Thursday, February 27, 2014

Learning From McDonald's

Imagine a version of It’s a Wonderful Life, only the main character is not George Bailey (James Stewart) a bank executive with financial problems but McDonald’s. Imagine the guardian angel Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) coming down to earth and showing us what the world would be like without McDonald’s. Surely all the foodies and health advocates would be in utter ecstasy. We’d have a world without Big Macs, McNuggets or the Filet-O-Fish and the best French fry that the universe has ever created would either be a gleam in someone’s eye or have already met its maker. Everyone bemoans the fact that when you travel you're no longer going anywhere and that one of the symptoms of this is the ubiquitousness of the big fast food chains like McDonald’s. But imagine coming into some strange country like Russia or China, ruled by an authoritarian government whose arbitrary edicts create fear and uncertainty. Suddenly you see the big M and you’re reminded of the connectivity of the global economy. Monopoly capitalism used to be the villain and in the l9th century the Opium Wars a more nefarious form of imperialism laced with capitalism sought to addict a vulnerable population. OK fast food can be addictive too, but it’s not opium and the Big M is a reminder that the liberal minded mercantile spirit greases the wheels of commerce. Can we even see McDonald’s as an aspect of McLuhan’s Global Village? Indeed, the picture of the world the angel might paint without McDonald’s is neither necessarily more sanguine nor sanitary than the one that George faces. McDonald’s kitchens are likely to be a lot more sanitary than what you find in oppressive societies where health officials may turn out to be party hacks and epigones. And there is something beautiful about the McDonald’s arch, which appears on the horizon like the golden minaret of a Byzantine Church. For more on the post-modernist conception of architectural beauty, see Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour and Denise Scott Brown’s Learning From Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symboism of Architectural Form.


  1. Interesting. When I'm traveling and see the golden arches, my main feeling is one of relief that they'll have a clean bathroom I can use, then sneak out without buying anything.

  2. Yeah and there are people who would argue that what is produced in their bathrooms is more healthy than what emerges from their kitchens.


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