11.09.2017

MCD - Mutual Culture Destruction

If McDonald's food isn't recognized as appetizing by some (or nourishing by most),
if their marketing has shifted towards complacent millennials who've boycotted all major chains,
if their decor has evaporated into a beige, nondescript camouflage blended into the landscape of a society that wants a leader dumber than itself as to not feel insecure, then does McDonald's, by definition, continue to exist? Did it ever - I mean, tangibly - exist?
The 'never fill you up/always let you down' dark magic leaves a very shallow footprint. The only proof we have, ironically, are some Happy Meal toys floating around.
Like NY City or American History, McDonald's has been sanitized into a state of apprehensive commonplace: "We know something's rotten, or used to be rotten, so just stay in line & don't call any attention to yourself & we'll call you #1."
Throughout the 2000s, I became acutely aware of several McDonalds suddenly looking like Starbucks.
Around this time, twice within a couple year period, 2 of the nearer locations to me were torn down - bulldozed to the ground - only to be immediately replaced by newer, boxier McDonalds.
Cold, postmodern, uninviting.
This is a corporate phenomenon I can't fully grasp; I can understand expansion, logo & brand modification, remodeling, restaffing, but a complete and unified architectural overhaul appears to be unique (now, to all the major fast food chains). And if this costly slash-and-burn approach to some trivial facelift weren't dumb enough, it's the end result that's upsettingly curious (or curiously upsetting). If newer McDonalds make your dentist's office look like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, then the latest model - the 2017 architecture and decor - resemble Keir Dullea's living quarters at the end of 2001, minus the Chippendale furniture.
So, still, I wonder, what is McDonald's?
Or, what was it?

We've touched on the concept of nostalgia a time or two at Bennett Media. And while we're loud 'n proud gluttons for yesteryear, that's not entirely what this is about.
Instead of looking back fondly, I'm looking around with disgust. Instead of reminiscing, I'm yelling and throwing furniture. My diet consists primarily of lorazepam and decaf, so it takes a pretty stiff dick to penetrate my mellow. But phooey, there are dicks all around me. And it's why I keep fighting.

The most surprising place to find some peculiar information regarding nostalgia is actually Wikipedia. In summation, they write of various 'studies' that champion the nostalgic individual, stating that such a person has "greater perceived meaning, search for meaning less, and can better buffer existential threat."
That rings true.
Of course, like any perspective/train of thought/state of mind/belief system, it all depends on the individual, no?

I don't know why people use snowflakes and fingerprints as the precedent of 'unique' - most things in nature don't match (except, I guess, for McDonalds).
There's an excerpt from Don DeLillo, via White Noise, via Luke Pajowski that goes:

“Murray said, 'I don't trust anybody's nostalgia but my own. Nostalgia is a product of dissatisfaction and rage. It's a settling of grievances between the present and the past. The more powerful the nostalgia, the closer you come to violence. War is the form nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country.'”

A fascinating observation - mostly for how bizarre and outlandish it is.
If one were nostalgic for the days of the Obama administration, for old-timey values like equality and tolerance, would they be considered a 'conservative'?
Nostalgia, by definition, is subjective. Anything else would be something else. Superficially, there is some kinda universal fondness for this or that (that's what we do here!) but the actual feeling you or I get is way too personal to simply "define," whether it's from Wikipedia or anything with the term "throwback" stamped on it.
Also, fuck the term "throwback."
Bennett Media rests on the shoulders of the butterflies we feel when we all remember seeing Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice, but it was under different circumstances for all of us. What triggers my memories and how I process them is beyond compare. Christ, even the bad times stir up nostalgic feelings for me, so figure that shit out!

But, believe it or not, this is something that's actually not unique to today's cultural holocaust: the demise of individualism. They've been trying to keep us in labeled groups probably ever since God invented religion.
Sure, there's a divisive political climate (again, nothing new), but we don't deal with that here. What I'm talking about is the ongoing pop struggle: Plato vs. Aristotle, Mozart vs. Beethoven, Dickens vs. Twain, Beatles vs. Stones, DC vs. Marvel.
Whatever cult you're part of, there's an opposing side. Someone to tell you you're wrong. And, of course, the best synonymical phrase for 'pop struggle' (and it drove Billy Joel crazy) is Cola War.
And that's what this is, and therein lies the problem; they can't poll the grey areas, and as someone who loves RC Cola as much Coke and/or Pepsi, my voice is unheard.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Attributed by Mark Twain to Benjamin Disraeli



The death of the individual voice has hit every corner of every thing, and every person feels it - consciously or not. And so, social media is born and thrives as everyone waves their freak flag in the hopes of emerging as different or special. It's pathetic and almost laughable, but it's fine. I don't care. But one of the big things we lost to this baloney is The Art of Film Criticism. And that, we take seriously.

The Vegetative (or is it a fruit) State of Movies (and The Critics Who Love Them)

I enjoy sports to some degree - baseball in particular. Though I've always found the Olympics to be pretentious, repetitive bullshit. Finishing first in a race is one thing, but it's the performance competitions, judged by judges, that are on some phenomenal level of nonsense. (This is also just a sliver of proof as to why those reality TV competition shows are forged by Lucifer himself). 
For the past 20+ years, mainstream cinema has been subjected to this GPA bullshit, and people - even you - are buying it.
Only the concept of Rotten Tomatoes is interesting. But when the novelty is simply more convenient than the substance, convenience will always, always win. Who wants the cherry on top when you can just buy a fucking jar of cherries?
You hear about the kid in 2016 who wanted to sue the site because Suicide Squad received such a low percentage? Now, while I admire that kinda passion, it does illustrate where we're at & where the moviegoing public is at.
And no, while they've trivialized criticism into 'good or bad' they have not done away with the art form itself -- for those who are interested, the full reviews can be sought out - the links are right there on the site. And if you do bother to read them, it presents a whole new and exciting ball of migraines.

I bitched about this in one of my older bitchfests way back in 2011 (and Stephen Stills before me): if
you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with. And it's the job of critics to do this professionally, and publicly. They have learned to train themselves to advocate mediocrity in the absence of greatness, and in the process they're leading us into the void. This is due, in part, to this newfangled constitution that 'okay' movies provide a high enough 'percentage' to qualify as 'fresh.'
The End. Kinda.

I can't write something like this and not lay into Lord of the Rings yet again, but I'll make it quick: while that movie set the acceptable standard of CGI way too low (and they still haven't progressed), the movie that changed-changed movies for the millennium so far was actually a movie I enjoyed, as it employed its device in a tasteful, seamless way (much like CGI-heavy movies pre LOTR) and that's O Brother, Where At Thou? In that movie, they changed green to brown. And it works - it's a huge move that manages to translate subtly. It was believable - you couldn't see the brush strokes.
Never again would this be so.
The art of cinematography (which - maybe I'm picky - I always found to be crucial to cinema) has died much in the fashion of roadkill: there it lies, dead in the street, and we just keep moving. The idea that lighting & color timing can be manipulated with mouse clicks appears to be just that: an idea. Because they look like mouse clicks. They've chosen to animate all the stuff in nature we can't control: weather, fire, blood, monsters, Carrie Fisher. But that's just the thing - when it is controlled, it looks fake. It looks bad. PT and Quentin don't seem to bother with it, but Scorsese and Spielberg sure do.

I site it as the biggest problem with mainstream cinema today.

To be fair, Rogue One did, for me, excel in nearly all of its digital wizardry. But no one really talks about that.
Nor does anyone really talk about The CGI Problem (and I don't think they're even aware of the cinematography disaster). 
Unless, of course, it's popular.
Sure, I was disappointed with the animation in the recent version of It. That's the point: I'm disappointed with sloppy, unrealistic animation. The kind you can find in Avengers 3, Transformers 5, Jurassic World, Wonder Woman, Fast & Furious 8, Thor 3, Alien 5, X-Men 25, Spiderman Whatever, and so on. Of course, unlike this stale parade of zombie food, It, with all its flaws, had a ton of hip & surprising elements. But this is when they wanna complain.
In the 90s, I thought the worst thing about movies was the screenwriting. And then along comes Titanic, and the big news is audiences find the dialogue to be corny & not believable. The same audience that drank in The Rock and Independence Day. My optimism tells me: when something is good, people just want it to be perfect. Add that to a lack of tact & I guess it's understandable.

The weird and frustrating (but mostly weird) thing is that I've always been the person who advocated film diversity, and that all movies don't have to follow some intangible criteria: a good plot, believability, a strong female lead, characters you care about, & so on.
The Gymnopédies and Kill 'em All can exist in the same universe.
But ain't that just my problem: the current lack of diversity; the beige, nondescript camouflage that is 98% of cinema.
Even all the infamously bad 'bad movies' like Manos, Troll 2, and Battlefield Earth are more fun and engrossing than, say, Hugo, Gravity, and The Big Short. I say this not to pay accolades to goofy cult fare, but to point out that this is a major fucking problem, with a seemingly easy (but apparently chancy) fix.

I thought mother! was pretty good. You know where that puts me? Nowhere. Much like the ripeness of a piece of fruit, one can't always determine the precise freshness. (That aside, it was just another example of how some detestable CGI can subtract from something.)
Point is, when a lot of this white bread doesn't evoke any passion, one is left shivering in the abyss. In a culture that encourages passion - to "Stand up. Fight. Make change. Resist. Break the rules. Let your voice be heard." - everyone's opinionated, and those opinions are facts. Everyone - not just the fake prez - everyone hides behind their FB and Twitter feeds -- people of fame especially; people with handlers who advise them when to release 'statements' to let the world know just how they feel about Trump, gun control, nazis, hurricanes, Harvey Weinstein, #oscarssowhite, non-binary gender rights, nuclear holocaust, and other tv shows. For the rest of us poor slobs who feel a million miles away from these global threats, we fight to the death over whether or not the minimalist approach to the Dunkirk screenplay was the right way to go.
Nothing matters - everything is trivial. When we're this close to being leveled, so is the playing field.

But even though everything is beige now, only the Sith deal in absolutes. I'm not all grey. I do feel strongly about some stuff.

How Much I Feel

  • Are you aware they removed the string from the Barnum's Animal Crackers box? I'm not striving for frivolous footnotes here - I bring it up as a proverbial straw (or string) in the center of a cultural winter. After Crackerjack prizes turned from metal to plastic to paper, after cereal prizes turned to nothing, after the prizes revealed under soda caps turned into bizarre serial codes, after they removed the color from Trix, all we had left was that string. Perhaps the simplest and most harmless piece of tangibility on the planet: a goddamn string. I've only ever heard from two schools of emotion on the animal cracker string: unrestrained enjoyment or indifference. But never any kinda disdain for it. Never a desire to do away with it.


  • You ever see this on a 16x9 tv? Presumptuous, isn't it? Cinemascope seemed to nearly coincide with the invention & popularization of television (disregarding some earlier experimental films). Nevermind the fiasco of home video cropping, pan & scan, full screen, everything else. As of today, it's not all fixed; it's merely been tallied. All tvs are 'widescreen', but all the cumulated media is not. There are only round holes, but all the pegs are different shapes: 1.33, 1.66, 1.85, 2.35, 2.4, 2.7, 3.14159265 1080 HD digital smoothing 16x9 anamorphic enhanced for widescreen tvs. Meanwhile everyone's capturing vertical footage on their phones. Ever been to someone's house & nothing is set correctly on their tv & you just wanna murder their whole family so they'll learn? Me too. 



  • Remember when Birdman ostracized the film industry for its recent slew of fakey-dark
    comic book movies & everyone applauded it & it won best picture & then nothing changed & Michael Keaton ended up in a Spider-Man movie? Me too.



  • If The Simpsons stay around long enough, maybe there may end up being some kinda resurgence; a renaissance. Maybe, all of a sudden, they'll get a little better. What if it became better than it ever was? What if, like, season 32 was the one where they dropped the Kardashian & iPhone jokes? There is room for optimism here. 


Hey, It Could Happen
There were a handful of things from my generation that I didn't get into the way the other kids did: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Nirvana, The Princess Bride, The Cosby Show. There were also a handful of things that I absolutely fucking hated: Full House, Power Rangers, wrestling, Chef Boyardee. This doesn't conflict at all with my current outlook. Not everything old is solid gold - even if it represents an era I'm supposed to cherish. This is an honest and vivid example of how quality and nostalgia can be separated, and also illustrates how not everything improves with age/benefits from sticky sentimentality. It is also an admission that there was, and is, a gulf between what's hip & what I think should be hip, and it widens as I get older.


If they tore down McDonald's & planted trees, that'd be fine. If they kept the same architecture from the 1960s & gave their revamp money to poorer countries or animal rescue, that'd be just as good. If we wanna get big & silly about this, then the problem goes beyond just my aesthetic taste. But we'll keep it intimate.

My hometown McD's, the one I grew up with & frequented most, was recently destroyed (soon to be replaced by a McD's). I got all my happy meal toys & collector cups there, played Monopoly & Dick Tracy's Crimestopper games there, & even saw A Christmas Story for the first time (when they inexplicably set up a TV and VCR for one Christmas in the late 80s) in that very Mickey D's. I find this even more distressing than if they were to change Coke to coffee or french fries to yogurt (both of which they've done), because as I stated before, while the food is magic poison, it was the ambience (and the marketing which passed away long ago) that was the magnificent soul of the corporation, the country, and the world (capitalist nations in particular). In all the big, dumb, flashy, evil ways we can make America great again, this is one I would welcome. And it's not gonna happen.

- Paul

3 comments:

Peyton said...

I had no urge to see "mother!" I've seen so few films from this year. I highly recommend "Super Dark Times" and "Menashe" to you. They portray the genuine human condition and that's all I'm starting to care about right now -- because the world does not encourage it anymore. Ever seen "Wall-E"? Never would I imagine a Pixar film accurately depicting the future.

"Super Dark Times" paints a gloomy and eerie atmosphere. It takes place in the mid-nineties, that pre-columbine era. Sometimes, I think that in a way, Y2K really was the cultural death knell for the world. All my favorite movies are in the 90's, like Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise". And if you watch that film now, you will see that modern times preach the antithesis of that film's message.

Thank you for this post and I would say more in this comment, but I'm in a rush. More later, friend.

Jacob Spickelmire said...

I can't help but wonder if musing philosophically like this about our culture is playing directly into the hands of those responsible for its deterioration. as Noam Chomsky would put it, the rich and powerful have the power to shape the realities of the lower classes, and in a capitalist society there's always an upper class, by definition - an oligarchy. and it seems to me that they have succeeded at convincing people that the problems plaguing our society are rooted in abstract, philosophical things. after all, the reason why McD's and everything else has turned to such shit is precisely for that reason: shit is easier to make cheaply than whatever McD's used to be.

the generation that gave us McD's was raised in an America with a greater sense of integrity and personal responsibility, even if bigotry and discrimination ran amuck. the generation they produced - Gen X - is probably the greediest, most selfish, and most self-entitled generation of the past hundred-odd years. they were raised by regulated capitalism, so they lived comfortably; so comfortably, in fact, that they got to dream about what their lives would be like if they were rich and powerful - millennials dream about what their lives would be like with a living wage, a permanent roof over their head, and no crippling debt - and because of the economic and educational systems they inherited, they were able to pursue those dreams. and when they got rich and powerful they fucked the rest of us. and they want us to think it's millennials' fault - i.e. it's the consumer's fault - because that is, ideally, how a capitalist system is supposed to function. but it doesn't.

they ruined McD's, and everything else, because when you want even MORE wealth and MORE power, what do you do? you make your society even dumber, even more complacent, and even more desperate, thirsty, hungry.

my point is (without assuming your motives for writing this): I don't think the causes of these issues, nor their solutions, are anything less than tangible, political, economic.

P and J said...

That is indeed one of the motives: all the 'real' problems seems too big, too intangible for us peasants. The greatest changes I can make are in my own life & what I interact with. In other words, I can grasp the mutation of a fast food chain more than I can socioeconomic strife & sleazy male celebrities. In even other-other woods, it's more fun musing on the death of my childhood than that other stuff. A lot of that may have to do with my age: it's not a lack of drive, it's just drive in a different direction. If that's playing into their hands, then I guess America truly is great again (?)

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