Opinion //

A Flag Flies at McDonald’s

What could the McDonald's flag symbolise?

Image credit: Jerry Rickard (ABC News).

The clangour of metal on metal, a blur of shirts — red, the prism of voices in pursuit of each other. An order falls on someone no older than sixteen, too young for this; the clangour of metal on metal, the cry of a voice, a helter-skelter undertoned by klaxons and alarms swinging sonic violence — bees in the din. Red shirts swell, desist, buckle, and shake as they face off a motley-dressed armada.

And when their day is done, when their leader dismisses them, they step out into the parking lot, pupils dilating to the whisper-light of night, and each and every one of them searches for that red-and-gold, the flick-and-swish of allegiance. As on their uniform so it is above, the Golden Arches whip against the night.

Cremorne McDonald’s, amongst others, is one such location that displays the flag of its own logo. Hoisting it at equal height as the Australian flag standing a few metres away, both flagpoles are enjoined by a promotional banner which spans across the distance between them. To this the onlooker responds, interpreting this presentation as a chimeric melding of nationalism and corporatism, a sharp-toothed value-combo of jingoism and capitalist lunacy.; One can imagine the boardroom pitch:

Tears brim as you bite into your hashbrown and see the Southern Cross, you think of our boys at Gallipoli — what a waste that was — the hash brown goes down smooth as you switch vision to the McDonald’s flag, peristaltic contractions pullulating the potato-saliva down your system. A shaky smile creases the path of your tears, you nod your head as you think to yourself, as every Australian must, as those ANZACS did; I’m loving it.

Or, alternatively, one might interpret this semiotic similarity as a shove, a command daring you to treat McDonald’s with that same patriotic reverence expected for the Australian National flag — the presence of which, at McDonald’s, is a concession to goodwill, the handing of an unplugged controller to a younger sibling.

The absurdity of this demand for equal-perception by this fast-food giant invokes a disquietude, a challenge to Australia. Through the absurdity of the thought, the claim to the same fame as a nation state, McDonald’s is requiring more attention from the viewer than the Australian Flag. And while It must be admitted that Cremorne McDonald’s seems to follow Australian flag protocol (even flying at half-mast upon the passing of the Queen), a feeling lurks that this is merely legal, mechanical. The essence that slips between this adherence to legalese is the same semantic twisting that allows heads-of-state to declare freedom-fighters terrorists, and have them executed without a toe out of line. 

And then, disturbingly, what would you make of a customer (and at this point it must be imagined that all Australians have been, are, or will be McDonald’s customers), saluting before the twin flagpoles? To whom are they pledging allegiance?

 On a more subterranean level, this form of presentation works as a knife into the brain. A 2016 study focusing on the psychological interpretations of flags and logos indicates that groups with symbols “seem more entitative and threatening as well as more competent but less warm”.

Robert Shanafelt, in a 2008 journal article, argues for the flag as a “‘natural symbol”’, one that has cognitive connotations linking back to our primate past, noting that the flag must also be recognised as a physical marker in a 3D space (its “‘topographic context”’). Shanafelt argues, with reference to observations by Darwin on the body language of animal hierarchy, that the flag’s high vertical position (relative to that of the viewer) embodies the same meaning as a domineering chimp, bipedal and bristiling in piloerection. 

This biological view attends to the same general principles of the psychologist Louis Cheskin, who advised McDonald’s in the 1960s to keep the golden arches as their logo, attesting that the honeyed curves had “Freudian implications”, likening them to a pair of nourishing breasts.

On a more macro scale, the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention, put forward by Thomas Friedman, expounds that in a world of ever-increasing economic connectivity, any two countries that have the economic health to support McDonald’s will have no ‘interest’ in going to war with each other. Although this theory was suggested tongue-in-cheek in 1998, the growing reality of fiscal repercussions as a form of retaliation described by the theory may hold true, as McDonald’s has announced it will be ‘de-arching’ and permanently leaving Russia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (a country with 108 McDonald’s locations). 

In considering the financial implications of this action, is it not then justifiable to consider McDonald’s as on a similar level to bonafide nation-states? A rough estimate of McDonald’s workers puts them at 200,000 (discounting franchises), a population larger than countries such as Samoa, Aruba, and Bermuda. The 2021 full-year analysis from McDonald’s published a revenue of $23.2 billion in 2021, making it roughly 108th in the world by GDP (if it were a country), placing it above Iceland.
If each McDonald’s worker were to raise arms, the combined guerilla efforts could cast dozens of countries into the muck with its logistical precision praised by Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard: “I respect one thing it does. No one at McDonald’s ever tells a customer, ‘Sorry, we’re all out of iceberg lettuce today.’ It successfully organises on-time delivery every day of the week.”

In the veins of the golden-red flag beat the hidden axioms of imagery that secrete their virus behind our eyes. The culture paroxysms. McDonald’s asks:; What honey drips from the sweat of the worker’s brow? What taste is the nectar that colours their chins and drips onto your McRib? Would you fight for McDonalds? Die for it? You might laugh at the thought as you sit in the parking lot, staring at those two flagpoles. To sacrifice yourself? Absurdity. 

You take another bite into your cheeseburger, allowing the grease to nestle somewhere under your rib cage. Unaware of the new form of warfare, you chew and chew. 

In this new era of international commerce, patronage is patriotism, every purchase a pledge.

And every bite a foot further in the march to an early grave.