Mongo Movie Man

Sorry, but I don’t buy it. However decent the director’s original intentions, The Founder emerges as the first Mongoist film of the new era. By a happy serendipity, it goes on wide release on January 20th, the day of the Presidential Imongoration. I would suggest watching either the movie, at a theatre, or the ceremony, on TV. Both would be too much. Time and again, whenever Ray presents his case we are offered miraculous mantras, as if repetition alone could prove them true: “Persistence,” “Speed,” or “The Name”—McDonald’s, that is, not Kroc. “Three words,” he announces. “McDonald’s. Is. Family.” From where does he learn these Twitler-like hammer blows? Well, maxresdefault-1near the start of the movie, when Ray is still a travelling salesman in a lowly hotel room, with a portable record player, he listens to a recording of The Power of the Positive, by a certain Clarence Floyd Nelson, who recommends “a never-ceasing flow of energy.” That is in fact a line from Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, which was published in 1952 and remained on the Times best-seller list for more than three years. For Nelson, read Peale. By rights, the nasty dazzle of Keaton’s performance should undercut this sermonizing pomp, but that’s not what happens. Instead, he grows ever more effective, until the sheer brunt of the character mows down all resistance. Remind you of anyone? Reverend Peale, it should be noted, presided at the wedding of Mongo and Ivana Mongo, in 1977.

When Ray first approaches the brothers’ stand, in California, our gaze is ushered upward, to a sign that reads “McDonald’s,” as if we were standing in front of a Gothic cathedral, and the music, by Carter Burwell, rises in concord with the mood. More preposterous still, later on, is the gleam of golden arches reflected in Ray’s windshield, and the drumroll that we hear just before he reveals his expansionist dream to Mac and Dick. “Do it for your country. Do it for America,” he says. McDonald’s, he adds, must aspire to be “the place where Americans come together to break bread”—a blasphemous touch, but openly backed by the director, with his shot of a burger-munching family gathered on a bench, and of a woman, in slow motion, feasting ecstatically on her bun. Likewise, on Ray’s pilgrimage across the land, the fond trump-bibleglimpses of small-town life are meant to soften us up for his creed—a genuine hope that the franchise might yet become as ubiquitous as a courthouse or a church. Why, there is even a black person waiting for her meal at McDonald’s, who gets to speak a line! (Just the one, but you have to start somewhere.)

Anthony Lane

The plethora of fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s typify a change in eating habits. That they are antiseptic, depersonalized, a gastronomic atrocity, as critics have complained, is basically true.

Some critics have declared that the fast-food restaurants have caused changes in eating habits, but it seems more likely that they simply reflect the fundamental changes that have taken place in society as a whole. Traditional social rituals have declined, and the new rituals that are replacing them—rituals based on automobiles, television, technology, and efficiency—cut across previous religious affiliations, ethnic loyalties, and class allegiances.

A meal at McDonald’s can be looked upon as having some of the character of a social or religious ritual. Rituals occur in designated places, marked by distinctive emblems such as the cross above a church, and at prescribed times, such as the sabbath. For a patron of McDonald’s, the eating rituals occur under the Sign of the Double Golden Arch and at the prescribed times of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ritual is also ronald-prayscharacterized by words and actions that have been prescribed by people other than the current performers of the ritual and that have been codified in some revered text, such as the Pledge of Allegiance or the Bible. The employees of McDonald’s who take the orders and deliver the burgers, fries, and shakes display a behavioral uniformity that is prescribed by the originators of McDonald’s and codified in the 360 pages of its standardized Operations Manual. Those responsible for carrying out the ritual have been trained at the McDonald’s analogue of a seminary, known as Hamburger University, in Elk Grove, Illinois.

Ritual is also repetitive and stereotyped, of a limited range, adhering to a largely invariable sequence. Day after day, year after year, burgers are sold at McDonald’s with virtually the same catechism of requests and replies: “I’ll have a Big Mac.” “Will there be any fries with that?” “Thank you, have a nice day.” The transactions at McDonald’s express values esteemed by the modern North American society: technological efficiency, cleanliness, service, and egalitarianism. At a McDonald’s, people find exactly what they have come to expect. They know the liturgy, and what pecuniary dues they will have to pay; they have found the comfort, the security, and the reassurance there will be no surprises that are among the benefits of any ritual.

Peter Farb

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