70 Years of McDonald’s

“We cannot trust people who are nonconformists. The organization cannot trust the individual; the individual must trust the organization.” – Ray Kroc, founder, McDonald’s.

Guided by Kroc’s philosophy, McDonald’s has dominated not just fast food retail business, but the fast food culture in entirety. A culture that promotes unquestioned consumption: inexpensive, inclusive and addictive. A bullying monopolist culture that thrives with an overbearing human face; one that constantly smiles, and expects the consumers to smile back at the deals they can’t decline.

McDonald’s is not just a fast food chain that offers items high in fat, calories, sugar. It is not merely the biggest cause of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in children and young adults. It is not simply a corporation that is unethical in lying about beef contents in french fries or one that employs underage workers for 16-hr days to produce Hello Kitty, Snoopy, and Winnie the Pooh toys for McDonald’s meals. All negative media coverages about McDonald’s misappropriations are certainly what should irk and agitate us. But what should perhaps concern us more are what we have accepted about McDonald’s, than what we feel tempted to reject it for. Because what McDonald’s stands for is much more than its foods.

McDonald’s stands for a business model that has redefined expansionistic strategies, acquisitions and monopoly capitalism. Over 57% of McDonald’s restaurants are franchises. It currently operates over 32,000 restaurants in 117 countries profiting from 60 million customers each calendar day. As a result of its success, many newer entrants have found inspirations. Yum! Brands, Inc. (Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell), Subway, Starbucks, Burger King, Wendy’s, Chili’s, Olive Garden, Red Lobster have all adopted this expansionist practice of uniformity, conformity, and unanswerable mediocrity. In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser writes, “There are 320,000 small franchised businesses in the United States doing about $1 trillion in annual sales. Although accounting for less than 10% of retail businesses, over 40% of all retails sales come from franchise and they employ more than 8 million people…with a new franchise opening every 8 minutes in the United States.”

We have also come to accept the McDonald’s ways of consumerizing children. Of it’s inimitable marketing tactics that enters the drawing rooms, the classrooms and the playgrounds. Children identify with the mascots of McDonaldland – Ronald, Grimace, Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Captain Crook, Big Mac, Birdie. After all, McDonald’s is the world’s largest owner of rental property in the world. And it owns more playgrounds in the world than any other entity – 8000 playlands aimed solely to lure children into coming back to the world of McDoodler stencils and McWrist wallets; during the hours of Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals. The larger the range of unethical profits, the larger the width of generous smiles. Ronald McDonald is second only to Santa Claus in terms of the most recognized icons in the world, and is second only to the Marlboro Man as the most commercialized icon. As the world’s most famous brand, it spends more money on advertising and marketing than any other.

McDonald’s seduces us into accepting market imperialism as a desirable future. We are no longer shocked to witness small-scale businesses disappear, alternative media trampled upon, small communities razed off the grounds, bazaars being replaced by supermarkets, complete absence of local farmers from human sights. We are no longer aggrieved at the lack of bargaining power of the purchaser, at the elimination of varieties and assortments in goods and services. We no longer crave for healthy competitions. This phenomenal shift from an ability to express unique identities to an amenability for controlled stimulus-response is to a great part, a gift from McDonald’s.

McDonald’s today pervades all aspects of society, thus prompting the sociologist George Ritzer to give it an appropriate title, McDonaldization. He writes, “McDonaldization affects not only the restaurant business but also education, work, the criminal justice system, health care, travel, leisure, dieting, politics, the family, religion, and virtually every other aspect of society. McDonaldization has shown every sign of being an inexorable process, sweeping through seemingly impervious institutions and regions of the world.”

And what is most remarkable about McDonaldization is that it has a solid future. After all, its most loyal victims are the children.

Saswat Pattanayak is a New York-based journalist, photographer, atheist, third-wave feminist, LGBT ally, black power comrade and academic non-elite who refuses to give up his association with Kindle. A true comrade.

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