AQ Response to the core summative reading on “The McDonaldization of Society”
The writer presents 3 main arguments in his piece “The McDonaldization of Society”, which reflects upon the impact and the cultural influence fast food companies, notably McDonald’s, has had on modern society. He proposes the idea that fast food companies have created a society as obsessed with efficiency as they are, a society that is becoming increasingly dehumanised, and one approaching homogenisation. While I do not agree that his first two arguments are the doing of the fast food companies and feel that first argument does not apply to the Singapore context, I agree with his last point, and can testify to the latter 2 arguments being applicable in Singapore.
The writer first supports his thesis with the argument that the obsession for efficiency by fast food companies has translated into modern society. He first presents multiple examples of the many, almost maniacal, methods that McDonald’s has employed to increase efficiency. From the buns that were completely sliced in half to save the trouble for workers in the kitchen having to slice the bun, to controlling just the right amount of wax on the paper between the patties so they would slide off nicely off the paper onto the grill. He then proceeds to provide multiple examples of similar efficiency being strived toward in society. He cites education where students were once graded individually by professors, but are now simply given multiple choice questions which can be machine graded. He then cites a slew of other examples like the microwave meal, departmental stores, package tours, on-demand video and much more to showcase how society has become increasingly efficient. While I completely agree with his finding of society becoming more and more efficient, and am impressed with his ability to cite the many examples he used, he seems to have committed the fallacy of mistaking correlation for causation. While no doubt both fast food companies and modern society strive for efficiency, to say that modern society was influenced by the fast food industry to follow this model is absurd. Human society has been striving for efficiency since its very conception, long before the first McDonald’s started popping up. When we needed sharper claws, we invented tools like knives and swords. When we needed more efficient bows, the Chinese invented the cross-bow. When we needed more efficient horses, Henry Ford came around. Human societal obsession with efficiency was occurring long before the fast food industry. And while I cannot disagree or fault his application of efficiency to America’s society, Singapore’s society is less particular. The multiple choice question is being increasingly phased out in favour of long answer questions and essays in our education system. While most households own a microwave, most households here also have a maid which more than often doubles as a cook. Drive-throughs are a rare commodity in Singapore and theatres are often packed with people preferring to leave their homes and watch it there instead. Perhaps this is because of Singapore’s small size where drives are no longer than an hour and everything is always a stone’s throw away, but it is clear that efficiency is not as obsessed about in Singapore.
The writer then goes on to claim that families are now spending less and less time with each other because of fast food companies with many now choosing to have their meals without each other. He links the disintegration of the family to it by providing examples of how small snacks have diminished the need for formal meals, and time that could have been spent talking to each other while eating is now spent in front of the television. He also claims that limited interaction between the customer and the employee, which recites repeated lines over and over, can result in dehumanisation where people become ruder, communicate less, and distance themselves from each other. While I once again agree with his finding of anti-socialism and the breakdown of the family, he once again has incorrectly put the blame on fast food companies. In my opinion, technology companies are equally at blame. The invention of the smart phone has turned us into a society of screen glued zombies, where our attention is no longer on the people around us, but the devices around us. Take the subway and majority of the people onboard have their eyes on their screen. People now send text messages to people right beside them instead of simply talking. Gatherings are now silent from friends choosing to check notifications instead of interacting and catching up. His own example of the television is another example of technology rather than fast food corporations being the one to blame. Long working and school hours are also another reason for less interaction between family members. In Singapore, this is extremely apt. Most households have both parents working, the child is often left alone at home to play with his tech gadgets. The MRT and busses are filled with people staring blankly at their screens and family gatherings often fall into awkward silences as one by one, people pull their phones out of their pockets.
The writer then suggests another impact of fast food companies, that they have caused independent businesses to die out, and mega franchises to thrive. He cites American fast food in Beijing, but stops there. The major fault of his last argument is the lack of examples, which is surprising considering the largest strength of the writer’s previous two arguments were the excessiveness of examples supported with elaboration. His final argument is left seeming rushed and merely an afterthought as a result. However, this is the argument in which I fully agree with the writer as being caused by the fast food industry. They have set up a system of uniformity, of routine which is ingrained into the consumer’s mind every time they enter the restaurant be it in Beijing or New York, the process is exactly the same, other than the difference in language of course. This leads to a customer which is familiar with the brand and is more likely to be loyal. These companies with multiple chains have since become so chock full of loyal customers that companies everywhere now seek to employ the same method. This is very applicable to the Singapore context. Enter any shopping mall, and you are bound to see the exact same stores in a mall across the street. MacDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway, H&M, Challenger etc. Even hawkers in food centres across Singapore have started opening stores in other parts of the country. Hotels now have hotel chains, cinemas now have cineplexes, theme parks like Universal Studios and Disney also set up parks and rides that are exact replicas of the ones in the U.S. Franchising is a phenomenon that has taken over Singapore.
In conclusion, the writer’s points while mostly being valid, often commits the fallacy of mistaking correlation for cause leading him to mistakenly point the blame at fast food companies. However, he presents very valid findings of society today, and is able to draw examples which are relevant and support his points to great depth, as a result, his points are mostly applicable to Singapore excluding the first argument.