture at large… and that tension is about more than just differences in pizza topping preference.

Then there was another milder comment I recall, though it was striking in that it was offered by such a worldly gentleman, and one who I would assume has seen and opened himself to all sorts of exciting food combinations in the course of his travels:

“Pizza, people. It does not need to be something else,” tweeted Globe and Mail columnist, Doug Saunders, a man to whom I turn for insightful analysis of all things political. Not here, not now. He just shuuuut it down. Sigh.

(***Please note both Chandler and Doug that, first, this is all intended to be taken with a grain of pepperoni, and second, all I meant to say about your Crown Crust reactions was that they surprised me and forced me to question the overwhelming gross-out reaction to the pizza. I don’t mean to say that your tastes/opinions are wrong. I may not agree with your choice of pizza toppings but I’ll fight to the death for your right to snack on them.***)

I’ve had a lot of fun trying to track down other similar tweets in the past few days (if you’re wondering who was Googling TWITTER+YOURNAME+PIZZA+CHEESEBURGER, you know who you are, and I’m right here!) but it was mostly in vain. Rest assured that there were many similar exclamations of disbelief and offended horror from followees who are usually the most liberal of folk.

One pointed me to the LA Times piece that referred to this creation as “a joke” and “silly.” The piece referred to Pizza Hut’s launch earlier in the week of hot dog-stuffed crusts in the UK as “wacky.” AdWeek called the Crown Crust “the most blogged-about disgusting food item of the week,” as well as “a gastric nightmare,” (well, that part is probably a fact).

Anyway, imagine I was able to find these other alleged gross-out tweets and that they said stuff like “EEEYYYWWWWW! This is the pizza equivalent of a barf-storm!” or otherwise pearl-clutching judgmental things such as that. It was a mass reaction that just… well… surprised me. I thought about it a lot.

The arguments seemed to boil down to two main points:

1)   The Crown Crust is disgusting.

2)   The Crown Crust is silly

And my response to both of which is—why is a creative pizza the object of such moral scorn?

We live in a culture that glorifies bizarrely blown-up burgers and hot dogs without thinking twice.

This Women’s Day article pictures hot dogs covered in mac-n-chese, hot dogs pierced with spaghetti, and, HELLO, a hot dog ENCASED IN HAMBURGER and covered with chili, bacon and a fried egg.

Chowhound proudly features, along with eight other “cool and crazy” (note the hip and positive tone) hot dog creations, a wiener covered with marshmallow crème, hot fudge, and melted peanut butter.

And creative/extreme hot dogs are so commonplace in food chains we don’t even think of them as extreme anymore. Chili cheese dogs. THINK ABOUT THAT. But they’re just, meh, another item on the menu at Wendy’s or Dairy Queen. (Check out this crazy DQ vlog about creative hot dog experiments at their stores.)

Things are similar over in flat-patty town. The very interesting and comprehensive burger blog, A Hamburger Today, reports evidence of one hamburger that is 185 pounds in its nigh-exhaustive burger glossary, and gleefully provides video of another from Burger King that is topped with more than 1,000 strips of bacon.

It also calls the recipe for a McDonald’s Big Mac Meal cooked over white rice in a steamer—a sort of Big Mac donburi— a “damn good recipe.”

But as soon as pizza is re-imagined in a way that pushes boundaries, it seems like everyone is actually insulted by the very concept. From virtual hippie to hard-right conservative, all over a pizza pie.

Consider the Food Network show, “Man vs. Food,” in which the host attempts to eat the largest, most over-stuffed and over-topped and impossible-seeming foodstuffs. In one episode the host consumed the delicious giant Colombian hot dog at La Moon in Miami: a foot-long covered with chorizo, bacon, mozzarella, potato sticks, five different sauces—and a quail egg.

But the only pizzas he’s attempted? They’re just big pizzas. An 11-pounder that is essentially just a huge meat-lovers, and a 10-pounder with cheese-stuffed crust. Nothing nearly as exciting as that Colombian Hot Dog. Because audiences can’t handle pizza that pushes boundaries. Because pizza is too precious. It’s the Catholic Madonna (from, y’know, religion…) of fast-food items.

Sure, people happily go slumming with a 1,000-bacon-strip-covered Burger King without batting an eyelash. But eating a pizza with cheeseburgers surrounding it—essentially just a combination of two great things? (Well, it does sort of have nacho-like toppings as well, so let’s say  three great things…) That isn’t something NICE girls or boys do.

Which is why I argue that this poor, cheesetastic Crown Crust pizza is a victim of sexual politics. It is, perhaps, the last frontier of prudery.

I normally despise reductionist cultural analysis, but in this case I can’t help but conflate the hamburger and hot dog with male-ness an the pizza with female-ness and the fact that we’re saying NO to experiments with said lady pizza, well… it does smack a bit of Kate Millett.Mmmpizzaaa

Just think about the act of consuming a hot dog versus the act of consuming a pizza. I don’t think I need to paint any more of a picture for you to see why one is dude-like and the other not so much when viewed through a sexy lens. But it kind of doesn’t matter whether a pizza is a lady or a man. When we look deep inside ourselves I’m fairly sure we can all acknowledge that the motivations behind consuming “luxury food” (as opposed to “necessity food”) items like giant cheeseburger pizzas are certainly somehow blurred with sexual desire. It’s all about the carnal.

 Paris and burgerI’m not the only one who’s connected the Crown Crust with sexuality. A tweet from @gorooble, a.k.a. David Preece – I have no idea who this fellow is but I did randomly come across his update whilst searching for Chandler’s— said this: “”

You might rebut: “Brianna, don’t be so squeamish. Our culture lauds all sorts of pizzas!” And, to be sure, the breakfast pizza model, such as the bacon and egg pizza at Little Dom’s in LA does come to mind.

But such things tend to exist in obscurity. Small restaurants. Single establishments. A quiet alternative existence.

The sin of the Crown Crust was its mass-marketability. We are comfortable with fringe pizzas so long as they are, you know, on the fringes. But as soon as something new or exciting is endorsed by a major pizza chain, well, it’s the flatbread version of a corner ho’ talkin’ smack.

As quoted in the LA Times article on the Crown Crust:

“Major food companies, such as Pizza Hut… and mega-chain McDonald’s are expanding outside the  U.S. to tap a growing consumer base with increasingly adventurous tastes.

The pizza scene is much tamer at home, where Domino’s artisan pies are considered a breakthrough in the business. Diners are more health-conscious, less given over to excess…”

And yet, “business is booming, with 41% of Americans saying they eat pizza once a week compared to just 26% two years ago.”

So, PIZZA, what we’re saying here in North America is that we have needs and you are there to satisfy them but for this system to work you really have to just remain your untainted self.

As so many things around us change and fall and are ripped out from under our feet, we just need you to stay the perfect, virginal pizza we know and love and you will forever remain a lovely little girl who does what she’s told and maybe if you’re good you’ll get a lolly after we conservatively eat you for dinner.

The End.


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