Did Andy Warhol really eat a hamburger “just like everybody else”?

If you like art, you certainly know the video “Andy Warhol eating a hamburger.” This latter is an excerpt from the film “66 Scenes from America”, directed by Jørgen Leth.

Jørgen Leth is a Danish filmmaker who arrived in the USA in the 80s.
There, he decided to create a film about America — how it was to live in this country at that time. So, in his film, we can see things such as landscapes, motels, diners, inhabitants’ portraits, highways, and also things related to the American culture.
In 1982, Jørgen Leth realized a documentary film entitled « 66 scenes from America ». This film depicts various scenes and among them, we can see people talking and doing different everyday things across the United States.
The excerpt with Andy Warhol is one of the documentary’s scenes.
It is said that Jørgen Leth was really obsessed with Andy Warhol and he went to see him in the Factory. He presented his idea to him and the Pop Art artist accepted.
According to some websites, Andy Warhol accepted because he liked the idea but also because the way it was going to be shot was really related to his own style: a single shot film with just one camera.

The video lasts almost 4.30 minutes and here’s what happens:
Andy Warhol is sat in front of a table. On the table, there’s a Burker King’s Bag (so we can presume that’s there at least one burger inside) and a ketchup bottle. At first, Andy Warhol is looking at the camera and probably at the filmmaker. Then, he grabs the bag and takes a paper napkin and a burger (a Whopper) out of it. He gets the burger out of its box and hardly puts some ketchup on the paper (he even says “it’s not coming out”).
Then he dips his Whopper in the ketchup and starts to eat his burger.
Generally speaking, he eats small bites in a very slow way.
From time to time, he cleans the stuff in front of him, but he seems hesitant.
He doesn’t seem to really enjoy his burger. In the middle of the video, he even removes a part of it. As if it was already too much for him. Besides, he doesn’t even finish the other part.
Then he puts the rest of the burger back in the box, cleans himself with the napkin, and puts everything back in the Burger King’s Bag.
He ‘folds’ the bag and moves it and the ketchup bottle on the left of the table.
Then he folds his fingers and looks at the camera. But he quickly looks everywhere as if he didn’t know what to do. Almost one minute later he finally says “My name is Andy Warhol and I’ve just finished eating a hamburger”.
Then a voice-over says “Burger, New York” and music starts to play.

Reading the summary I’ve just written, I understand that this video can seem awfully boring if you’ve never watched it. And visually, it’s not something incredible either. It’s a frontal video with a quite simple set. Yet, there’s something really fascinating and appealing about it. It’s really the kind of video that you can watch from time to time and still find pleasure in it. But what makes it so captivating?

When I started to work on this topic, I noticed that, for many people, the fact that Andy Warhol ate a burger and ended up saying “My name is Andy Warhol and I just finished eating a hamburger” really gave the impression that he was like everyone else. That this gesture made him look ordinary. He could have said, “Look, I‘m just like you, I eat burgers too” and the result would have been the same. Besides, the burger isn’t the only ‘object’ that could have made him ordinary, his very ‘American businessman’ suit could also make him blend in.

Of course, Andy Warhol ate a burger like many people in this world. Like us, he struggled to get the ketchup to flow (we’d like to say “yes, we’ve been there too, Andy”). Like many of us, he put the ketchup on the paper so he could dip his burger in it, and like us sometimes, he didn't seem really convinced by his fast-food meal. By that, yes, he was like us.
Burger Kind even showed an excerpt from this video during the 2019 Super Bowl final with the Hashtag “Eat like Andy”. As if he’d been one of the first influencers.

But let’s be honest: in reality, the video’s success makes Andy Warhol even more legendary, even more extraordinary, and therefore even more ‘remote’ from us. This video heightens the myth; it’s fascinating to see him eat what we eat too. The silence that sets in as we watch him eat, as if we were looking at a painting in a museum. It’s fascinating to see that he was like us. But in reality, I think he’ll never be and never would have been like us. Like many artists, he gave off (and still gives off) an aura and a certain sense of immortality that makes everything he did so captivating. And I think it’s impossible to get rid of that aura, to make yourself ordinary when you’ve shown such singularity. He could have been filmed eating a pizza in front of a Netflix series, it wouldn’t have made any difference. This is what always creates an irreversible gap between us and celebrities. Because yes, once we‘ve eaten our burger, we don’t have a Factory to go to, paintings to exhibit at the American Center, or friends like Ed Sedgwick to meet. We can all consume the same things, engage in the same daily activities, but it won’t change what we are in the other’s eyes, will it?

Even though I think there’s a total contradiction between the content and the video’s popularity, I think Jørgen Leth’s video is a real good one. Everyone I know who’s watched it has loved it. It’s a ‘simple’ (I don’t mean that in a pejorative way) but mesmerizing video. You can’t help but watch it to the end. And, as I already said, it’s always a pleasure to watch it again from time to time. The video is only 4.28 minutes long, the action could be summed up in 5 words, and yet it easily gives rise to very interesting discussions. It’s something ‘almost ordinary’ that gives us something to think about, and for that, it’s a real stroke of genius.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store