New cultures marketed by McDiversity

LOS ANGELES (U-WIRE) — Well, if you’ve heard lately, McDonald’s is now serving its new “Fiesta Menu.” Like most other fast-food restaurants, this menu consists mainly of taking its ordinary items (burgers and chicken sandwiches), applying guacamole to them and using so-called “torta bread,” thus significantly “Latinizing” them. Oh, and it’s also serving breakfast burritos. Once again, American business is doing the absolute minimum in order to fulfill a task.
But I’m not upset about McDonald’s wanting to spice up its current menu with avocado and shredded beef. We’ve all been to McDonald’s, and we know the food needs some amount of taste added to it. Hell, you can remove the meat from a Big Mac and it really doesn’t change the taste. I’ve tried it, and it’s true, so you vegetarians out there have yet another option for dinner time (though you should just stick with your original choice of not going there).
No, my problem lies in the advertising campaign for this new “Fiesta Menu.” Now is this just about the most insulting thing out there? And not only for Latinos — I mean for anyone with any sense of cultural etiquette. Nothing sells me on barely-Latin food like goofy yuppies speaking Spanish about their new torta-burger. And it’s the way they do it in the commercials — as if it’s some sort of culturally alien, yet quaint thing. Like parents looking at a grade-school pageant of children dressed as Native Americans and turning to their neighbor, whispering, “Oh, look at him. He looks like a sweet little Sitting Bull.”
It pains me to think that advertising executives would think that it would be “hip” and “cool” to use a culture in such a shallow manner.
It’s much like Mountain Dew’s use of such extreme sports as snowboarding, skating and jumping off a cliff in its commercials. I picture those executives seeing something in a paper about skateboarding being popular and saying, “Why don’t we use skateboards in a commercial or two? That’ll get the younger demographic.” Trouble is, at least for me as a member of the younger demographic, I think they’re just dumb ads, making a very lame attempt at connecting to “Gen X” or “Gen Y” or “Gen-Theta,” or whatever the label is now.
I’m hoping that McDonald’s isn’t honestly trying to court the Latino demographic with this new ad campaign, because I’m seeing the same sort of Mountain Dew thing going on with the “Fiesta Menu.” Actually, I find it worse than “the Dew,” since at least “the Dew” is only using a sport’s iconography. McDonald’s, however, has taken a culture’s food and language, skimmed a little off the top, presented it to us and said, “Hey, isn’t Latin culture cute? Hey, she’s speaking Spanish! See, we’re diverse.”
And this isn’t the first time the Golden Arches have used a culture so irresponsibly. Remember “Mulan”? McDonald’s decided that for the summer of 1998, it had gone “Chinese.” And that meant offering a new Szechuan sauce with its McNuggets and packaging them in quaint little Chinese take-out boxes. Oh, and it dressed Ronald McDonald up in a headband and a nunchaku. And it used the motto, “It’s China-Mite!” Now, as if it weren’t bad enough that “Mulan” used Donny Osmond as the singing voice of the captain, McDonald’s took the most stereotypical elements of what we perceive as Chinese culture, did that whole “aww, cute” stuff to it and sold it to us.
That’s the thing that gets me about all this: It’s not as though it’s an outright racist attack perpetrated by a person or persons who hate Latinos or Chinese or whatever comes next (maybe a new Russia “Perestroika Menu”?). It appears to be done with some idea that the company is being open to other cultures. I truly believe that McDonald’s thinks it has now “included” the Latino market by getting young white actors to say, “!Que sabroso!” and putting pico de gallo on its Big Macs. It irritates me beyond belief that the execs act like such tourists. By that, I mean they feel they’re communicating properly with Latinos by putting on a sombrero they bought at a gift shop and beaming with pride when they successfully say, “Yo soy, Debbie.” We’re bad enough overseas (a friend of mine went to Europe this summer and said Americans are just annoying on vacation); now we’re keeping the attitude domestic with these kinds of ad campaigns.
Cultures are not “cute.” They can be rich in history and interesting to involve yourself in, but they are not trends like Razor scooters and Hello Kitty merchandise. They should not be used as a kitschy way to sell burgers. I know Latino culture, Chinese culture — any type of culture — can be alien to us, but please don’t have this tourist mentality about them.
I don’t think anyone will be happy if you say, “China-Mite.”
Louis Allred, Jr.’s column originally appeared in the University of South California’s Daily Trojan on Sept. 19. Send comments to [email protected]