Ronald McDonald: Wanted Dead or Alive

Date and time
Friday, July 4, 2014

Ronald McDonald: Wanted Dead or Alive

Last night, DHC/ART Education launched Kino Klub, a series of film screenings.  For this series, each member of the Education team selects one film that relates to the current exhibition, Come and See by Jake and Dinos Chapman, and invites a guest presenter to discuss the exhibition and the film.  The first film was Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary Super Size Me, in which Spurlock consumed exclusively McDonald’s food for 30 days.  Our wonderful guest presenter was Roxanne Arsenault.  In this posting, I will touch on a few points of intersection between the exhibition and the film.

The death of Ronald McDonald is a common theme in Come and See, where the sad clown appears crucified numerous times throughout the exhibition.  It is also touched on in Super Size Me, where the closing scene depicts a tombstone reading “Ronald McDonald, 1954 – 2012.”  This cartoon was initially published in the Economist accompanying an article about the ethics of advertising to children; in this case, marketing geared to hook youth with a hamburger bait. [1] Curiously, in 2007, then CEO of McDonalds stated that the image of Ronald himself had never been used to sell food to kids – he sells the image of happiness and joy from the tip of his magic finger as he draws the golden arches in thin air. [2] The over arching truth, though, is that the ‘M’ is eternally linked to the sugary, salty, fatty addictive appeal of the fast food served in the play house that Ronald calls home: McDonalds.

Therein lies another common thread between the exhibition and the film: perhaps some pretense, definitely some confusion.  Six weeks after the premiere of Super Size Me, for example, McDonalds removed the Super Size option, but stated that it had nothing to do with the movie.  Perhaps a coincidence; perhaps not. [3]

In Chapman Family Collection, there is a conscious effort to blur the lines between history and contemporary culture, art and craft, the sacred and the commercial, as bronze sculptures of Ronald and his buddies are made to resemble ancient African sculptures made out of wood.  The material is worked and reworked to fake a history, to create a fictitious proof of an object’s past life. Some works from this series were previously exhibited at the Tate Britain, where the sculptures were described as artefacts from former colonial regions that were brought to Britain by the Chapman family.

And then, there is the realm of semiotics.  What does McDonalds stand for, what does it symbolize?  The “M” itself is a symbol; more, money, makeshift meals… mass murder?  In Come and See, this is one possible interpretation of McDonalds – “Billions sevred,” as it is so eloquently phrased in Free Willy.  This is also the work that depicts Ronald and his crew on an speed boat, partying with an array of naked women, gorging themselves on processed cheese and plastic hamburgers: a mobile island floating among vast depths of violence and suffering, severed figures, grotesque bodies with five heads and gashes and wounds, rats and crucifixions, and more. Or, it could be seen as a symbol of North American consumer culture, capitalism, and overconsumption.

As far as symbols are concerned, Jake and Dinos present us with yet more mystique concerning their use of McDonalds imagery.  When discussing Chapman Family Collection, Jake has stated:

Although the dynamic is quite vulgar and obvious, it’s quite difficult to work out what the ethical component of the work is….  […] You are kind of misled in your reading of the work […] you assume that the work, by some liberal discourse, is […] about anti-globalization.  In actual fact it might be the opposite of that, it might be that what we are doing is restoring to McDonalds the righteous origins that they deserve.

To which Dinos responded: "Or not. The point is that everything is put in kind of a state of flux where you don’t know. Any decision that you come to in front of those objects is a decision you have made, because we try very hard to make our position very not definite (sic)…  You can’t tell by those works if we’re picking on the anti-capitalist or the capitalist. [4]"

In Super Size Me, McDonalds is the very symbol of obesity and poor health. How many shots in this film do we see of obese Americans noisily guzzling their gigantic calorie-ridden drinks, or proudly putting away more than one serving of fries?

The links go on, the symbols expand, and the pretense or confusion grows. Spurlock’s film has received criticism that his film was unrealistic and that he purposefully sabotaged the project by exaggerating his caloric intake. McDonalds now has an entire section on its Web page where it answers any and all questions from the public about the health and safety of their food. And the Chapmans are continually entertaining and challenging, as they tell us about their artwork. Or not.

[1] IMBd, Synopsis for Super Size Me.  26/06/2014.
[2] Hunter Stewart, “Why you never see Ronald McDonald eating McDonald’s food.” Huffington Post. 5/29/2014. 26/06/2014.
[3] “McDonalds phasing out Supersize fries, drinks.” 3/3/2004. 26/06/2014.
[4] “Jake and Dinos Chapman: the Chapman Family Collection.” The Art Fund UK.16/09/2013. 26/06/2014.

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