Tuesday, 7 July 2009

McDonalds & Family Guy

I shouldn't say this given my pseudo Neo-Marxist and anti Globalist/Corporate sentiment but I'm fascinated by McDonalds. No really; practically obsessed with them and particularly their breakfasts which (when I wrote this post and put it in the draft folder) I'm just waiting for some jeans to tumble dry (naughty given I'm in the tropics) and then I'm off for one of the finest precision breakfasts on the planet. The Sausage and Egg McMuffin with hash brown and coffee. I've also been squeezing in a couple of hot cakes with syrup after but you don't need to know that, because I really don't want to think about it.

So let's start as we mean to go on and shoot straight, because I think what McDonalds knows about themselves and what they don't know about themselves is the gap that I'd like to help them out on if a chance avails itself which is unlikely given I have a problem with Ronald McDonald. He's got to go; or at least maybe lose the clown suit, the make up, the big feet, the voice and that fucking red wig. I mean, we all know that a person better have a great personality if they have ginger pubes in much the same way that if born black in American it's a good idea to stay as far away from the law enforcement officers and their testosterone pumped, steroidal spiked aggression issues. That doesn't mean I don't like red hair. On the contrary; along with a Jewish Princess girlfriend I alway keep an eye open. You know, just in case.

I will come back to Family Guy a lot more, because when Faris wrote a while back that sport and religion have a wider remit than just playful competition and spiritual fulfilment I agreed with him and then some. I wrote back here that I think football performs an interesting social function when observed as conversation in pubs, and say, back-of-taxi discussions. I'll be using Family Guy for the same purpose in the future, as a tool, but first I should explain that even though I've only watched Season Five I'm convinced I'll be able to explain a lot of stuff using these types of clips that don't really exist legally on Youtube and yet are a poweful way for content producers to 'showcase' their stuff in much the same way as advertising works.

The one above serves it's purpose for me to dramatise police agression and also introduces some more people to Family Guy. If FOX were smarter they'd have every known  humorous scenario of 5-10 second clips available on a searchable database for free so that people could use it to explain stuff. Same applies to the Simpsons or indeed any content such as the ghastly Friends or infinitely hipper Seinfeld. Both of which I've never watched much of but get the gist.

Back to McDonalds because I read this tweet earlier by Saul Kaplan who I often disagree with, but more in terms of scope than sentiment. The thing is that while it's easy to bash McDonalds for being the archetypical globalised brand with rapacious corporate in-sustainability, it is not so well know that McDonalds is one of the more progressive global brands when it comes to moving in the right direction. Sure they may have some farming methods which are mind boggling huge but they actively work on their responsibilities much harder than many so called mega corporate brands. We too have our responsibilities as I wrote back here and I've been using the same plastic knife and fork they give out as it's no trouble to reuse.

But what really excites me about McDonalds is that I think they are one of the few brands that almost ticks off the religious devotion that is, like my breakfast addiction, probably irrational and yet as I've learned in many different countries I think McDonalds also has the ubiquity of understanding globally that means it's here to stay and which is why I want to be on the inside and not on the outside.

Let me explain.

All over the planet I will have problems asking for different basic words in different languages. My Cantonese is rubbish so I'm struggling to ask for essential things like 'water', or 'food' or 'somewhere to sit down' or 'coffee', and yet it doesn't matter where I am on the planet, even if the country has no McDonalds. Everybody understands what I mean. It's global language and that is a powerful idea which we need to nurture and try to work on so that it retains some sense of dignity and that too is where I get excited about McDonalds.

I first got to thinking about this stuff the last time I was in Hong Kong because I have a deep respect for a global franchise that hires a person with learning difficulties. I've blogged about this elsewhere but can't find it in either posts or comments so I need to repeat that when enjoying (and I do enjoy them) a Sausage and Egg McMuffin with Hash Brown and Coffee I think it's great that while I'm not quite so comfortable having my table wiped by someone with learning difficulties, who reminds me of the sadness in the world, I'm moved and humbled by brands that employ people with challenges in life, who might otherwise remain anonymous and day by day lose their ability to integrate with the world. So thanks for that McDonalds because I respect you and your more open minded employment policy. But there's also a lot more to you.

I was reminded only a couple of weekends ago on a Ferry ride away in Aberdeen, Hong  Kong because I got talking to more local Cantonese than any other time in my life. The Chinese are often held to be inscrutable but in my experience public life interaction is culturally different and like any other culture there's always going to be a latent resentment of other dominant cultures. But the subject is massive so don't sound-bite me on that or even thin slice me because I've got a massive post brewing on handwritten paper to try and flesh that topic out and it's both enormously sensitive and one of the trickiest to tip toe around without sounding like a pampered white boy - which I am. It does need typing up first though.

My first conversation with a retired but smartly dressed Chinese guy nearly made me fall off my stool. He paid no attention to the black nail varnish I've occasionally been wearing this year or even my silly hat and scarves affectation I've moved on to.  But for Asians they mean a lotbecause the nail that sticks out gets hammered in and yet this chap proceeded to engage in broken English conversation. After introducing myself and explaining a little of what I do, he did something that is anathema for many people let alone an elderly Asian gent having a conversation with Gweilo as we're referred to in this part of the world (it means ghost and is semiotically up there with Farang in Thailand though like Thailand, it's ubiquity has softened it's tonality).

He explained to me that his son was lazy. That his son's wife was fat and that they both were not working full time although his son had some cancer that prevented him from working some times. He described to me how fat the wife was and how they both turned up at his house religiously each evening for a cooked meal that his own wife had prepared because they were too lazy to do so themselves. He didn't explain it with malice. It was pure matter of fact and then he went on to describe that he was disappointed in his son who had received an education in England and from his not unreasonable Engineers salary had received a reasonable number of opportunities in life. I couldn't help but correlate that I was his own sons age and that we had talked about how I could be so mobile. It was  a lovely converation while we drank our coffee together waiting for his wife to return from a bit of shopping in an area that I can only reference as being the Bull Ring of Hong Kong in terms of it's urban tonality and yet oddly enough I noticed it was completely void of teenagers. Babies and Pensioners yes. But no teens.

I guess it was me going back for some more of those hot cakes with that maple syrup they do which t led to my next encounter. Sitting next to me was a young and attractively dressed woman with two gorgeous toddlers clambering all over the seats and demanding attention in that way only really cute kid can pull off without appearing tiresome and boy these two kids were cute. We got talking and the mother used the opportunity to remind the lovely little urchins that they were both doing English at school  and so could say hello and give me their names. I spoke briefly to the mother who I admired because it was evident she was working in some capacity during the week, taking care of her children and both managed to look presentable as well as having delightfully cute kids. The apple hadn't fallen far from the tree in this instance.

I've no idea why I knew she worked in the week but it's a skill I've picked up over the years reading peoples clothes to know this sort of thing. Lots of little indicators like the watch, shoes, makeup and accessories. Accessories tell us a lot if we look hard enough.

Anyway, mission accomplished I dispensed with the ferry ride back and caught a bus into Hong Kong central as I'm determined to cover as much ground as possible while I'm here and get to know the whole place. The bit that kept me ticking over was the good luck to have proper interaction with locals. There's little chance that I could have done this with both a young mother and an elderly gent in places like Starbucks or Pret a manger and it's that social interaction permission that I think is a powerful part of the future of McDonalds because they've nailed all that outstanding value breakfasts which cut right through demographics and geography. I think it's time to start figuring out both more of the role they play in the social fabric of all the communities that they fulfill a role in. Which in this age is really a highly fractured and increasingly atomised nuclear family structure. The ability to faciliate more meaning in the world means, I believe, that they need more meaning management. Something I'm quite keen to do for them.