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11/04/03 . John O'Farrell . The Guaridan . UK
One McWar to go, please
This was truly a historic week. A much-hated regime finally seemed to lose its grip amid scenes of jubilation across the world.
The McDonald's information minister, dressed in the official stripy uniform and proudly wearing the three stars that he received for managing to work in one of its restaurants for more than a month, appeared before the world's press angrily denying that the fast food giant had finally lost the burger war.
"Our heroic leader Ronald McDonald has scored another momentous victory," he declared, as the famous golden arches came crashing to the ground behind him. "Our glorious Egg McMuffins have never been more popular!" he shouted, as the share price tumbled and outlets were closed around the world.
Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Ronald McDonald himself remain a mystery. Some reports claim he may have died of heart failure after a lifetime of eating saturated burgers. Though the figurehead's iconic pictures are still displayed all across the crumbling McDonald's empire, many believe that it was a lookalike clown used in the recent propaganda film shown on western television featuring him giving out balloons to young children.
There is of course still much anxiety for the future. Huge reserves of oil can be found in hamburgers - and who knows what dangerous chemicals may yet be found when the inspectors go back into the restaurants? Ordinary McDonald's employees seemed dazed and confused in the midst of the crisis. Asked by a journalist for evidence of the brutality of the regime, a pale young worker just stared blankly and said: "Do you want fries with that?"
There is a rather satisfying symmetry that the most symbolic American corporate brand should be plunged into crisis just as the US army is asserting the military dominance of the world's only superpower. You might say that it was a delicious irony, but that adjective doesn't really feel appropriate here. The more aggressively that the old military-industrial complex asserts the rights of US companies to trade around the world, the less the global consumer wants to hand them their cash.
Hostility to the brand is such that earlier this week a bomb went off in a McDonald's in Beirut. It could have been really dangerous, but fortunately no one bought any burgers because a bomb went off. A few years ago, there was a extended battle as the citizens of London NW3 attempted to prevent a branch of McDonald's opening in their neighbourhood. The Hampstead residents wanted something more useful in their high street, like an antique clock restorer.
The brand that says "America" has lost its appeal. The world has taken a big bite of the American dream and is now feeling a bit queasy. In response to the first ever loss in its 55-year history, the American fast food giant has announced that it is going upmarket. So soon you'll be able to see teenagers hanging around in bus shelters eating McChateaubriand and McCaviar with their bare hands. Obviously when the corporation says "upmarket", it won't be going as far as indulging in unnecessary ostentatious extras such as cutlery.
Despite the attempt at rebranding, the McDonald's share price has failed to recover. Maybe the company should make the shares a bit more attractive by giving away little free gifts with them. Then embarrassed middleclass parents would say: "Well we wouldn't normally buy a stake in the McDonald's Corporation but little Timmy had been desperate for the windup plastic dinosaur."
McDonald's remains the most potent symbol of the freedoms for which the American troops have been fighting these past few weeks. The freedom of choice to have the same food served by the same corporation in every high street in the world. The only minor rules are that any employees attempting to form a union will be instantly sacked, any workers attempting to speak out against the corporation will be hit with massive lawsuits, and if you haven't got chronic acne, well, don't even think about applying for a job.
The fast food mentality has spread to everything. US foreign policy is quick and easy and don't think about the consequences. "Big Mac to go. Fries to go. United Nations to go." And despite closing hundreds of outlets in the west, McDonald's is still seeking to expand in the third world. Soon there will be very few cities in the world without vanilla shake splattered across the pavement. The west has got wise, so let's force the stuff down the throats of the rest of the world.
So that's what this war was all about. Opening soon: McDonald's Restaurant, Al-Takhrir Square, Baghdad. Surely the Iraqis have suffered enough?