McDonald’s has always had a special place in my heart. Even now as an adult when I know there’s better food out there both in taste and in health merits but something about McDonald’s keeps bring me back. The reason for this has always been greater than just the food. The Founder was released at the beginning of 2017, and just hit Netflix at the beginning of August. It tells the story of the beginnings of McDonald’s and how it grew from one restaurant in San Bernardino, California to the global empire it is today. What I love most about The Founder is that it taps into that and sees beyond the food aspect of McDonald’s and what it means as an entity as a whole.
McDonald’s is a lot more than a simple restaurant. As a child it was a reward. There was no better feeling than going to McDonald’s after a good report card or after you had fulfilled your vow to be very well behaved at church. The play place in a McDonald’s served as a place where you could face your fears be it the big slide or socialize with strange children. There’s never a more important day in the life of a young American than when he outgrows the happy meal. I can still remember to this day the way I asked my dad if I could have a #1 instead of a happy meal. It was a big deal. I was no longer a little kid; this coming of age happened at a McDonald’s restaurant. Nothing was better than the rare chance when we got McDonald’s for breakfast though. Something about the smell of those hash browns and the feel of that american cheese over bacon and eggs in a biscuit was just beyond special. I loved how happy it made me and looking back I love that it was something that enabled my parents to give us something that brought so much joy. It was a rare and accessible reward that brightened every day we had it.
I believe this vision, the one I experienced as a child, for McDonald’s is addressed multiple times in the movie by the titular character, Ray Kroc who is not the creator of the restaurant but IS the creator of the massive corporation McDonald’s that we know (and I love) today. He shows it in the rejection of franchising to the idle rich and instead taking on working class people who will pour their heart and soul into their restaurant. He also goes on to say “McDonald’s is family” over and over to his franchisees. Not just a good burger, but a place to feel safe and grow old together. Perhaps the best scene in the movie is when Ray Kroc gives the McDonald brothers the pitch of a lifetime, “McDonald’s can be the new American church.” It’s this grandiose vision that makes the character so compelling. Nevermind that he could foresee what McDonald’s did eventually become, the drive with which he holds on to this thing is what makes this movie great.
What Ray Kroc did to the McDonald brothers is what I feel makes people say “How could you still like McDonald’s?”. What he did is as uniquely American as McDonald’s itself. The man saw a great idea, made it his own and ran with it way beyond the idea of the original people who came up with it. It’s this special brand of aggressive innovation and pursuit of growth that has existed in all the great American ideas and products. American’s didn’t invent television but we made it better, we turned it into what it is today. Americans didn’t invent cars but we took the idea and ramped it up to the point where we made more cars than anybody else. Even when Americans do come up with something, another American will usually take that idea and run with it without a care of the original inventor all for the sake of progress. That’s what happened with Windows, the iPhone, Facebook, and Instagram every two weeks. This is what Americans do.
I admit that it’s painful to see what happens to the nice and smart McDonald brothers who see their life’s work taken from them and are left without any of their royalties, but what is the alternative? If Roy Kroc had gone through with what he said, would it have been a better movie? Maybe. Would it have been believable? No. This is the great thing about McDonald’s and The Founder and almost anything we enjoy as Americans that we don’t hand make. We KNOW that it’s bad, we know that our cars spend too much gas, that our houses are too big, that the phones we buy cost too much, and that the food we eat isn’t healthy. We also tell ourselves that we are in a privileged position to enjoy such things, so we go ahead and do it. It’s easy to feel bad for the McDonald brothers because we’ve all been taken advantage of at one point in our lives but the fact of the matter is that even when we ARE them, most Americans identify more with Ray Kroc. As the famous quote says most Americans see themselves as just “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”, we’re all just pushing for that next big break, just one. That’s all we need.
That’s what’s exceptional about McDonald’s. All that horrible history and scumbag-ness paired with a truly miraculous story of success through hard work and seizing your moment. God Bless America, and God Bless McDonald’s.
The Founder is out on Netflix streaming as of August 2017