According to my last Blog, my favourite space is McDonald’s; and, although this place has its faults, such as being an unhealthy, American, multi-billion dollar, fast food corporation often used by many progressive writers as a symbol of everything wrong in the Western world, the service it provides to its customers is actually an accurate reflection of our time. To be honest, in Blog Post #1, I was trying to be ironic, which has somewhat backfired on me here. However, in working through this thought process, I must say that McDonald’s is not my least favourite space, and being in that space allows me to experience various truths.
My local McDonald’s is located next door to a Second Cup and across the street from a Starbucks; these other spaces provide a contrast to the McDonald’s, and help to highlight its otherness. Lefebvre states that “(Social) space is a (social) product” (Lefebvre 289); let’s examine this further. According to Lefebvre, spatial practice in western contemporary time is defined by daily routine and ‘private’ life and leisure (Lefebvre 291). The norms of spatial practice in the 21st century are closely tied to both history and the natural ecosystem. I will look more closely to the historical side. With the arrival of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, a growing middle class in western society flourishes. The idea of prosperity for all seems possible, even in the working class; modern thinkers and artists in the United States create a national identity for their newly born nation and culture. However, this growing identity is a misleading one. Although its words and symbols give motivation to many in the underclass, building for a better individual and common future, the actual space is one that continues to oppress the majority while speaking of democracy and freedom for all. Almost two hundred years later, awful working conditions and corruption still endure. ‘MacJobs’ exist for a MacPopulation, who consume their refillable coffees and fat-filled breakfast sandwiches while waiting for redemption. Sara Ahmed raises the concept of “fit” and how bodies inhabit space (Ahmed 51-52) and states that “. . . bodies are submerged [in space], such that they become the space they inhabit” (Ahmed 53).
What is called upon is to critically analyse the space and the bodies inhabiting it, and to do acts of détournement. I would like to try an experiment, which may be seen as a form of détournement; not simply for McDonald’s, but as a new economic system. When a customer buys x amount of product from a vendor, that customer then becomes a shareholder in said company. Rather than simply being a consumer, that person becomes an owner, who is seeking a return on his/her investment. So, when a company opens, it automatically becomes publically owned as soon as it starts to sell its product/services. This, in turn, will create a new form of conscious consumer. This will stimulate each individual to think twice before purchasing goods or services. There will still be a structure of power in place; however, it will flatten and distribute the power on a larger scale. As everyone becomes an owner rather than just a customer, people will purchase in spaces where they believe they will get the largest return. Subsequently, some people might not want to invest (consume), but will become artisans of their own where they will be the majority shareholder. This, in turn, will generate the emergence of new tastes, where people will try to “make it new.” Coming back to McDonald’s, if a customer buys, for example, 10 Big Macs, that customer will now own, say, one share in the McDonald’s enterprise. That consumer has now become an owner of McDonald’s, where s/he will be invited to annual shareholder meetings (held virtually, of course) to determine the future of the enterprise. If, as publicized, “McDonald’s brand mission is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink” then there is no reason why it will not survive, and thrive.
It is easy, from a power perspective, to look down on the space that is McDonald’s and its customers. It is actually a welcoming space and refuge for many that do not fit in Second Cup and Starbucks. However, we could make it better if we tried.
Ahmed, Sara. (2006) Queer Phenomenology Ch. 1: Orientations Towards Objects, section “Inhabiting Spaces” (51-63). Durham: Duke University Press.
Debord, Guy. (1959). ‘Détournement as Negation and Prelude’, Bureau of Public Secrets. http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/3.detourn.htm
Lefebrve, Henri. “The Production of Space.” In Gieseking, Jen J. And William Mangold, (Eds.), The People, Place, and Space Reader. (289-293). London: Routledge.