In 1990 a leaflet entitled What’s Wrong with McDonalds? was being passed around by London Greenpeace. According to Chapter 5 of Michael Strangelove’s text, The Empire of Mind, the leaflet accused McDonald’s of “exploiting children with advertising, promoting and unhealthy diet, poor labor practice, environmental negligence and the ill treatment of animals.” McDonald’s immediately sent out undercover private investigators to infiltrate the civil rights and environmentalist group. (Strangelove, 2005) Greenpeace was sued by McDonald’s within the year.
As I read the passage in Strangelove’s text, it struck me as odd that such a well-established and powerful company would act so hastily towards the likes of simple protesting. It seemed that London Greenpeace was correct in their accusations- and this didn’t make the Happy Clown too happy at all.
The judge ruled that many of the accusations provided by Greenpeace were in fact true, “McDonald’s exploit children with their advertising, falsely advertise their food as nutritious, risk the health of their, most regular and long term customers, and are culpably responsible for cruelty to animals… and pay the workers low wages.” (Strangelove, 2005) Despite the truths in the leaflet, the defendants were still expected to pay 30,000 dollars to McDonald’s.
All of this to say: powerful companies like that of McDonald’s seem to have an insatiable hunger for the power and control of their image- even if opposing view may, in fact, be correct.
The appropriation of images and brands has been an ongoing topic of interest in my New Media course: McDonald’s being one of the most popular targets for appropriation (as well as culture jamming).
I believe there are several reasons for this. McDonald’s is a huge company, which has a history beginning in 1940. At 69 years old the company currently has 31,000 locations around the world, and according to Hoovers.com, in 2007 the company had a net revenue of 22.79 billion dollars.
It seems, the more powerful the company, the more questions will arise regarding its morality and ethics. As a whole, we as society want to be provided with the truth, and the truth is hard to come by in advertising and corporate companies. We are more reluctant to trust large companies- and when we are unsure, the likes of appropriated images, culture jamming and leaflets are likely mediums for protest.
With the prevalence of the Internet, spreading the word regarding one’s view on a company or ad campaign is easier than ever. For example, 4,600 hits on Google arise when the term “McDeath” is typed into the search engine (Strangelove, 2005). And as shown in class, it is very simple to come across an appropriated image when McDonald’s is typed into the search bar:
The power of the company is faltering- McDonald’s can’t possibly control the thousands, perhaps millions, of opposing views mentioned online. The Internet provides a means for the alternate views that were once easily suppressed in the not so distance past. Today, we have the power.