Fast, Fat, and Naggy
“McDonald’s operates more playgrounds than any other private entity in the U.S. It is responsible for the nation’s bestselling line of children’s clothing (McKids) and is one of the largest distributors of toys” (Schlosser 4). According to James McNeal, a marketer at Texas University, before the 1940’s, children were not even viewed as consumers, but as future consumers (10). After WWII, the baby boom occurred, and by 1950 the under-five population was 16,163,000 (McNeal 10). For the first time, children were on the marketing radar. Meanwhile, well-known franchises such as McDonald’s were at their early stages of development. Up until the exhaustively researched work of Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, the extent to which fast food corporations market to children was widely unknown. His work and others’ show that while fast food is convenient, it uses deceptive marketing tactics to lure children, and is incredibly unhealthy. The need for instant gratification, imbedded in our American culture, has paved the way for fast food corporations and their convenient style of food production. The McDonald’s brothers, who developed the Speedee Service System in 1948, made all this possible (Schlosser 19). This system began the industrialization of the food industry; which essentially gave birth to a new industry, fast food. Now one person grills the burgers, another person “dresses” them, and another prepares the milkshakes (20). This system rapidly increases the rate of food production. According to the McDonald’s corporation website, McDonald’s operates more than 30,000 restaurants world-wide and serves more than 47,000,000 people every single day. The key behind all this success is the American ideology of convenience. When people feel a craving for food, a uniformly made burger, fries, and drink will materialize in minutes. The concept of fast food is exceptional because it creates a quick way to produce a sit-down meal. One could argue that food is no longer an obstacle within the fast food industry, but simply a means to an end, which is ideal for those that don’t have the time to sit down and enjoy every meal. However, fast food is incredibly unhealthy and supports an industry full of corruption. It is bent on lowering production and labor costs in order to create a high profit margin. Due to the Speedee Service System, no job at McDonald’s requires any trained skill whatsoever (Schlosser 20). Therefore, the work force can be made up of young, unskilled teenagers as well as illegal immigrants that have a tenuous grasp on the English language. This in combination with a 90% annual turn-over rate, makes unionization almost impossible (160). While this is bad enough, what does it mean for our society when upcoming generations are being taught that McDonalds is a wonderland? Fast food corporations use highly deceptive tactics to market to children, setting them up to be lifelong customers of the fast food industry. After World War II, the economy was on its way back up again and parents started spending more money on their children (McNeal 10). This caught the attention of fast food corporations, who then began to direct a lot of their advertisements towards children. All fast food corporations developed child focused marketing schemes at some point, but the pivotal creation was the campaign of Ronald McDonald. Advertisements featuring Ronald McDonald began in 1963 often set in a fantasy world known as “McDonaldland.” With the help of the Hamburglar, Grimace, Birdie the Early Bird, Mayor McCheese, and the Fry Kids, he would lead all sorts of adventures. In 1986, a commercial starring Ronald McDonald aired which advertised the McDonald’s beach bucket, free with a McDonald’s Happy Meal purchase. The advertisement begins with Ronald pulling a rope. The camera view widens and a hot air balloon Happy Meal, with a personified burger, drink, and fries comes into view. The normally inanimate objects announce...
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