"" What's She Eating Now?: Hitler, or Just Ronald McDonald?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hitler, or Just Ronald McDonald?

Apparently the theme of the week is fast food. According to Slashfood, a group called Corporate Accountability International (CAI) is waging war on Ronald McDonald and seeking to push him into 'retirement.' It seems that CAI is convinced that Mr. McDonald is a Trojan horse, a smiling clown who loves children on the outside, on the inside, a nefarious trickster hell bent on making youngsters the world over fat. If he gives them Diabetes, all the better.

Now this puts me in the uncomfortable position of having to defend one of my least favorite things, a clown. Let's put aside Ronald's role in helping sick kids, promoting child literacy, and sponsoring play spaces, the fact of the matter is the clown doesn't make anyone eat anything. CAI has put up a Where's Ronald page on its site to collect sitings of Ronald McDonald to prove the contrary. But the mere presence of a live Ronald McDonald at an event or in a McDonald's location does not betray a plot to plump up anybody. I think CAI would be hard pressed to find a video of Ronald McDonald lingering near the slide saying, "Pst... hey kid, I'll make you a balloon animal if you get your mom to buy you a happy meal and you eat the whole thing."

Surely CAI would claim that is because the clown's tactics are more subtle, more sly. But this all misses the point. The point is Ronald McDonald does not control what anyone's kids eat. Parents do, or at least should. I will not grandstand and say that because they now offer apple slices as a Happy Meal component that McDonald's is healthy. It's not. But that is why parents should keep their kids from eating it or at least restrict it to a once in a while indulgence.

This whole silly episode actually reminds of one of my favorite Chris Rock routines. I will replace Rock's chosen word with "parents" for illustrative purposes:
"You know the worst thing about [parents]? [Parents] always want credit for some shit they supposed to do. A [parent] will brag about some shit a normal man just does. A [parent] will say some shit like, 'I take care of my kids.' You're supposed to, you dumb motherfucker! What kind of ignorant shit is that? 'I ain't never been to jail!' What do you want, a cookie?! You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherfucker!"
Parents, like the man said, you're supposed to take care of your kids. That includes watching out for what they eat, keeping an eye on their fitness and being in charge of their general well being. And you shouldn't expect a cookie, from McDonaldland or elsewhere, for doing so-- even if you have to contend with a whiny child who for some reason is inspired in his choice of dining fare by Ronald McDonald. And CAI, don't assume all parents are too dumb to realize McDonald's isn't a healthy habitual meal choice. The parents, who hopefully are also adults, should be calling the shots here. There are plenty of requests-- even begging, crying, screaming requests-- parents deny kids all the time for their own good. That third Big Mac of the week should be no different.


  1. Can you imagine if someone dressed up like a clown and tried to get kids to eat vegetables? He'd be like the least successful child molester ever.

  2. I think there needs to be a limit to this madness. Seems like McD is a victim of his own success. They're burgers and breaded pieces of chicken-esque meat, they make no bones about the food being fried and they certainly don't force anyone to buy. How come nobody has a problem with the 500 calorie coffee drink at Sbux or the smoothie at Jamba Juice? Are these companies just not big enough?

  3. I think you missed the spirit of Corporate Accountability International's work. There are dozens of studies finding that the use of such icons creates powerful and lifelong brand identifications in children younger than two. The organization set up Where's Ronald to, in fact, gauge what the impact this icon is having. It seems that the jury is still out...there's no call for retirement as yet.

    And a large part of the inititiave centers around looking at whether parents are 100% culpable for their children's remiss behavior/eating habits. They are certainly primary enforcers, but lets come to terms here -- unless parents raise their children in isolation, there are other influences on their behavior that may just fall outside their control.

    The argument that corporations have zero responsibility and parents have 100% responsibility for epidemics like the childhood obesity epidemic is as old as corporate public relations itself. It's time we looked at improving public health not just in terms of who to blame, but how to share responsibility.

  4. Ahhh, there's so much I could say about this posts and the comments, but i'll refrain to avoid my house being burned down. So, I'll just say this: come to Baltimore. Walk around. Explore. Notice very quickly that it IS parents who mold their children. Braid icons do indeed create a "powerful and lifelong brand identification." This fact is irrelevant, however. You know why? Because people are supposed to have a thing called SELF CONTROL. I love McDonalds. I eat McDonalds. I am not fat or unhealthy because I can control myself. Mostly because my parents and my upper middle class societal upbringing taught me that. Others aren't so lucky. Thought-policing images and icons isn't going to change or even help that.