Andy Warhol eats a burger

Via Kottke.

This video does pretty much what it says on the package, and I found it strange and unsettling in unexpected ways. My first reaction was, “ech, I don’t want to watch anyone eat a hamburger. That’s disgusting.”

I don’t know if that’s a normal response or not. I realize, I watch people eat hamburgers all the time — at lunch today, for example, but I was eating one too, and I wasn’t *watching*, exactly, so it didn’t feel weird. Also in advertisements for burger joints, but that’s really watching someone *acting* like they are eating a hamburger. Even if they really are eating it, there is so much of the performative involved that it hardly feels like you’re witnessing a bodily function. Sitting there, watching someone eat — especially eat with his hands — is actually not something most of us do regularly, and I’m probably not the only person who feels shy about it.

My next thought was, “well, that’s presumably the point of the video — to force the viewer to undergo this unpleasant experience, and maybe make him wonder why exactly it is so unpleasant.” So, since I’m a good consumer of conceptual art, that decided me: I’d watch the video.

But what surprised me was how not disgusting it was. Warhol does not chew with his mouth open, or talk while he eats, or make smacking noises, or get ketcup on his chin. He eats slowly, politely, looking a little bored throughout. It is — strange to say — a convincing performance. I can believe that this video pretty well approximates what was like to sit across from Andy Warhol while he ate lunch. His hand movements are a little delicate, but I’m also slightly surprised at how normal he seems, fright wig and all. He doesn’t come across as particularly dramatic or self-conscious or effete or provocative. Just a man with relatively good manners, eating a hamburger.

What is even weirder is that this, somehow, makes it even harder to watch. I couldn’t resist the compulsion to look away a couple of times, or focus on some other part of the screen than Warhol’s face. His very normality makes the performance all the more vulnerable, compared to if he were being either deliberately or thoughtlessly gross. There’s a slightly uncomfortable intimacy at play that is, in its own way, quite shocking.

This all without even getting into the tropes of celebrity, branding, and commodity that are obviously present here as well.

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