Motherland and apple pieby Wendell Steavenson / December 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
I know it’s become a dogma that McDonald’s is the fount of all ill-health, but I can’t help but remain a fan. I am very fond of a quarter-pounder with cheese. It once restored me from heat-stroke while reporting on a demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. There’s nothing more welcome than a pair of golden arches when you are four hours into a long road trip. And, seriously, is there anything better for quelling a hangover?
The day after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, I went to cure my political hangover at a preview screening of The Founder, a biopic about Raymond “Ray” Kroc, the mastermind behind McDonald’s. Kroc, born in Chicago in 1902 to Czech parents, begins the movie as a down-on-his-luck hero, a struggling middle-aged salesman humping a heavy multi-spindle milkshake mixer around out-of-the-way diners. “Increase supply and demand follows!” exhorts Kroc in the film to the nay-saying diner owners who shake their heads at him. Michael Keaton plays Kroc with a shorn head and a grinning, thrusting attitude; abrasive, impatient, ambitious. It’s a classic rags-to-riches American success story.
But at another level, especially in the second half, the film transforms into a very different—though equally Hollywood—story. From hero-entrepreneur, Kroc turns into the villain of American cinema: an evil corporation. McDonald’s has long veered between the sweet and the bitter, convenient and yummy but bad-for-you; the film reflects the wider dichotomy inherent in capitalism and globalisation. The McDonald’s story may have begun with a heroic ambition, but its successful world domination has t…