Opinion

Burger King's body spray

You know you're in the throes of hard economic times when one of the most talked-about gift ideas of the holiday season is body spray from Burger King. You heard me right. There's a new burger in town, and it's not a burger at all. It's a fragrance called Flame by BK (pour hommespour hommes, presumably).

Maybe you heard the late-night talk-show hosts joking about it and assumed the product was an urban myth spread by some truant, meat-obsessed teenager. Or maybe you were so intrigued, you threw on your bathrobe, jumped in the car and hit the nearest BK drive-through in search of a midnight Whopper and some beefy love potion.

Either scenario would have left you dismayed. Flame, which costs $3.99 a spray bottle and, according to the company, has "the scent of seduction, with a hint of flame-broiled meat," is no joke. Nor, alas, is it available at Burger King. You have to buy it at a Ricky's drugstore in New York, which has an exclusive deal, or on Burger King's "Fire Meets Desire" website, which features its king mascot reclining by a fire and clothed in nothing but an animal fur. Make that, you had to buy it at those places. By Monday, it was sold out at both and going for $73 and up on EBay.

That's really too bad because, when it comes to scent-related items, not even the bacon-lettuce-and-tomato-scented candle set (a real thing) held a candle to Burger King cologne. Talk about the ultimate gift: Exclusive yet cheap, a joke yet not a joke, repellent yet highly coveted, Flame is ("was"? Are they planning to make more? Only that near-naked king knows for sure) that rare item that earnestly embodies a concept (meat-scented cologne) while commenting on the dripping irony of that concept (meat-scented cologne). In other words, what we have here is something that can be just as easily enjoyed by hipsters as by Sarah Palin. Maybe that EBay price tag wasn't so outrageous after all.

Of course, with the holidays mostly behind us, Flame's flame is surely set to extinguish by the time you're done reading this column. As good a stocking stuffer as it was (if you were lucky enough to find the spray before the thing became the Tickle Me Elmo of 2008), it does seem more likely to produce body odor than to mask it and, therefore, might not make the leap from novelty holiday item to legitimate Valentine's Day or anniversary gift.

But Rachel Herz, a psychology professor at Brown University and the author of "The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell," points out that there's a growing -- if still small -- market for fragrances that re-create body odors. And while Flame doesn't explicitly fall into that category (though there's often a fine line between the scent of a Whopper and the scent of an unshowered teenage hockey player), it does represent a departure from traditional notions of what smells good.

"The French perfumer Etat Libre d'Orange introduced a product this year called Sécrétions Magnifiques that's supposed to smell like a mix of blood, sweat and semen," Herz said. "And the fashion designer Tom Ford has a cologne called Black Orchid that he's said he intended to smell like a man's crotch."

So there are worse things than smelling like a Whopper after all! Besides, do enough Googling and you find no end of other seemingly misguided fragrance concepts, including Eau de Stilton (yes, as in the cheese), L'Artisan Parfumeur's Dzing!, which is supposed to smell "like the circus," and such Demeter Fragrance Library cologne sprays as Earthworm, Cannabis Flower and Dirt. From there, it's a short imaginative leap to devising your own fragrance, or at least a name for it. A glance around my house inspired such ideas as Dog, Expired Milk and Chain-Smoking Refrigerator Repairman. Are you reading this, Tom Ford? I think we could do some business together.

Let's face it. As unconventional as Flame may sound at first, the fact remains that it's tapping into one of our most primal relationships: the relationship between man and meat. That's why, Herz points out, men who wear Flame are theoretically likely to be successful in attracting people to them -- as long as those people are other men. "Meat is at the top of the list in terms of male-rated smell," she says. "Men rate the smell of meat the way women rate chocolate."

So, memo to Burger King: If you want to keep your heterosexual male customers, better get that chocolate-shake-scented aftershave out pronto. In the meantime, kudos to the "King" for having the courage to be himself. Assuming he managed to stock up on Flame before it sold out, he should have Ronald McDonald swooning in no time.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

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