Today, I almost got killed by Darth Vader.

That's hyperbole, but only barely so. In fact, if you live in the United States, Darth Vader is trying to kill you too. Allow me to explain. If you live in the United States, it's virtually impossible to escape the ad blitz that is Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Part of this marketing frenzy is Burger King's "Choose Your Destiny" game1. The idea behind the game is simple: on various food products, a game piece can be found, which when removed reveals two scratch-off Death Stars. The consumer then chooses one of the two, revealing either a prize or a consolation message. The catch is that every card has a prize on it ranging from a sandwich on a return visit to the $1,000,000 grand prize, thus the promotional catch phrase :

"Your choices define your destiny. Choose wisely."2

Ironic, isn't it? According to the Burger King website, 152,024,297 game pieces will be distributed- 4,623,000 on promotional advertisements in major newspapers with coupons encouraging a subsequent visit to Burger King3. The remainder are found in-store on such healthful choices as their 42-ounce King Drink, the six hundred calories-large King Fries, or the seven hundred, sixty calories and fifty grams of saturated fat Enormous Omelet sandwich.4

The intended message is "choose Burger King and you'll be choosing fantastic prizes". But if you read between the fine print on the official game rules, it's "choose Type-2 diabetes5 or a small hash brown". Or maybe it's "choose obesity6 or a twelve-ounce coffee"? Perhaps it's "choose an $0.89 hamburger or a Campylobacteria, Escherichia coli or Salmonella infection"7. How about "choose twenty dollars in gift certificates or contribute to an industry that produces an estimated 5300 serious burn injuries in teenagers a year8, many of which result in nerve damage and/or skin grafts, all while paying barely above minimum wage"?

Or best yet, the grand prize: "choose to receive a 'you are not a winner' message or appreciably increase your risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, adult onset diabetes, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, endometrial, breast, prostate and colon cancers9, dyslipidemia, steatohepatitis, insulin resistance, breathlessness, asthma, hyperuricaemia, reproductive hormone abnormalities, polycystic ovarian syndrome, impaired fertility and lower back pain10". Yes, that's right. Even if you're lucky and manage to get the one game piece with the million dollar prize, you still stand a one in two chance of getting nothing more than a pithy 'play again' message and a chance to shorten your lifespan.

You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that George Lucas is going to earn more money than anyone could reasonably spend in a lifetime starting earlier today at midnight when the conclusion to the prequel trilogy opens. Millions of fanboys are standing in line right now playing a strange combination of a SCA duel and scouting jamboree. These lines for tickets only serve to increase the hype of opening night, leading to even bigger lines. The production cost of the movie is being quoted as $115 million11. Lucasfilm will make that in the first weekend. And not only will they recoup their costs in ticket sales, they're being paid for permission to advertise the movie by Burger King, Frito-Lay, Cingular, Moviefone, Kellogg's, Pepsi, Lego, and Mars chocolate! They're getting free airtime from Fox on The O.C. and from the NBA playoffs11.

Now pause for a second and wonder how many of those corporations were pounding down the doors to advertise for National Bike-to-Work week, which coincidentally happens to be this week12? None, of course. Even more ironically, most Americans are oblivious to the benefits of riding a bicycle instead of driving a car, and instead choose to play a game that will almost certainly result in their loss and fantastic profits for the corporations. Oblivious to the tune of a million slaughtered animals an hour. Oblivious to the tune of sixty percent obesity rates. Oblivious to the tune of seventy four million customers and $300 million a day. 13

The League of American Bicyclists states a few interesting facts in this year's "Why Bike to Work?" information packet14:

  • The number of communities that will fall out of compliance with the Clean Air Act will triple this decade. Motorized vehicles are responsible for 70% of the carbon monoxide, 45% of the nitrogen dioxide, and 34% of the hydrocarbons people produce. It goes without saying that bicycles contribute none.
  • Seven out of ten Americans will get less than thirty minutes of physical activity today. If they got a half an hour of exercise today, they could cut their rate of heart disease and stroke in half.
  • Today, the cars of the United States will burn 17.3 million barrels of oil. Bicycling requires virtually no petroleum products.
  • By bicycling at a leisurely pace for a half an hour each way, a 150 pound rider burns 500 calories. This is five to ten pounds of body weight over two to three months.
  • The cost of operating a bicycle this year ($300) is a tenth of operating an automobile this year ($3000).
  • The average cost of a new car is $13,532. The average cost of a new bicycle is $385.
  • Bicyclists report feeling closer to their community and the environment, while reporting less stress. This replaced the 30 hours a year that the average American will spend in stuck in traffic and searching for parking.

Strangely enough, the vast majority of us will be compelled by "the Dark Side of The Force" to scratch off a game card today instead of going for a ride. Surprising, isn't it?

I should admit my bias though: I've been riding bicycles for most of my adult life. When my friends in high school all received cars as presents from their parents or slavishly worked at fast food restaurants to buy a beater, I rode a bike to school. Last year, I logged 6,547 miles on a bike. I drove my car a little over five thousand miles- the most I've ever driven in a year. But it gets better: I haven't seen any of the Star Wars movies in their entirety, let alone in the theatres (the closest I came was falling asleep in the middle of The Clone Wars). Really, I have no connection to either the movies or the marketing frenzy that has surrounded them. I don't go to movies, I don't drink soda, I don't eat fast food or junk food, and I've outgrown construction toys and video games. So today, for resisting his vast Media EmpireTM, the Dark Lord Sith sent his ruthless army of Stormtrooper-costumed fanboys to kill me.

It's been getting really bad lately. The cars that used to scream along Route 50 and 301 on their way to the Beltway have moved into downtown Annapolis to escape the construction. They've brought their Beltway driving habits with them. Last week, a black Ford pickup truck with oversized tires and Maryland plates waited at a stop light next to me. One shouted through the rolled down passenger window with a bad southern accent "Hey Lance, get off the road, faggot!" Then they squealed their tires and spit diesel smoke from the stove pipe exhaust on their old truck when the light turned green. I'll admit that I have a nice pair of legs that might even look good in a little black dress. But I shave my legs because I've got scars from where the doctors had trouble extricating the pavement chunks from being in bad accidents, not because I've got the hots for tobbacco-spitting pickup drivers.

But today, it came to a head. While riding down West Street (the major two lane thoroughfare out of town), two overweight teenagers with old burger wrappers and empty cups on the dashboard cut across both lanes. The two motorists then swooped into the Burger King. One was wearing a dark brown robe, the other a white plastic Halloween suit. That's right, pod racing in rusted out import sedans has come to Maryland, and I almost got killed by Obi-Wan Kenobi and a Stormtrooper on their way to the finish line. What was the prize for winning the race? One of 31 collectible "Super-D" toys, each with "a unique movie-related function, now in Burger King's Kids Meals!"15

What is it with Burger King and irony?16

So if you drive an early nineties, rust brown Honda Accord, and like to dress up like you're a Jedi Knight, and your strong Force powers exempt you from the traffic laws of Maryland where you got your license plates, and you just happened to cut off a bicyclist on a United States Postal Service livery17 Trek Madone 5.218, you'll be glad to know my Force powers are strong too. When you jumped two lanes, I slammed on my brakes and negotiated a fish tail skid. Sliding towards a sewer grate and inevitable trip over the handlebars, I barely bunny hopped the bike over the curb, ruining a $750 pair of carbon Bontrager Race X Lite19 wheels.

Seriously though, I'm looking out for your best interests, since it's clear that you're certainly not. I hope that the two of you had a girl dressed like Queen Amidala who held your place in line, and that you didn't fall asleep at the movie like you were asleep at the wheel today.

Ok, so it's a rant. But it's a well researched rant. No, I'm not a Liberal.

  3. Ibid.
  16. Ibid. If you look at the top of the page, the phrases "CHILDREN'S PRIVACY POLICY" and "HEY KIDS, THIS IS ADVERTISING" are displayed. Just in case you had any questions about whether Burger King cared about you.

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