By Burke Burkean
Freud both provokes and begs the question of whether one does, indeed,
have milk. For Freud, this is of the most primal and basic of questions
as it raises the dialectical issue of both overt and subliminal desire.
The widespread and enduring popularity of the ad campaign (it is one
of the most successful in American history) demonstrates that there
is, in fact, a fixation upon the issue of milk.
This fixation is of the first and primary stage, the Oral Stage. The
"Got Milk?" campaign provides much evidence of this stage
through the inherent mechanism of milk transference and the resultant
presentations of desire and satisfaction. Plainly put, the id desires
milk. Milk, as commonly understood by the consumer, appears most often
in a glass - around which the desiring individual places his/her lips.
As the lips are, by nature, the most sensorial apparti of the oral stage,
it is not surprising to consider that the most familiar and reassuring
substance is milk. (Consider the reassuring and soporific effects of
warm milk.) Drinking milk in the medium of a smooth glass (mimicking
the smoothness of the mother's breast skin) connects the drinker to
her/his mother. To drink milk both satiates the drinker and elicits
sexual desire for one's mother. Therefore, to ask the question "Do
you have milk?" is to confront the viewer of the advertisement
with the suppressed desire for one's mother. This elicitation is also
connected to the common command by one's mother to "Drink your
Drinking milk reaffirms the power that the mother has over the child.
The more the child drinks, the more of an oral fixation the child will
have and the more sexual desire the child will contain. Advertisers
exploit the issue of the male son growing up to defeat his father by
promising such results as "healthy teeth and bones," "great
skin and hair," and "great muscle tone." With the promise
of sexual virility and the encouragement by the mother to drink milk,
the son continues to obey his mother in order that he may grow strong
enough to replace his father as the male ideal for his mother, as the
established authority, and as the apex of power. Thus, the older milk
slogan of "Milk. It does a body good" provides the foundation
for enticement by the male son to supplant the dominating father by
the very wishes of the commanding mother.
Let us turn to two examples of the "Got Milk?" campaign.
The first is the extremely popular print ads of celebrities and attractive
people, found commonly in The
Milk Mustache Book: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at America's Favorite Advertising
The so-called "milk mustache" easily demonstrates the desire
for milk drinkers to embody an adult male persona for sexual gratification
of the female (consider the popularity of male stars of adult films
during the 1970s. A full and prominent mustache means a large, powerful,
and satiating penis). In this book both men and women are photographed
with milk mustaches. The milk mustache which adorns a woman's upper
lip is an oral stage exemplum of penis envy. Dialectically, they desire
milk and are satiated by milk (evidenced by the self-satisfied and smug
look on their faces after having engaged in the subliminal act of nursing).
On the other hand, there is the more overt penis envy demonstrated by
the parallel of the mark of oral sex. The "milkiness" of semen
around the woman's mouth is very similar to that of the milk mustache.
The smug look on the woman's face offers the sign that she is willing
to perform oral sex and finds pleasure from it. Similarly, the male
with a milk mustache presents, dialectically, the desire for both masculinity
through the facsimile of facial hair, and the subliminal fear of having
a small penis - thus, offering a display of willingness to take in a
penis through the mechanism of the mouth. As the classic display of
homosexuality is that of the 1970s mustache, the male milk mustache
provides an example of one's own passiveness and the id's desire for
the stimulation of the anus, phallus, and genitals demonstrated in the
second, third, and fifth stages.
The most famous example of the "Got Milk?" ad campaign is
also one of the most popular ads in American history, thus providing
the innate power of the Oral Stage (it has given many people over the
years much pleasure to talk about it). The "Aaron
Burr" commercial from 1993 provides a number of examples of
Freudian codes. Perhaps, the best way to psychoanalyze this commercial
is to break it down in sequential order and let the mere presentation
of each bit speak for itself.
The scene opens up with a gradual close-up shot of a man preparing
a sandwich. Immediately, there is desire to put something in his mouth.
Various shots show the man's obsession with Alexander Hamilton, Secretary
of the Treasury. Here, we see that the man evidently has an obsessive
fixation to collect and control in an anal-retentive and ordered manner.
Classical music plays in the background (another example of elitist
fussiness). As the music ends, the disc jockey says that the composition
is the "Vienna Wood Dance in D." Must I REALLY comment on
this? I didn't think so. The composition is by Mozart, who (like Freud)
lived in Vienna - a known European hotspot for both Eighteenth and Nineteenth
Century sex (but more repressed in the Twentieth with the fascism and
As we see the close-up shot of the man shoving the phallic, rolled-up
peanut butter sandwich ENTIRELY into his mouth, the disc jockey announces
a contest for $10,000 to the person, who can answer a trivia question,
called at random.
When he asks the question "Who shot Alexander Hamilton in that
famous duel?", a display of two long pistols, their suspended barrels
pointed towards each other just inches away from touching tips, is presented
accompanied with two gun shots and a final climactic explosion.
The thud of an anxious heartbeat accompanies images that this man is
obsessed with the death of Alexander Hamilton and has spent his entire
life, his entire BEING, acquiring and studying EVERYTHING concerning
the circumstances involving his death.
The disc jockey calls him and before he can finish the question, the
man prematurely ejaculates into the phone "AHHHRUN BUHHHH!"
with smug self-satisfaction. However, the disc jockey cannot understand
what he is saying. The man's mouth is full of the phallic sandwich.
He is expected to answer, to show his mastery and he cannot. He suffers
anxiety concerning his raison d'etre. This is the apex of his existence
and he cannot perform. He panics.
The poor man tries again, then muffles for the disc jockey to hold
on while he gets the milk, but there is only a splash of milk left in
the carton. The breast is empty. The glass is useless. We see the man
through the warped translucent glass only vaguely filled with life-giving
and satisfying milk. He has obsessively pushed the phallus into his
mouth and now cannot supplant his oral fixation with a more primal act
of satisfaction. He screams like an infant who cannot be sated, who
cannot find his mother's breast to feed for the id's desire to win $10,000
- something he would be able to do under the circumstances provided
The disc jockey tells him his time is almost up. The man suffers from
performance anxiety and begins, frantically, to cry again and again
"Ahhrun buhh!" but he has already shot his load. He has stuffed
himself so that he cannot ejaculate the proper answer for his reward.
He is emasculated.
The closing shot has him whimpering into the receiver while the disc
jockey tells him condescendingly that his time is up. The disc jockey
has continued to have power over him. To the man's right is the knife
with which he spread the peanut butter on the sandwich. The knife is
pointed down into the peanut butter, its phallus spent. It is also the
phallus of the father that has cut off the man's masculinity and inserted
a feminizing penis into the man's mouth in unrestrained pleasure.
The commercial fades to black with the words in familiar logo "Got
Milk?" The fade to black is the later Freudian idea of not finding
pleasure, but evading death. The "death" of the commercial
demonstrates the inability for the man to re-produce the correct answer
that he has rehearsed in his mind his entire life. His failure is death,
and each time the commercial is shown, he relives his most painful moment
again and again trapped in his own wretched, Nietzschean eternal recurrence.
He dies as a substitutionary martyr for each of us and is reborn like
some tortured messiah! We project our own failings upon this man. We
mock him because we repress our own and we are ashamed. Thank you, Aaron
Burr Man! Thank you! Your suffering is not in vain.