Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Bailey Park, McDonalds, and Wal-Mart

. . . all represent something great about America to me. Without getting too deep about the specifics here, George Will encapsulates my sentiments about these questions with this article on McDonalds. The lofty suspicions so many of us (right and left) are inclined to harbor about franchises and suburbs and big box stores are just a bit rarefied for my taste. I guess I’m just a conservative girl born with a plastic spork in my mouth and, really, I don’t see anything wrong with that (as long as you know when to take it out!)

Discussions - 9 Comments

Julie,
Although only very rarely eat at McDonalds (despite the excellent fries and underrated and very cheap coffee), I'm sort of with you on this. I hate to engage in shameless self-promotion, of course, but I have relevant essays criticizing the excesses of the New Urbanism and Conservative Crunchiness in my last two books. Question for discussion: Is it more "authentic" to hang out at McDonalds (as the old guys do w a senior citizen discount on the already cheap coffee) or at Starbucks (or your local equivalent), where people pay a premimium for a bitter brew with a complicated name in order to take in the ambiance?

Peter . . . I know what you are saying. And for the record, McDonalds does have very good and underrated coffee. The fact is, however, that they improved their brew in response to the Starbucks craze. I tend to take a moderate view here. I don't harbor disdain for either McDonalds or Starbucks. I think the Starbucks coffee is pretty good--though over-priced, and I only go there for coffee when it comes attached to an afternoon or morning chat with girlfriends. So it's the company more than the coffee that brings me in, as it should be. What I do appreciate about Starbucks is the trend they reinvigorated for our time of bringing people in to sit down and talk over coffee. I understand, but do not appreciate (unless I need caffeine to drive) the new DRIVE THRU Starbucks that are creeping up all over California. To the consternation of my girlfriends when we meet, I never order the fancy girly drinks with whipped cream (or worse, soy!?) but just black coffee (unless eggnog brew at Christmas counts . . . but then, I prefer the McDonalds eggnog shake to that too!)

Some of my best memories, however, are of getting up in the morning to "go to work" with my grandpa during Christmas vacation as a kid. After picking me up, he would always make a bee-line for McDonalds and I would get to sit and listen (and sometimes interject into) great conversations between him and his plethora of old time guys from the town. I think of him every time I see those hotcakes and sausage platters and the tinfoil wrapped orange juice . . . I'm pretty sure he had the discount card too.

Some folks would prefer that I had a local diner or coffee shop to recall instead of Mickey D's . . . to which I would reply that there are still some local haunts that I make a point to frequent when I'm in town. But they are subject to closures and changes of ownership and quality, whereas the hotcakes and sausage that Grandpa used to buy for me are exactly the same kind that my kids now consume after church on Sundays. The beauty of my McDonalds memories is that they are more universal and enduring and so transport to new towns and generations. How American is that?

Julie wrote: "And for the record, McDonalds does have very good and underrated coffee."

Such was not always the case. If my memory serves, McDonald's coffee some 15 or 20 years ago was not very good. (Perhaps I experienced a few bad batches.) At any rate, it is a testament to McDonald's that they recognized the role of coffee and upgraded their brew.

Peter wrote: "Is it more "authentic" to hang out at McDonald's (as the old guys do w a senior citizen discount on the already cheap coffee) or at Starbucks (or your local equivalent), where people pay a premium for a bitter brew with a complicated name in order to take in the ambiance?"

I'm inclined to say yes, though I am biased against Starbucks. I don't care for the taste of their coffee and I think it's overpriced.

Julie makes a great point about the reinvigoration of sitting down over coffee. That's what diners were -- and are -- all about. Starbucks augmented this with the WiFi and the comfy chairs. But there is a fine line between that and pretentiousness. I think the patrons of Starbucks pushed things over the line, and I don't think Starbucks resisted.

It is possible to be equally unauthentic in a greasy-dive diner. So I guess authenticity is not a function of the establishment. But an establishment can become identified with anti-authenticity ... and in my eyes Starbucks fits that bill.

It is not authentic to worry about what is authentic. But then I'm not a coffee drinker.
In _Equality by Default_ Philippe Beneton eloquently expresses the European traditionalist anti-McDonalds viewpoint. I've tried to explain to him the good family times we've had at McDonalds, but it doesn't translate.
I do crave a quarter-pounder with cheese or filet-o-fish now and then. But there are legitimate nutritional questions -- not only about McDonald's, alas.
And on another topic: we saw Juno. Very affecting. All the acting was good, but I was quite amazed by the young boyfriend-father. Then I just saw Jennifer Garner (who plays the adoptive mother) interviewed in Hollywood, explaining how the message was all about how any kind of family can be good, vs. the traditional family model, etc. How's that for brilliant, refreshing? Myself, I detected a distinct longing for eternal love in a stable family.

on McDonalds and Starbucks, I actually agree with Julie's moderate view, and of course the mean between the extremes is the DINER--with table or counter service. (I like the point by McDonalds responding to the market by upgrading its coffee. If you doubt there's progress in the world, consider what's been going on when it comes to caffeinated beverages over the last couple of decades.) Ralph is right that it's not authentic even to use the word authentic, just as it's not very traditional to use the word traditionalist. On Juno, Jennifer Garner is just wrong about the message: Any family is better than no family, but there's no denying that Juno longs for a husband and her baby, and her own father gives an affecting speech about love etc. that points in the direction of eternity. In our screwed up world where people are able to get by at all sorts of "maturity levels" and don't have the words or the institutions that correspond to their longings, we have to be satisfied enough with the film's less that completely satisfying outcome. Considering how "ill equipped" Juno was by her (lack of) upbringing, it's amazing how much she was able to learn by doing about "what kind of girl she is." And she arguably was raised well enough in the most important respect.

Yes, I think that's just right, Peter. And while I'm straying from topic (sorry Julie --it really is all connected, though), I just finished re-reading Gilead. I'm just amazed. This is the must-read of all must-reads. In fact the narrator, dying just before McDonalds, is trying to teach his son to face and appreciate the new world that is coming. (and Peter, did you every see New York Doll? Talk about weirdly authentic.)

In Washington's Rules of Civility, etc., Washington notes the following: In your apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places. Here he is talking, primarily, about clothing and appearance. But it might also be applied to this conversation and many others along these lines. It is not only inauthentic to worry about being authentic or inauthentic . . . it is also unmanly. Such matters are petty and ought to be regarded with unconcern, if at all . . . take or leave McDonalds. Take or leave Starbucks. Do as it makes those around you feel comfortable and contented and do not worry yourself about such matters. Where to eat or drink is, in the end, a matter of fashion too. It may be that fashions reflect some larger points within our popular culture . . . or it may be that the criticism my family offers of this conversation is valid . . . "Don't you people have anything better to do?" It's probably true that a complete lack of concern and a deep worry about authenticity are both off the mark . . . but I think I'll err on the side of not caring as long as my belly is full, my taste for conversation satisfied, and those who accompany me are happy with the choice.

You ain't livin till you go to an American fast food franchise in a foreign country that is tailored for that country ... think asian Col. Sanders for KFC and you will get the point.

One dollar for a double cheeseburger? McDonald's is to young men who'd rather not cook for themselves what mana was to the Israelites in the wilderness. God bless America.

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