Consideration of the facts, statistics and the phenomenal growth of McDonalds- with a product that is closely associated with American culture- makes McDonalds a form of representation of ‘American cultural imperialism’ on rest of the world. The essay considers different perspectives about the issue; for example, McDonalds as a global organisation, its justification for the charges made by social activist and consumer’s perception of the company image.
The essay also integrates the consideration of adverse influences of McDonalds on different culture or nations, the economic implication for countries or communities in which it operates and mixed reactions of consumers to the American cultural imperialism that is reflected through McDonalds.
Due to the controversies and complex nature in constituent terms of the concept ‘Cultural imperialism’, most attempts to define it end up creating abstract complexities in the name of definition (Tomlinson, 1991; Barnett, 1997). However in order to understand American cultural imperialism through McDonalds it is important to define cultural imperialism.
Schiller, (1976) defined cultural imperialism as “Sum of the process by which a society is brought into a modern world system and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced and sometimes even bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to or even promote, the values and structures of the dominating centre of the system.
” (Tomlinson,1991:9) . It is worth noting that in the context of cultural imperialism Watson, (1997) has taken ‘culture’ to mean as popular music, television, film, video, pulp, fiction, comic, advertisement, fashion, home design, and mass produced food.
John Tomlinson, (1991) argues that the word ‘imperialism’ has a connotation of some a form of domination linking it to empire, that’s why cultural imperialism in ‘third world’ points to the link between present cultural domination and colonial past.
Said, 1997 has also emphasised the sense of domination that underlying the modernist production that is represented through global giants like McDonalds (Laura Chrisman, 2003). McDonalds is one of the crucial developments in America in twentieth-century that has influenced the world (Ritzer, 1996).
In 1955 the first franchise of McDonalds was opened, by 1991 the number had reached to 12,000 outlets through out the world (Boje et al, 2006). Rigg (1994) states that McDonald’s total sales in 1993 had reached 23. 6 billion, achieving the profit of 1. 1 billion. The total sale of the average US McDonalds outlet is 1. 6 million a year (cited in Ritzer, 1996). By the end of 2006 the company had 31,000 restaurants throughout the world that generated the revenue of $ 21. 6 Billion (McDonalds Annual Report, 2006).
And today McDonalds Corporation is running restaurants even in places like Mecca in Saudi Arabia where a product that is associated with modernity and pop culture is difficult to imagine. The influence of McDonalds has reached far beyond confines of the United States and the fast food business (Schlosser, 2002). In a survey of school children it was found that 96% of the students could identify Ronald McDonalds in name recognition which is second to Santa Claus (Greenhouse, 1986).
Because of its phenomenal success, there are restaurants throughout the world which copy McDonalds such as the fast food croissanteries in Paris, the chains of fast food restaurants like Nirula’s that sells mutton burgers and the restaurants like Juicy Burger in Beirut (Ritzer, 1996). The influence of McDonalds on the way we live today is so deep rooted that the Golden Arches are universally more recognised than the Christian cross (Schlosser, 2001). On the opening of the McDonalds in Moscow a student was observed to exclaim that it was a real peace of America (Ritzer, 1996). McDonalds have a central place in popular culture (Fishwick, 1983).
According to Smart (1999) brand names like McDonalds represents high profile symbols that are overloaded with variety of complex cultural association and their continual growing presence in almost all nations and its appeal serve as evidence of its deep-rooted existence, power and success of American commercial and cultural imperialism. Eric Schlosser (2002), observe that a generation ago American embassies and oil companies were the usual targets of overseas demonstration against ‘American imperialism’ but these days fast food restaurants particularly McDonalds have assumed that symbolic role.
Even the media portrays McDonalds as the American culture. For example, movies such as Coming to America, Falling Down, Moscow on the Hudson, Time after Time, Sleeper and Ten Men, have symbolised the American culture through McDonalds (Ritzer, 1996). Kellner (1999) points out the cultural dimension of the McDonald’s corporation through advertising campaigns and promotional stunts, trying to create an experience of fun, of family togetherness, and of Americanisation associated with the McDonalds experience.
Thus he argues that the one bite into a BigMc is actually consuming the sign values of good time, communal experience, consumer values, efficiency as well as the pleasure of the product. According to him McDonalds is not just selling the fast food, but a family adventure of eating out together, intergenerational bonding and a communal experience as repeated in their advertisements again and again. So the eating at McDonalds includes the consumption of sign values such as inexpensive food, a family outing, ‘Americana’ or Modernity (Kellner, 1999,).
It can be said that McDonalds is a combination of elements of globalisation and internationalisation (Vignali, 2001). According to Royle (2000) in order to succeed abroad McDonalds had to introduce a major cultural change so that their quick service food was uniquely American. Ritzer (1996) has based his theorisation of the phenomenon of ‘McDonaldization’ on Weber’s concept of rationalisation that according to him is the domination of more and more sectors of American society and the rest of the world by the principals and key features of McDonalds fast food chain (Kellner, 1999).
Retzer (1996) has explained that the principals of McDonaldization have restructured many diverse fields from the food, media, education, and even death. Kellner (1999) too agrees that the McDonalds fast food restaurants are sociological artefacts that can be analysed to generate more general and macro level of conceptualisation. According to Ritzer (1996) McDonaldisation influences not just the restaurant business but also education, health care, travel, leisure, dieting, politics, the family, and almost every other aspect of world society.
He argues that McDonaldisation has proved to be an unstoppable process by dominating the seemingly unreceptive institutions and parts of the world. McDonaldization involves revolutionary set of business practices and a revolution in one very important cultural element that is the way people eat (Smart, 1999). In a similar way Pendergrast (1993), have used the term ‘coca-colonization’ to suggest the continual American Cultural Imperialism. Katz (1994) has too referred Nike as ‘dream machine that seeks to redefine culture through the power of sports ‘.
Barry Smart (1999) stresses the point that the expansion of the McDonalds Corporation through its franchised fast food outlets is the significant representation of American economic and Cultural imperialism. It should be noticed that there are various instances of resistance to McDonalds and its rationalisation of food production and consumption (Smart 1999). Ritzer (1998) has referred to the critical reactions in Jerusalem on opening of the New McDonalds by quoting the comment ‘McDonalds is contaminating all of Israel and all of the Jewish people’ of a kosher restaurant inspector.
Webster, (1993) too have referred to several comparable examples of community resistance to the McDonalds corporation in Paris and elsewhere in the France (cited in Ritzer 1998). Constantino, (1978) observes that global organisations like McDonalds are just economic bodies but their operations have direct effect on the culture of the developing countries and they target common masses of local societies in order to maximise their consumers. They try to cultivate a lifestyle that is inappropriate for developing nations by creating new needs, redirecting attitudes and by changing values.
They try to induce western culture on segments of population who are most prone to absorb consumer values (Constantino, 1978). Finkelstein, (1999) agrees that McDonalds is an ambiguous product of modernity, because as an economic structure, it is well industrialised & it makes the product efficient and profitable but at the social level it lends credence for the modern existence in an iron cage. According to Finkelstein, (1999) the snacks from McDonalds are a type of privatised and individualistic pattern of consumption that doesn’t build bonds of belonging.
The social harmony of eating in McDonalds is superficially short-lived. Global McDonanldisation produces international identities and images although it creates thin communities (Finkelstein, 1999). Munch (1999) argue that because of consumption of cultural products in a global cultural market common standards of life have vanished and according to him this is an irrational effect of ‘rationalisation process’ that is turning the whole world into a market for professional organisations. Warde (1997) observes that many forces operate simultaneously to create collective orientation towards selecting food i. e. ocio-cultural forces, media representation of taste, and socio-demographics circumstances program people to similar consumption pattern. Klein, (2000) too believes that the attack from the global companies on the ‘choices’ people make regarding consumption happens on different fronts for example locally, with few super brands that use their capital power to wipe away small and independent businesses, and legally Consumer companies like McDonalds using Libel & trademark suits to hound anyone who brings unwanted twist on a pop culture product (Klein, 2000). McDonalds have influenced the way of life of a significant portion of the world.
Fast food that is provided in McDonalds is the form of American culture that the consumers globally literally consume. By copying American eating habits of fast foods (McDonalds), people from all over the world have started to look like obese fast food loving Americans (Schlosser, 2002). Kellner, (1999) takes the argument against McDonalds by stating that McDonalds encourage such a type of food that is closely associated with risk of cancer and heart disease but also actively promoting same culture where at presence of such diseases are not considered as a problem (McLibel Support Campaign, 1994).
The growth of McDonald since 1997 in Japan has accelerated the shift in Japanese eating habits. The sale of fast food industry doubled in 1980 which resulted in the doubled rate of obesity in children in Japan (Schlosser, 2002). In a similar way eating large quantities of meat has substantial negative effect on health and McDonalds have sold more than 100 Billion hamburgers (Spencer et al, 2005). Eric Schlosser (2001) referred to a study conducted by Wootan et al in 2006, in which they observed that at McDonalds the nutrition information at point of decision making was often difficult to find or completely absent.
Samuelson R. , J. , 1989, argues that there are people who refer McDonalds as a mixture of all that is Vulgar in American culture (cited in Ritzer, 1996). Emerald Group Publishing limited (2007) has published that even though McDonalds is trying to create the company image as an ethical company promoting diversity, concern for the planet and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices however the biggest argument against McDonalds is inherent in its global position that anti global activist see as the crux of the problem.
However while taking side of cultural imperialism David Rothkopf, 1997 state that, the vanishing of cultural distinctions might be a sign of progress of civilisation and a tangible sign of enhanced communication and understanding. The famous McLibel case was followed closely by different social activist, however Campbell K. et al (2001) found that the McLibel case did not had a measurable negative impact on McDonalds. But still the critics of fast food and McDonalds in particular are diverse such as farmer, leftist, anarchist, nationalist, environmentalists, consumer advocates, health officials, labour unions and defenders of animal rights.
The reason for their targeting the fast food restaurant chain of McDonalds is so ubiquitous, for that it threatens the fundamental aspects of national identity i. e. how, where and what people eat (Campbell et al, 2001). Accordingly Storey (1993), recommends that people, as active participant of local culture should be educated for selecting or rejecting new changes in culture, making meaning, attributing values to the developments in the culture etc.
On the other side the growing Americanisation of the world is very oblivious and it is expressed through growing popularity of the movies, music videos, television shows, clothing and the Fast food restaurants like McDonalds from the United States (Schlosser, 2002). Higher income, busier lifestyle, the ease of availability & storage, and greater variety in food choices have all resulted in repeat patronage to Fast food restaurants like McDonalds (Veeck et al, 2000).
At the same time due to the ‘transitional culture’ a large number of people are nowadays systematically and directly involved in more than one culture and this has certain amount of influence on the type of lifestyle that appeals to people (Hannerz, 1990). The study by Curtis et al (2007), found that presence of female gender, higher income levels, younger adults, the existence of children in the home and the positive opinion concerning the taste of the western food are the determining factors for the choices of type of food people make.
According to Jones et al (2002), McDonalds provide consumer’s value for ‘money-meals’ and also to some extent it is identified with an active commitment to community values and community activities. Curtis et al, (2007) observes that the increased consumption of western style convenience food in urban centres is likely the result of modernisation of the consumer preferences, where the consumption of imported foods, is viewed as a ‘sign’ of modern living.
He also argues that McDonalds provide a moderate cost solution for families looking for a modern dining experience, the new form of entertainment in china. In a study Watson (1997) found that there has been a change in the target audience of McDonalds. For example twenty years ago McDonalds catered to children of Hong Kong’s wealthy elite however these elite have abandoned McDonalds and have moved to up Market to more expensive places.
As a result McDonalds have turned to be a mainstay for working class people, who are attracted by its low cost, convenience, and predictability. However McDonald’s annual report in 2006 has presented many facts about company which try to provide justification for its global position and also shed some light on the organisation’s involvement with local communities for their welfare through employment opportunities, Health education, safety trainings, educational scholarships, and environmental practices.
It is worth noticing that McDonalds (& its owner) invest more than $1 Billion annually on employee training and development to create a platform for opportunities and growth for its employees (McDonalds Report, 2006). The company is proud to express the fact that 40% of its staff began their career at the restaurant (McDonalds Annual Report, 2005). McDonalds celebrate diversity in terms of employee backgrounds. 20% McDonald’s employees are African and approximately 25% of all McDonalds owner/operator are minorities.
McDonalds have secured number one position in Business Magazine for Hispanic, 2005 for its efforts to champion diversity in every aspect of the business. The company is also deeply involved and concerned for the communities in which it operates. For example Taiwan hygiene programme that teaches hand washing skills to children, New Zealand seat belt safety programme, US sue the dinosaur programme, Netherland Ronald sports programme, Russia fire prevention programme, Australia cancer education, McDonalds education Scholarship for children.
In the past McDonalds have received more than 60 awards for corporate responsibility and environmental leadership that includes place among 50 best employers in 2006 Canada, best employer of the year in Brazil 2005, Latin America one of the best place to work 2005, Environmental leadership award (2001), corporate conservation leadership award, animal welfare award, toy safety award.
According to Adams (2006), who is one of executive officer at McDonalds ‘McDonalds make deliberate choices concerning our food quality, available menu, choices, visibility of nutrition information, and educational message on energy balance and claim that these efforts demonstrate their commitment to the consumer’s health and wellbeing’. McDonald’s offers efficiency for consumers which means it is a best available way to get from being hungry to being full (Adams, 2006). It also offers the calculability in terms of portion size, cost and time required to get the product.
One can predict the quality and service of the product over the time in all locations (Ritzer, 1996). As a way to avoid the fear of American imperialism, McDonalds tries to purchase as much food as possible from the countries where it operates (Schlosser, 2002). Silverstone (1995) in his paper has cited the criticism made by Lyon, Taylor, and Smith, about George Ritzer’s belief that the impact of McDonalds on society is essentially bad and they see such a perspective as a biased.
They argue that McDonalds is serving a useful role on the high street and it can be seen as slick satisfaction of consumers needs. Silverstone, (1995) has also referred to the McDonalds reaction to the charge of providing unhealthy food that their product form part of an overall balanced diet (McDonalds Food: The Fact, 1994). It should not be ignored that McDonalds places the nutrition information in easy to read graphic format on the packaging for the consumer’s to understand their dietary requirements (McDonalds Annual Report, 2006).
Since the underlying values of the target audience have changed, McDonalds could not solely rely on convenience and product consistency as a unique selling point (Schroder et al, 2005). Watson, 1997 too agrees that in post modern upbringing the boundaries of the status, style, and taste dissolve almost as fast as they are formed. What is ‘in’ today is ‘out’ tomorrow as a result McDonalds is giving strong corporate emphasis on consumer health, quality and socially responsible initiatives must be taken (Schroder et al, 2005).
According to study carried out by Emerald Group Publishing limited (2007), McDonalds have made significant changes in its product line to reflect today’s healthy eating concerns and the more sophisticated taste of twenty first century consumers. In conclusion, due to its phenomenal growth, McDonalds does represent American cultural imperialism. The domination of American culture in the rest of the world has helped McDonalds Corporation in its tremendous growth and consequently McDonalds has strengthened the power of American culture in the world.
It shows that the relationship between American cultural domination and the growth of McDonalds is positive. However from the company’s point of view, McDonalds offers the ‘world’ the service that satisfies the consumer’s needs with due consideration to ethical issues. And for consumers it is an affordable and convenient way of experiencing the ‘modern living’. However anti-globalisation activists resist McDonalds for the adverse effects it has on native cultures and argue that the culture represented by McDonalds is inappropriate for the common masses.
After considering different perspectives it can be concluded that McDonalds does represent American cultural imperialism but it can not essentially be seen as bad or good for the nations of the world. However, consideration should be given to the importance of native culture, the role it plays in people’s life and the effect of American culture on developing countries where such American influence is not suitable.