Two All-Beef Patties Special Sauce Lettuce Cheese Pickles Onion on a Sesame Seed LIE!
Or, the Freaky Universe of McDonald's Advertising
Ever since the Earl of Sandwich first ordered meat between two pieces of bread in 1765, entrepreneurs have sold sandwiches to their neighbors who want one. This article is not about those people. Here we will explore the much larger and eviler business of getting them to want the sandwich in the first place. The next step--physically vending a carefully formulated chemical stew that resembles a sandwich--was already explored extensively in Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock's famous long-form Jackass stunt, which shocked the eight people who have never eaten at McDonald's with the blockbuster revelation that the food there is bad. As great a film as this is, it glosses over the fact that the McDonald's story is one of relentless and hilarious marketing across many media (but especially TV). Billions of dollars paid over the years to writers, set designers, composers, singers, actors, camera operators, video editors, and finally TV stations, have ensured that no one born after the 19th century can go through a day oblivious to McDonald's existence. Unless they don't have a TV, and hey, let's be realistic. You honestly think there's $5 worth of ingredients in that value meal? Hell, naw. So enjoy the following ads--you paid for 'em.
This is McDonaldland's first appearance, and I'm pretty sure this is where Michael Jackson got the idea for Neverland. You've got the magical wonderland that attracts kids but is built on a crass ulterior motive, pop music, free junk food, and, of course, Ronald's ever-changing appearance. Watch for that clown 'fro to vanish in future spots.
Here's a mind-blower for hungry third-world countries: in America, where the soil yields healthy food in abundance, we teach our kids to fantasize about over-processed crap with the nutritional value of the inside of a York Peppermint Patty growing in the wild. Maybe if we wish really hard, and knock down some fruit orchards to make room, it'll come true!
It's funny how their magical romp ends at a real-life McDonald's restaurant. I'm sure that place does bang-up business selling burgers twenty feet from where they grow on bushes for free. I guess they get paid to remove the big googly hamburger eyes so you can eat without your lunch staring reproachfully back at you.
People who aren't scholars of McDonaldland history usually assume that Grimace was just born "that way"--that his persona goes hand-in-hand with McDonald's support for the Special Olympics, so to speak. They forget that Grimace used to be a malicious, four-armed hoodlum who stole beverages and scuttled sideways like an actor who had no idea how heavy the costume would be.
"Took a shortcut" and "headed off" Grimace? He moves like a stoned glacier, for God's sake. You've definitely been playing jump rope for too long if Grimace can outrun you, whether or not you're loaded down with a heavy Roman Polanski costume.
I don't know the particulars of Grimace's rehabilitation, but from the way he ended up I'm betting a good old-fashioned icepick lobotomy did the trick. In fact, he might have inhaled enough water thrashing around in that lake to retard him up. I bet he never realized he was tricked, and is even now camped out at the multiplex waiting for the gala world premiere of "Grimace Walks Backwards for Eight Seconds."
But for all of McDonalds' crimes, it was good of them to admit that drinking enough of their shakes will turn you into a slow-moving toothless blob. Oh, and Officer Big Mac? Why do you appear in the first three seconds of the commercial, then vanish once a crime is in progress? Way to sit on your ass while Ronald does your job. No wonder we don't see this guy anymore--there was some Serpico shit going on at the arches.
My main reaction after watching this was that I'm really, really glad McDonald's dropped the watermelon shake promotion. To be any more stereotypical, this guy would have to conclude the ad by car-bombing Wendy's Dave Thomas.
Of course he likes the shake--it's the first thing he's ever eaten that wasn't boiled for months. I wonder how many restaurants he went in to order "something as cool as a green glade, refreshing as a spring breeze" before he lucked upon a place that not only had one of those, but also the patience to listen to him. Dude, we have what's on the fucking menu, OK? I don't go into the supermarket, walk up to the cashier, and say, "I think I'd be liking the ingredients to a dinner that thrills the palate like a savory symphony, that fills the belly but leaves you hungry for more, and that isn't lasagna because I had that for lunch."
There's one key to really enjoying this spot: Pretend that every McDonald's menu item is laced with pure cocaine.
This spot is one I really hope you'll watch, because it contains my favorite McDonaldland character, "Car-Crashing Disheveled Elderly Man." Educators were worried about the messages Hamburglar and Evil Grimace were sending kids, so they were briefly replaced with Car-Crashing Disheveled Elderly Man, who would liven up commercials by crashing his car into all sorts of things while screaming about McDonald's food. In one spot, they discussed sending him to a rest home for his own safety, but being a McDonald's employee he couldn't nearly afford such a thing.
I think it was Mary Poppins who pioneered production numbers about picking up after yourself, but leave it to McDonald's to turn it into a cost-cutting measure that allows them to fire one more staffer.
Now, if McDonald's was my chain, I'd have augmented the ad campaign with fun trash receptacles in the real restaurants that actually look like those guys and say, "Yum Yum" when you use them, but that's why I'm not an oversized corporation. Kids watched the ad and joined the McLabor force for no pay anyway, so it was an effective campaign. From my own experience, it was way, way more effective than the campaign with the puppet toilet that sang, "Remember not to stuff me with wadded-up paper towels so that I overflow during Saturday lunch rush, because the homeless have no other place to defecate and a lot of them will use me anyway, like that freaky dude with one eye swollen shut and the old guy who digs around in the singing trash bins for thrown-away Monopoly stamps and then asks the cashiers if they're worth anything.' Like, yeah guy, our garbage is worth a billion dollars. Jesus."
When you devote enough time to writing mockery-based comedy, making a practice of turning the merely odd or quirky into the palpably funny, sometimes the gods will throw you a treat by allowing the existence of something so distorted and inherently ludicrous that the only question is how to make fun of it. Here is the 1980's one of those:
I'll tell ya: I wait in line for Star Wars movies, and even I can find fifty ways that no real-life date ever went like this. Even knowing that McDonald's commercials take place in a universe where no other food is available, there has to be more going on in order for this ad to make sense. Some of my leading theories:
1. Remember in Super Size Me where it turned out that all the Big Macs were depressing Morgan's sex drive? Apparently our pal Larry eats so many Happy Meals he's developed a negative libido, which means he actively tries not to get laid.
2. The woman's vagina is crawling with scorpions.
3. The state she lives in has a 1:4000 male-female ratio.
4. She's actually 80 years old and the youth potion will wear off in one week.
5. Her dad was not only one of those evil "You have to earn my love" fucks, he had a giant score chart on the living room wall.
6. The only truly plausible theory, "all of the above."
Stay Free! Presents: "You are the Satirist." As a public service to the three percent of the population who do not have websites filled with snarky observations about U.S. culture, Stay Free! magazine provides the following beginner-level opportunity. Watch this McDonald's ad carefully, and follow the exercises afterwards.
ASSIGNMENT: Write a short paragraph comparing the events of the commercial to the 2004 U.S. Presidential election. Hints:
1. Notice the twitchy, disoriented candidate running for re-election who has to be fed lines. You may wish to pick a substance that the fictional candidate's head is made from and construct an epithet applying to his real-life counterpart.
2. Notice the campaign promises that sound appealing, but in the end will be bad for all of us.
3. In the ad, the only enemy of McDonaldland who manages to penetrate the nation's borders escapes unpunished. Could this observation serve your allegorical piece?
4. Note that the clear instance of electoral fraud is never rectified, and in fact the ballots are counted by a member of McCheese's own staff.
5. For a real slam-bang ending, express doubt as to which election is more obviously a farcical fiction designed to promote corporate interests.
So the history of African-American music goes as follows: slave spirituals, gospel, soul, jazz, R&B, funk, hip hop, Filet-O-Fish.
Maybe I shouldn't make fun of this ad. To their credit, McDonald's was a trailblazer in employing minority actors and portraying all of the races of mankind as one big poorly nourished community. And here they're tearing down the destructive stereotype that only white people can suck at music. But this ad is ultimately a message of hope for all black Americans. It says, "Hey, after a hard day of being so politically and economically disenfranchised that you have to work at McDonald's, you can still afford to eat at McDonald's on your employee discount, and then you can go home and rap about it. You can use all that exercise after walking to and from work, emptying the trash, washing the giant picture windows, and mopping the dining room. We don't mean to keep putting you on cleanup, it's just that Melissa is really good on the register."
And finally, here's how the McDonald's ads aimed at kids look today.
To say a lot of changes have occurred would be pretty dipshittedly obvious.
McDonaldland is long gone, remembered only by these kids' parents; the halcyon days when a 10-year-old could enjoy the whimsy of people made out of food without snorting "That's gay!" is a dim memory. Six-year-old boys listen to bands that eight-year-old boys have never heard of and four-year-old boys dismiss as "so VH1." Girls are stampeding away from Barbie to get down with "Bratz: The Dolls That Clock Barbie in Her Bitch-Ass Face With A Tire Iron." This is more than the old cliché about kids growing up so fast: This is a new world order where kids actually enter puberty at horrifyingly low ages, shrinking childhood and blending it with adolescence. And what do you suppose the catalyst for this change is?
Any idea? OK, here it is. It's caused by . . . (drum roll) the hormones in mass-produced meat!!! Ta-dahhhhh! The 21st Century has been brought to you by your neighborhood McDonald's. Enjoy!
Tim Harrod's father and brother are named Ronald and Donald, and it has fucked him up pretty bad.