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Columns

Ronald Retreats

The Worldfront

By Jonathan P. Abel

These days there is less and less to smile about in the world of happy meals. Last Thursday, terrorists set off a bomb in an Indonesian McDonald’s, killing three and wounding eleven more. The next day, an explosion ripped through a McDonald’s in Bombay. Luckily, no one was killed, but 21 were injured, and even though it was later determined that a faulty air-conditioning system was to blame, McDonald’s restaurants everywhere are on the alert.

This violence is especially disheartening because McDonald’s has done so much for the world. In addition to clearing vast swaths of rainforest, it has helped change the very shape of the human body. A study released last summer reported that a much fattier diet has lead to an unprecedented gain in weight among the human population. The average man today weighs 7 kilograms more than the average man in 1980. (For women it was 6 kg.) This enormous increase will present the largest evolutionary challenge to the human form in hundreds of years, which means that McDonald’s is now responsible, at least in part, for redefining the human body. Not even the mighty USSR was that powerful.

Despite this great contribution, McDonald’s is feeling a little bit unappreciated abroad, and this is more than just a matter of pride. When McDonald’s retreats from its international presence it jeopardizes American national security. You say Ronald will never retreat, but look, the domino effect has begun. Faced with lower earnings in seven out of the last eight quarters, plummeting share prices, and other super-sized problems, McDonald’s decided recently to close down 175 restaurants and stop operations altogether in seven foreign countries.

Already, the people of Bolivia are reeling from the shock. Thousands of Bolivians clamored into McDonald’s restaurants across the country to partake of Ronald’s last supper; some inhabitants of South America’s poorest nation saved up for the entire week to pay for this indulgence. Not only have Bolivians lost its premier provider of Americana, but McDonald’s just lost its highest-elevation branch (in La Paz). And the biggest loser in all of this is the USA, which just lost its greatest ambassador.

Granted, we’re not so concerned about making a favorable impression with the Bolivian “street,” but consider that McDonald’s has also decided to pull out of 4 Muslim countries where we do care about the opinions of the “Muslim street,” and now the urgency of the situation is apparent. We need Ronald McDonald stationed in all countries hostile to us, so that he can smooth over any problems.

In Pakistan, for instance, where the writhing Islamic street threatens revolution at any moment, the official American embassy in Islamabad is useless. Set behind barricades and checkpoints, the embassy isn’t near the road. And while this is necessary for security, it is hardly the way to make friends with the locals.

But 150 miles southeast, in the city of Lahore, anyone with a craving for greasy food and a desire to meet America’s real ambassador can just waltz right into one of his six restaurants. Cast in larger-than-life statutes, Ronald sits in the lotus position atop four of Lahore’s six McDonald’s. With his bushy hair and red combat boots, the enormous clown confidently greets all those below.

For all the White House’s assurances that Americans are not executing a crusade against Islam, nothing conveys American benevolence better than a friendly clown in a yellow jumpsuit. Backed by thousands of employees, McDonald’s is actually out on the streets, humbly serving billions and billions of people, and showing the softer, flabbier side of American imperialism. Ronald delivers this unadorned and unequivocal message to all the world’s people: America loves to see you smile.

More so than the anti-missile defense shield or the Department of Homeland Security, Ronald’s diplomacy protects our country. Yet no one has suggested a fast-food analogue to the Air Transportation Stabilization Board. The airlines aren’t the only ones affected by terrorist attacks. McDonald’s has long been the victim of anti-American violence.

In 1999, when disgruntled French farmers wanted to lash out at the forces of globalization, it was a McDonald’s that they chose to dismantle. Much more recently, a Saudi man entered a Riyadh McDonald’s and set fire to it, igniting it with a pail of petroleum. The alleged motive was to punish the restaurant for serving food during Ramadan. But it’s not hard to see the symbolic meaning in this act of terrorism, as Saudi oil mixed with American grease to burn down the temple to the patron saint of decadence.

With more than 30,000 restaurants in 114 countries, McDonald’s is America’s proudest export, and more than almost any other company, it has left its mark on the world. That’s why for our sake, and the world’s, we must provide an emergency loan package to reverse Ronald’s retreat. Unfortunately, any relief legislation will likely be snagged up in partisan pettiness. Republicans, who hate everything associated with Bill Clinton, will never lift a finger to help his favorite restaurant. While at the same time, the small Tory party will prefer the Burger King to the plebeian clown. And the legislation will lose feminist support unless there are matching funds for Wendy’s.

But even if this bailout gets stopped up in the arteries of the legislative system, we ordinary Americans should still take to heart our patriotic duty toward McDonald’s and consume as much trans-fatty acid as possible at our local Golden Arches. For the whole issue really boils down to this nugget: which clown do we want representing our nation, 1) Ronald McDonald or 2) George W. Bush?

Personally, I want #2 to go. And no, I don’t want fries with that.

Jonathan P. Abel ’05 is a history concentrator in Quincy House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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