A group of nutjobs — sorry, I mean activists — has called upon Ronald McDonald to retire so we can finally put a stop to childhood obesity. Curious about Ronald’s reaction, I called him up and asked for an interview, and he graciously agreed. I’ll get to the interview shortly, but first, some background:
Ronald I became good friends during the production of Fat Head. The film is advertised and promoted as an independent production, but as some of Morgan Spurlock’s die-hard fans have long suspected, the whole thing was originally Ronald’s idea. He wanted to write, direct, and star in the film himself, but after test-marketing a trailer on some focus groups, the bigwigs at McDonald’s concluded that the public wouldn’t consider Ronald an impartial documentarian.
Frustrated, but still determined to bring his vision to the small screen, Ronald began a nationwide search for a stand-in … preferably someone who had never made a film before and could add the amateur touches that give an independent film a certain “feel.” He discovered me during one of my infrequent guest spots at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena. As he told me later, he immediately felt a certain kinship: we share a similar fashion sense, we have approximately the same skin tone, and we’re equally likely to walk into a glass door.
Naturally, I was reluctant to take on the project … partly because Ronald had already written the script and made it clear he wasn’t open to any independent thinking on my part, and partly because all the good books on story structure say the protagonist should start out reluctant but change his mind in the face of new information. In my case, the “new information” came in the form of Ronald’s personal check for $10 million, plus $160 in McDonald’s gift certificates. There was also a note in the envelope:
Do not use this money to create a slick-looking film. It must appear to be an independent documentary produced on a shoe-string budget. Take out a second mortgage to pay the post-production expenses in case any of Morgan Spurlock’s fans ever dig into the film’s financial records.
So we began shooting the film, with Ronald telling me exactly what to say and do. I had so little creative input, I received a membership card from the Screen Actors Guild. The production days were long and tiring, but nonetheless, Ronald and I enjoyed working together and became friends. He made a personal appearance at my daughter’s fourth birthday party, and my wife and I even joined Ronald and Mrs. McDonald for a few black-tie social occasions. (That’s the missus in the picture. She’s a part-time model.)
So with the full disclosure out the way, here’s my interview with Ronald:
A group called Corporate Accountability International has called upon you to retire. How do you plan to respond?
Excuse me? You’re not serious.
I’m afraid so. If they were just another bunch of anti-capitalist kooks looking to blame an easy target for a complex societal problem, I’d probably ignore them. But I saw in the news stories that they’re actually a collection of health professionals, parents, and corporate responsibility advocates. The media never gets those descriptions wrong. So I’ve done some soul-searching. It’s time to come clean.
But … you’ve been the public face of McDonald’s since 1963.
Well, think about that. I was already an adult in 1963. They didn’t hire me as a baby, you know. Here, check out this picture. That’s me as a baby.
Cute. But I don’t see what that has to do with–
The point is, I’m 70 years old. I’m tired of jumping around in those big shoes. My ankles hurt. The Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Birdie the Early Bird, they’re all in nursing homes now. The Hamburglar steals little cups of pureed vegetables from the other residents. It’s really sad. It’s time for me stop working and enjoy the time I have left, and I want to do the right thing before I go.
Boy, you sure look good for 70.
I dye my hair. But don’t print that.
I promise. But my point is, you were around at least two or three decades before everyone was talking about an obesity epidemic, so it’s kind of obvious you didn’t cause it.
No, I caused it.
Before he died, Ray Kroc sat down with me over a couple of Happy Meals and said, “Ronald, I have a confession to make: I hate kids. I want to see them all get fat and sick.” Then he laid out the master plan for me.
You mean selling them hamburgers and french fries? Come on, my parents went out for burgers and fries when they were dating. They told me about it. They weren’t fat.
You’re not looking at the big picture. They went out for burgers and fries, but their parents didn’t take them out for burgers and fries instead of cooking dinner at home. We fixed that.
First we lobbied Congress, the state governments, and the local municipalities to keep slowly increasing taxes so the total average tax bite went from 25 percent to almost 50 percent. We knew if more and more families needed two paychecks just to get by, we’d do a lot more business. Who wants to cook when you’ve been at the office all day?
I see. But —
Then we put a special hormone in our burgers to make people unhappy so we could drive up the divorce rate. Our research showed that single parents are more likely to pick up a meal to go.
Okay, okay, but we’re still talking about burgers. I lost weight eating double-quarter pounders and Sausage McMuffins. If anything started an obesity epidemic, it was our own government scaring people into giving up fat and eating more carbohydrates.
Yes, I know. We did that one too.
Oh come on, Ronald! You sell red meat. High-fat foods. All the things the experts tell us not to eat.
Exactly. That was Ray Kroc’s genius. First he bribed the McGovern committee to announce that fatty foods cause heart disease, so people started going on those stupid lowfat diets. You remember how you felt when you tried living on lowfat meals?
Yeah. I felt lousy.
Exactly. And what were you really craving the whole time?
Meat. Cheese. Saturated fat. But I never bought those foods at the grocery store, because I was trying to … wait a minute!
Can you say “two double-cheeseburgers for two bucks?”
Yup. I bet when you finally broke down, we saw you at the drive-up window.
Well, there was a McDonald’s two blocks from my apartment in Chicago, so– wait a second. Burgers don’t make people fat. Sugar makes people fat.
Exactly. Ray realized we’d been selling desserts for a lot of years, but people didn’t order that many of them because they knew sugar was bad. So he conspired to turn us into a nation of sugar addicts.
After working with McGovern to start the low-fat diet fad, he bribed a bunch of other congressmen to start heavily subsidizing corn. Once high fructose corn syrup became dirt cheap, it started showing up in everything. And who cares, right? After all, they’re low-fat foods. So people got addicted to the stuff.
So now you sell more desserts?
Come for the juicy burgers, stay for the sodas and desserts. I’m telling you, Ray planned the whole thing.
And where did you come in?
Me? I’m irresistible. The only person recognized by more people around the world is Santa Claus, just like the people at Corporate Accountability International said. Kids see me, they go bonkers. They scream to go to McDonald’s.
But look, Ronald, I wanted to go McDonald’s all the time when I was a kid, too. But I had this other person named Mom making the decisions, and she used this special word called NO.
That’s why we started the hypnosis.
See this outfit? The crazy colors? The stripes? Ever notice how I wave my arms around all the time in the TV commercials? I’m actually hypnotizing the parents. I take away their power to say no.
I know. I told you, I’ve done some soul-searching. That’s why I’m retiring.
Uh-huh. Before you disappear into the sunset, any chance you’ll try to undo the damage? Maybe work on convincing the government to stop pushing the lowfat diet theory and scaring people away from saturated fats?
How am I going to do that? Get a job with the USDA? Run for congress?
Maybe. You’ve got the name recognition.
There are enough clowns in the government as it is.
Fair enough. Enjoy your retirement.