WITH PERSONAL FREEDOM COMES PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Last week, in one of my capstone classes, our professor showed us the acclaimed documentary Fast Food Nation to complement what we’d been studying: mass culture and cultural change. I had seen Fast Food Nation before, but it’d been a really long time; and, judging by my reaction my perspective on the issues it pointed out have changed quite a bit.
The class-long movie session ended with a homework question: “What are your thoughts about the film and the premise that America has become McDonaldized?” I realized that a more thought-out critique of what I’d seen would be better off somewhere else, like a campus newspaper. Then I realized I work for the Union Weekly.
Fast Food Nation spotlights the obvious; aside from the alarming facts about the high consumption of junk food in this country, the documentary talks about what we already know but choose to pretend not to. However, that is not what intrigued me the most. In one of the chapters, the McDonald’s lab rat that guides us through the story discusses an occasion in which two people sued the Golden Arches for “getting too fat.” The documentary didn’t technically defend their position, but it did go on to interview a lawyer that had many things to say in the favor of those who had suffered in the hands of McDonald’s.
I am not a heartless person, and I do think it’s sad that obesity is becoming the norm, even at young ages, but the incident just mentioned is part of a problem in society much bigger than anything else Fast Food Nation had to say: We’ve come to blame every single one of our defects on an economic system we have defended, loved, and revered for the last few hundred years. Start asking your friends what they like the most about the United States, and you’ll most likely hear “freedom,” “freedom to choose,” “opportunity,” and “freedom” again. Why do I love America? Because of freedom too! People’s desire to prosper is also great, and an environment that supports and encourages both these things is good to have. Ray Croc is as good as an American success story gets, and McDonald’s glory was built around many of the American values we are taught to admire, helped by a culture of meritocracy and all the habits that follow (No time to sit down and eat! We need to work in order to get somewhere!).
Then bad things happen: Children get obese, people have heart attacks at age 40, and we start looking for the cause of our disgrace. “It’s those huge corporations!” No, folks, it’s us. There is one group that decides whether a company thrives or dies in capitalism: the consumers. We are the ones that choose who succeeds, and we are the ones behind their billion-dollar profits. The same scenario is true across the market spectrum. “Oh, those damn fashion labels, using skinny models and forcing us to believe that we have to be like them!” Or even worse, as brought up by one of my classmates: “Well, I started watching Say Yes To The Dress, and I now I really do feel like I need to have an expensive wedding gown.” Oh, aren’t we just helpless!
But isn’t that what our society wants? Isn’t that what we like? The idea that you can start a company, market it to the public, and, if your idea and model are good enough, you will see prosperity? Shouldn’t it be up to the population to educate itself and decide what’s best for it? Isn’t that part of our beloved freedom of choice? We have options, and we get to pick one! It’s a great thing! Why do the standards have to change when the consequences of capitalism come to bite us in the ass?
I brought this argument up to a good friend of mine, to which she promptly replied that no company should expect the population to be informed enough to make a good decision. I disagreed. To the extent of my knowledge, every adult is indeed able to understand that eating fast food every day will poison their health. A quick look around proves that looking like a Victoria’s Secret model is quite unrealistic, and it doesn’t seem hard at all to understand that shiny Rolex watches are very far from being a necessity.
Then I took a step back. Fast Food Nation talked about McDonald’s’ children-directed advertising strategy, which caused me to finally realize that no, not every human being can filter information properly. It is ultimately up to parents to educate their kids, but what if a kid doesn’t have parents that care enough? What if the parents aren’t around because of circumstances beyond their control? Should children be a victim of an economic system that preys on ignorance?
Perhaps decision-makers at corporations should have the responsibility, or at least the decency, to say “Fuck it guys, let’s take a 20% cut in profit, make 8 billion dollars instead of 10, because we can’t rely on people to make good choices.” But that’s anti-American. That’s borderline communist. Limiting your success for the welfare of others? That’s not individualist enough.
You don’t have to agree with anything I wrote. However, I hope this article communicates that, even though corporations do cross the line, things would be much different, and better, if we chose to become critical of the world around us. You’re in college, so understand that becoming an intelligent person, an asset to our society, is much more important than any piece of paper you receive for passing classes.