Let They That Are Without Sparkly Vampires Cast the First Big Mac
By Meghan Austin
If asked to describe McDonald’s and what one associates with it, answers would vary depending on age and date of last visit. Most people readily recall the golden arches, fun, bright colors, and Play Places. A recent customer might describe a newly renovated facility, designed with modern decor that more closely resembles a coffee shop rather than the quintessential “fast food joint” of yore. Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, and even Millennials might reminisce back to their childhoods, remembering the clown mascot Ronald McDonald and his friends from McDonaldland. Some people nostalgically recollect Happy Meals and Happy Meal Toys, while others rattle off Dollar Menus, Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets, and “McDonald’s Fries, mmm.” Rarely will someone associate McDonald’s with The Twilight Saga: the young adult book series that became a blockbuster movie franchise with sparkly vampires and shirtless werewolves. The same franchise that forced Americans, nay, “Worldicans” to look deep into their souls, and answer one of the most important, most profound existential questions of the noughties (2000s): Team Edward or Team Jacob? Aside from both McDonald’s and Twilight being cultural staples and world-wide phenomena, most people think that commonalities between the two American behemoths end there. It may behoove one to consider that although Twilight is generally thought of as being very different from McDonalds, they are actually quite similar when examining the categories of quality, popularity, and comfort.
Consumers do not patronize McDonald’s because they believe that they are making a conscientious health choice, nor do fans of Twilight believe that they are embarking upon an intellectual pursuit; most people are well aware that they are engaging in low culture activities. The food, literature, and film are all relatively bland and mediocre to the palate, yet inexplicably addictive. Articles have been written and documentaries have been made about McDonald’s, “exposing” the inordinate amounts of calories, fat, sugar, fillers, and preservatives. McDonald’s ingredients do not hail from the finest sources in the land, nor does Twilight’s prose: with utmost subtlety, characters explicitly announce their desires, feelings, and intentions. The dominant rhetorical device utilized is cliché. Twilight’s protagonist Bella Swan is plain in appearance and has a nondescript personality, yet she is popular and obsessively loved. Throughout most of the series she is an average, clumsy, flawed “Everyman” who in the final installment emerges from her vampiric “cocoon” transformed into a beautiful, perfect, apt “Mary Sue.” Traits such as courage, bravery, and selflessness are perceived as pathetic, melodramatic, and ostentatious. She is constantly offering herself up as the sacrificial lamb, a martyrdom that in print and on film insists upon receiving attention ad nauseam. Bella is a habitual “hamburger in distress” in constant need of rescuing from some Hamburgler, by either Ronald McDonald (her love interest) or Captain Big Mac (her unrequited admirer). The plot of the second installation in the series, New Moon, borrows so heavily from Shakespeare that inclusion of the characters’ study of Romeo and Juliet in school barely transforms plagiarism into homage. Burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, shakes, vampires, gorgeous leading men, and the insipid women who love them: none of these are imaginative or innovative concepts, just food-porn and eye candy that were repackaged with better lighting and more scintillating imagery. McDonald’s food is chock-full of calories and preservatives while clichés, stock characters, and “McPlots” are the very substance of Twilight. These aspects do not diminish, but instead strengthen the resilience of these two American institutions.
Twilight and McDonald’s both enjoy abundant popularity that sometimes borders on mania. Twilight has set numerous records in books and film: both mediums being produced in multiple languages around the world. McDonald’s serves “Billions and Billions” in over a hundred different countries. Both induce extreme reactions from the public: they inspire loyal, ardent fans, and arouse vehement, vociferous critics. Pop culture references of both abound in movies, songs, and sitcoms. Despite low quality and bad reviews, the two franchises are incredibly popular because of the comfort they provide.
Twilight and McDonald’s are comfort foods for the mind and body: salves to soothe psychological stress, balms to mitigate negative emotions. Regular daily life provides many stresses: “Will I still have this job in 6 months?” “Will my car start tomorrow?” “Will they still love me in 10 years?” “What if they don’t like me?” Unpredictability and instability breed anxiety, which people combat with Twilight and McDonald’s. One may not know where their next paycheck is coming from, but they do know that at any of McDonald’s many locations they will be able to order a Quarter Pounder that will consistently taste the same every time. One may not be able to rely on their transportation, but they are able to rely on McDonald’s opening its’ doors punctually and operating its’ store functionally. One may not be sure of whether their romantic relationship will endure, but they are sure that Edward will always love Bella. One may fear exclusion or rejection in social situations, but they fear not acceptance or inclusion as soon as they see the golden arches, or turn the first pages. Like Jesus, Twilight and McDonald’s always “hang out” with those who seek them: keeping the company of those who may look funny, talk with an accent, walk with a limp, or act a little weird. One is always welcome and extended an open invitation. Whether in the form of food or entertainment, Twilight and McDonald’s provide consistent, reliable, everlasting acceptance.
It is worthwhile to consider similarities between seemingly disparate activities so as to recognize parallels in human nature, thus reducing condescension and increasing compassion and understanding. While it may be difficult to relate to a particular activity: “Eating McDonald’s?! GROSS!”–it is easier to understand the motives and desires that underpin it: “I just needed some comfort.” Everyone has a Twilight or a McDonald’s: maybe instead of sparkly vampires or shirtless werewolves, one prefers tabloid magazines or reality television; maybe instead of Quarter Pounders or McShakes, one prefers “fresh” submarine sandwiches or smoothies. One should remove the Twilight from one’s own eye, before attempting to remove the McDonald’s from another’s eye.