Chelsea C. brought our attention to this billboard for McDonald’s coffee or McCafe:

90210 is the zip code for Beverly Hills, a notoriously rich neighborhood in California. And, Chelsea explains, 48503 is a zip code in Flint, Michigan.

The ad is interesting to me because of the double meaning of taste (hello Bourdieu!). Taste refers to how things taste on your tongue (literally the taste of the coffee), but it also refers to who has good versus bad taste (people with good taste are “high class” and they like things like classical music and caviar). The idea that this ad is capitalizing (pun intended!) on both meanings of the word taste is supported by the use of the term “cafe” in “McCafe” and the portrayal of a fancy coffee drink (“Mochas”).

So the ad is saying that, even if you live in Flint and don’t have the economic resources of someone who lives in Beverly Hills, you can have the taste of expensive coffee because, of course, expensive coffee is to your taste.

There is something interesting here that ties into our consumer culture and wide range of advertising, television programming, and Paris Hilton-watching that encourages us to aspire to be just like the rich. This means buying expensive things that you can’t really afford and/or valuing things that mark you as a high class person with good taste (such as Mochas from McCafe, if that’s the best you can do). There is no questioning as to whether it’s a good idea for everyone to aspire to such heights, whether there is something problematic in the disparity between 90210 and 48503, or even whether it’s true that the rich have better “taste.” So, ultimately, the hierarchy goes unchallenged while we all just jocky for position.

This reminds me of the moment in the Sex and the City movie when Carrie realizes that her assistant, Louise, rents super-expensive purses even though she is too poor to buy them.  Carrie is impressed by Louise’s “taste” and her dedication to having “the best” things even if they are completely inessential and renting them only exacerbates the fact that she doesn’t have oodles of cash.

So, yeah, I think this billboard plays into that.