NO matter how much we buy into the dream of obtaining Elle Macpherson’s body by mainlining green juice, there’s something about McDonald’s that we just can’t resist.
This is food with virtually no nutritional value, packed with E numbers and ingredients you have to try not to think about — but something keeps drawing us back to its comfortingly babyish, sweet and salty embrace.
But finally, I’ve had the wake-up call I needed to put me off Macca’s for good.
After years of closing my ears to horror stories about ground-up eyelash burgers, pink slime and plastic nuggets, it took a Weinstein Brothers movie to really make me sick at myself for continuing to feed this greedy corporation.
The Founder tells the true story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), who was in fact not the founder of the fast-food chain, which was started in San Bernardino, California by the likeable McDonald brothers, Maurice (Mac) and Dick.
The siblings opened their restaurant in 1940, and eight years later introduced an ingenious “speedy” service method for getting burgers into customers’ hands as rapidly as possible — a joy valued even more deeply by we impatient, distracted smartphone slaves today.
When middle-aged milkshake salesman Kroc realised the McDonalds had hit pay dirt, he swooped in, offering to franchise their business across the US.
So began his grand tour of America, which the Weinsteins envisage as a dizzying whirl of restaurant openings, parties and golden arches soaring upward in town after town, in tandem with their mastermind’s ego.
But as Kroc’s head was swelling, his frustration was growing with the small-town McDonald brothers, who were keen to restrict his wages and prevent any changes to the business model. Their horrified reactions to his proposals for powdered milkshake or Coca-Cola ads on menus are used to illustrate just how far the modest dreams of these two ordinary Americans appear to have been from the cheap junk food the chain embodies today.
Consumed with his own success, Kroc enlisted a lawyer and started his own company, The McDonald’s Corporation, to buy up the land the restaurants were situated on and lease them to the franchisees.
Soon enough, the rapacious businessman owned the ground beneath the real founders. And the brothers finally had no choice but to sell their own name for a measly $2.1 million and “handshake agreement” they would receive a one per cent cut of ongoing profits. Kroc opened a McDonald’s across the road from their renamed “Big M” restaurant and within a few years, they went out of business. The late brothers said the one per cent cut was never honoured. Kroc denies such an agreement ever existed.
The real founders were virtually written out of history, and McDonald’s created a museum on the site of its “First Store” — in reality its ninth, but the first where Kroc’s vision was fully realised.
In the Weinsteins’ hands, this is a story of ruthless, predatory accumulation of wealth at the expense of everything and anyone else. Kroc’s casual ditching of his wife for the beautiful and clever young spouse of a franchisee is used to demonstrate his utter lack of morals and decency.
Since those heady days, McDonald’s has spread like a family of cockroaches. It would take a lot to kill it. And that’s in large part thanks to Kroc realising his ambition to see it become the epitome of America.
Many McDonald’s fans won’t watch this movie; others will dismiss it as a one-sided tale twisted for cinematic purposes, while some will stick to my old pattern of Big Mac-craving denial.
But for me, this film has left a nasty aftertaste that I can’t wash away with an extra-large Coke Zero.
As I watched Keaton’s vividly imagined Kroc evangelise about the magic of the name McDonald’s, so symbolic of family values, I couldn’t ignore the stark message about what it really represents: a wholesome, all-American myth, utterly corrupted and betrayed for profit.
And that’s something I don’t want to buy into, no matter how long the car journey, how bad the hangover or how deceiving my desire for a cheap hit of bulls*** nostalgia.
H/t reader kevin a.
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