I've had issues with McDonald's for quite a while. Almost every sane person has. We've been through McLibel and Super Size Me, we've heard about the appalling working conditions and practices of the corporation, we've heard about the condition and treatment of the animals used for meat, and we've heard about the destruction of Brazilian rainforest purely to create more grazing land for McDonald's livestock.
I'd heard all that too, but the straw that broke this camel's back, the one that made myself and herself swear never to eat in a McDonald's again (rather than simply making it a casually-adhered-to rule), was I Am Asian™.
Here's how it happened. Some while ago, someone in the (presumably gargantuan) McDonald's marketing department decided to cross-correlate the "How often do you eat in McDonalds?" and "What is your ethnicity?" results from their latest customer feedback questionnaire, and spotted that "Asian-American" customers were, on average, their least frequent visitors.
Gosh. What's a poor, multinational corporation to do in such a situation? It's a quandary, to be sure.
The answer, of course, is to whip up some highly targeted marketing. And the resulting web page can be witnessed at http://i-am-asian.com. If I may be so bold as to quote:
"We're Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and our diverse cultures and our everyday American lifestyle are becoming one. We're hanging on to our great traditions while we move to the beat of the times. We honor our heritage and we love being Americans. From high fashion to high tech, from Asian Pacific American hip hop to haute cuisine, we're weaving the threads of our culture into the fabric of everyday American life. Whether we're celebrating one of our cultural holidays or enjoying a Big Mac sandwich, we're helping make the magic mix called America become even richer. And McDonald's is right there with us, everyday! We are proud of our cultural heritage."
The copy writer for i-am-asian.com
The above copy is displayed beneath a Flash slideshow featuring various people who appear to be of 'Asian' extraction, 'Asian' in this sense meaning precisely what it does when you tick that box on the questionnaire: having ancestors from one of the myriad and diverse cultures or races that occupy the huge land mass of the continents of eastern Eurasia, Asia and the Pacific Islands. Rather a broad catchment area, isn't it?
There's a vaguely East Asian couple on a beach wearing shades, next to a paper McDonald's cup. There's a rather rotund looking chap who looks a bit like a south-east Asian Frank Black, sitting with an electric guitar (not plugged in to anything) and a McDonalds takeaway. There are some sandalled feet sticking out of a Volkswagen New Beetle cabriolet. There's a girl with roller blades and a pug dog. (Are they saying about pug noses? It's a commonly used insult, I'm told.) Then a big close up of the dog wearing a doggy-sized McDonald's "i am asian" t-shirt.
So, who wrote this copy? Who are the "we" referred to in the copy? And why does it sound like a manifesto for selling out half the world's cultural heritage for a hamburger?
I really have a hard time working out whether or not this is racist. Is it racist to isolate a demographic on this basis for the purposes of marketing? Is it racist to blatantly pander to and reinforce so many cultural stereotypes at the same time? I can't work it out, but I'm reminded of a quote from a very great man, which seems horribly appropriate right now.
"I'm not a racist!"
Father Ted Crilley
Also, if you can hear a faint screaming sound, that's probably Bill Hicks screaming from his grave, inviting the marketing department of McDonald's corporation to come join him.
Racist and insulting or not, it leaves such a bad taste in my mouth, fills me with such revulsion that it makes me want to... well, stab things. If you find the same, please feel free to spread the word as far and wide as possible. The more people know about this, the less they'll want to visit McDonalds.
Thankfully, there's a little light relief in the form of a spoof site, http://i-am-white.com, redressing the racial imbalance a little.