“Young children are cognitively and psychologically defenceless against advertising.” -- The American Academy of Pediatrics
“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” – Jesuit maxim
It’s a good time, for the great taste, of McDonald’s. This little tune was one of my earliest memories – the McDonald’s ad jingle, circa 1984. A treacly Pavlovian commandment to buy the Happy Meal, forever and ever, Amen.
Now I go to McDonald’s more often than I go to church. That damned jingle will be the last thing I remember on my deathbed.
As a kid, I was an hour’s drive away from the closest McDonald’s. A trip to Sault Ste. Marie (the closest real city) meant a movie at the Princess Theatre, shopping at the Station Mall and a visit to the golden arches. I celebrated my birthday there: we had contests to see who could build the biggest styrofoam box tower, and then they gave me a grand tour of the kitchen. That stupid jingle was indivisible from greasy McNuggets and fun and summertime. Whenever we drove past the Tudor-styled McDonald’s by the Wellington Square Mall, my brother and I would commence impassioned screeching until Dad, not wanting to prolong this ordeal, would stop the car.
I remember every McDonald’s jingle from 1984 through the mid 1990’s. There was the Mack the Knife spoof Mac Tonight, a piano-playing crooner with a big moon-shaped head. There was the one where working stiffs recited the entire menu: Big Mac, McDLT, A Quarter pounder with some cheese…” These jingles were anthems heralding freedom and pleasure, but above all, they were catchy.
I started to resent Mickey D’s around puberty with their insipid Food, Folks and Fun campaign. This early insubordination preceded my fall from grace. High school came with its requisite righteous indignation. At 15, fitting in meant hammily condemning the sheep and sell-outs. Converse was fine, Nike was not. Dickie’s passed, Guess was for lemmings. For each subculture, the inane rules of exclusivity were drawn. The ramifications for deviating from them were sensed fully. ‘I am Ronald McRaygun, I want you in my McArmy…’ sang Dayglo Abortions. Suddenly, the sickening rot beneath was unveiled: the corruption of the Government, the soulless Corporations, our brain-washed peers. I was a far cry from disenfranchised but raged nonetheless – against whatever machine was presented to me. I knew it was necessary to do so. That’s what you do when you’re young and want people to like you.
I didn’t visit a McDonald’s for years.
McDonald’s, as it turns out, didn’t miss me. It chugged along with its ineffable finger on the pulse of its ever-shifting target demographic. Now it’s a slick pseudo-Starbucks; black marble, ‘McCafe’ cappuccinos and ethnic-sounding salads. There is nary a Play-Place to be found. The family aspect has been largely supplanted by singles dining alone, shoving those salty fries down the hatch while glaring at their phones. It’s all shrewdly-selected brand ambassadors and PR-polished social media marketing with a battalion of damage controllers. People will eat at McDonald’s but they won’t exactly announce it to all of their friends.
I started eating at McDonald’s again a few years ago. Morgan Spurlock and his smug Super Size Me rhetoric irritated me and made me crave Chicken McNuggets.
The manufactured memes of childhood have sunk in deep, the commercial world has embedded itself in my mind. Everyone Loves MarineLand or Fabricland, FABRICLAND are more easily recalled than a first communion or a first kiss. Memory is a finicky thing – an onion being pulled back in layers – so only the first-formed ones remain. Those delectable fries are a sodium-soaked trip down memory lane. The combination of music, smell and taste converged to fire up my limbic center and make me a lifelong convert.
These hokey jingles have become an endless hymn, a comforting reel on YouTube, a folk song for those of us with no culture. We regard them sentimentally because they conjure a simpler time – not a simpler time for society – but for ourselves. Before stresses and debt and death and divorce and disappointment and grief. It makes big kids cling to their 80’s and 90’s parties, play their “vintage” Nintendo games, and remember those jingles like a mantra.