By Tim Snaith
".The fundamental problem with McDonaldisation is that it's other people in the system structuring our lives for us, rather than us structuring our lives for ourselves.You don't want a creative person at the counter - that's why they are scripted. You don't want a creative hamburger cook - you want somebody who simply follows routines or follows scripts. No, you take all creativity out of work and turn it into a series of routine procedures that are imposed by some external force. That's the reason why it's dehumanizing... it turns human beings into human robots"
George Ritzer, Author of
"The McDonaldisation of Society"
McDonaldisation, ever heard of it? Do you think it could affect you? Why should you care? Well, when presented with the of McDonald's world domination plan, perhaps you'll find cause for some concern. McDonaldisation is a term popularised by George Ritzer. In the current climate of suspicion about the motives of multinational corporations, the term has been adopted by those who believe McDonalds (and other companies) negatively structure and dominate our society, politics and environment through sheer size and power.
Through its projection of a carefully crafted image, McDonalds appears to represent all that is good, wholesome and family-friendly in the world. Its advertising campaigns influence billions and are bolstered by contact with a worldwide total of around 43 million customers a day. For many, it seems only a Big Mac will do.
Consider the scale of McDonalds operations in 1999. Total global sales were in excess $38 billion with profits of nearly $2 billion. McDonalds owns 27,000 restaurants in 119 countries and is the clear market leader in fast food. McDonalds also owns franchises which re-invest in the business, providing a further yearly profit that exceeded £303 million last year. On the face of it, McDonalds is a business in its prime, a shining example of how successful it is possible for a company to be in a free market system.
But behind the smiling face of Ronald McDonald lurks a self-important and singularly determined multi-national corporation that wields serious power over national governments. McDonalds doesn't only convert its influence into political clout. It uses its dollars and donations to target the most vulnerable people in society. McDonalds spends over two billion dollars each year on advertising. The Golden Arches are probably more familiar than the Christian Cross across much of the world.
To increase this penetration, the corporation wants to have a role in the upbringing of its future customers. McDonalds will be with the young, if not from cradle to grave, from classroom to counter. It was reported in 1995 that McDonalds were sending educational packs to teachers unable to afford anything else. In fact, these teaching packs have been offered to teachers in all schools in the UK since 1993 and make obvious references to the hamburger chain and include such exercises as:
Local History: Explore the changes in use of the McDonalds site in your town
Geography: Do you know where in England McDonalds restaurants are?
Maths: Add up a collection of basket of fries.
English: Identify and link words such as Chicken McNuggets, Happy meals and milk shakes.
Music: Make up words for the song that begins 'Old McDonald had a store.' (to the tune of Old McDonald had a farm!)
Belinda Yaxley, from the National Confederation of Parent Teachers said, "This is subliminal advertising, brainwashing of the most vulnerable people in our society".
Furthermore, the current government is happy to let McDonalds participate in the education of the country's schoolchildren. In 1998, David Blunkett and Steven Byers, Ministers of State for education and industry, permitted the corporation to be a partner in the North Somerset Education action zone. In 1999, the National Year of Reading received support in the form of branded lunchboxes. Dave Morris, a defendant in the famous McLibel case (which ended, after three years, in 1997) claimed in court that the firm sees schoolchildren as the next generation of cheap labour as well as consumers. In summing up, the judge agreed that McDonalds influence on the young was remarkable, commenting that the fast food chain targets "susceptible young children to bring in custom, both their own and that of their parents"
But surely if a large high profile multi-national company such as McDonalds was guilty of such practices, why have we not heard more about it in the press? Well, Ronald McDonald has a proven policy of suing the ass off of you or your employer, if you, as they put it, "tell lies about the company". McDonalds has even threatened to sue perfectly credible media institutions such as the BBC and the Guardian. This indicates that they are trying to stop the expression of free speech, a civil liberty, at least insofar as it affects their commercial operations. The list of media organisations that have been suppressed or pulped is growing.
The only group to bring McDonalds to book for its actions are a small group of activists from London. In 1990 McDonalds served libel writs on members of the group in association with a leaflet produced by the group titled "What's wrong with McDonalds". When the leaflet came to their attention, McDonalds demanded they retract the leaflet and its allegations or face court with the obvious possibility of a huge costs (they were denied legal aid) incurred by facing some of the top legal players money can buy. Two individuals from the group, Dave Morris (a postman) and Helen Steel (a gardener), felt they had no choice but to face McDonalds in court.
On the 28th June 1994 the libel trial began in London and ended up becoming the longest ever seen in a British court. It's now known as the "McLibel" trial. The defendant's legal costs of £35,000 were met by generous donations by members of the public. On the 19th June 1997 McDonalds were awarded damages of £90,000 for certain items in the leaflet concerning the health implications of eating at a McDonalds restaurant and its role in Third World starvation and environmental damage, which remained 'not proven'.
It should be pointed out that 'not proven' does not mean 'is not true'. Judge Bell agreed that McDonalds had grounds to object to the exact meaning implied in the leaflet. In his summing up, the judge agreed that "McDonalds advertisements, promotions and booklets have pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which McDonald's food did not match" and that the firm "paid its workers low wages, thereby helping to depress wages for workers in the catering trade".
Whatever McDonald's influence, the McDonaldisation phenomenon alluded to earlier is not solely due to their influence. Several other large corporations - in the broadcast and online media, software and aviation sectors coupled with the pernicious effects of corruptable government departments would rather conditions were more favourable for the execution of dubious commercial activities than the welfare of people.
I'll let Geoffrey Guiliano, the main Ronald McDonald actor in the in 1980's who quit and publicly apologised, have the last word:
"I brainwashed youngsters into doing wrong. I want to say sorry to children everywhere for selling out to concerns who make millions by murdering animals."
Link to Geoffrey Guiliano's full statment
McSpotlight - includes details of the McLibel case and many other resources http://www.mcspotlight.org
STOP PRESS! Fugitive rap star and Wu Tang Clan member Ol' Dirty Bastard captured at a McDonalds restaurant in Philadelphia after the manager called for police assistance.