The Mysterious McMonster
It was one of those impulses that just came out of nowhere. It was 1997, and for god-knows-what reason I was poking around McDonald’s official website. While doing so, I stumbled on a very strange web page detailing “The Origin of Grimace”, that freaky giant hairy purple thing that looks like a Sesame Street character from the wrong side of the tracks.
On this page McDonald’s explained that Grimace originally was a character bent on stealing milkshakes from children. It was quite surreal—oh, the humanity! How could McDonald’s be in league with such a monster?! But apparently the author of this web page hadn’t cleared this explanation with the all-powerful overlord, Emperor Ronald McDonald, because just a few months later when I tried to show the page to a friend it had mysteriously vanished.
What up with that, I wondered? Well, just recently I thought about this web page again, as we Generation Xers seem unable to shake the influence McDonald’s has established over our shallow, empty lives (more on this later).
So, to the Internet! Surely the newly christened billionaires at Google could prove my case…
Well, sort of.
I found someone even more anal than myself about such matters of truth and historical revisionism. No, not Cecil Adams, the “Straight Dope” guy, although he helps debunk a few funny myths about McDonald’s and Grimace here:
- Was McDonaldland plagiarized from the old H. R. Pufnstuf kids’ TV show?
- McDonald’s commercials explained!
- In McDonaldland, what’s the name of the cop?
No, I stumbled upon a man with serious time on his hands and a willingness to waste it searching the ends of the earth to solve (in his own words) “The Mystery of the Grimace”.
Wow. I am simply in awe of this guy’s “crank factor”. He is pushing the envelope by any standard I’m aware of—apparently he simply fired off emails to everyone on the planet who matters, (Adam West a.k.a. Batman, George Bush, you know, everyone) and then lo and behold, he actually got this nifty reply:
Thank you for writing to McDonald’s about Grimace.
Grimace personifies the child in everyone. He’s a big, fuzzy, purple fellow, and is Ronald’s right-hand man.
Everyone in McDonaldland loves Grimace because of his innocent, loving nature. He’s enthusiastic, eager and easily pleased. Grimace walks with a rolling gait, and can’t be classified as any particular kind of animal.
When Grimace first emerged from his cave and confronted the other citizens of McDonaldland, he expected them to be frightened of him. The opposite turned out to be the case. No other character in McDonaldland is more beloved, especially by the children who visit McDonaldland from time to time. While initially conceived as a character representing McDonald’s shakes, Grimace has transcended his role and is now seen as Ronald’s closest friend. He still, though, retains his love of shakes.
Grimace is generous and affectionate. He occasionally causes minor problems in McDonaldland because of his clumsiness and perpetual confusion. But, these problems are generously overlooked by his many friends.
When Grimace first joined McDonaldland he did have four arms. You may be interested to know that at that time he was known as the evil Grimace who stole everybody’s milkshakes. However, by 1974 he became the big, fuzzy purple fellow that everyone knows and loves today.
Again, thanks for thinking of Grimace. We look forward to serving you for many years to come.
McDonald’s Customer Satisfaction Department
Hot damn, exactly what I remembered (well, except for the bit about Grimace having four arms… now that’s friggin’ weird). That explanation has quite the funny angle—probably had something to do with the Marketing department realizing that attracting families to McDonald’s would be easier without a grimacing, ghoulish milkshake thief. Also explains the name Grimace, which never quite fit the happy-go-lucky purple blob I grew up with.
But it raises an interesting topic for me, which is the seemingly endless seesaw that is McDonald’s public image. When I was a kid, Mickey D’s could do no wrong. You were prepared to bawl, scream, whine, fight, or any combination thereof to convince your parents to take you to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. This also had the added benefit of putting off one more day another meal from the crock pot, or liver and onions. I mean hey, grease is good, all children inherently understand this.
However, come the year 2000 McDonald’s was in the news yet again, for a class-action lawsuit being filed by a large group of Muslims. They were furious when it was revealed that McDonald’s was using grease that had been tainted by meat to cook its fries.
As a vegetarian, I easily found myself sucked into this scandal, although personally I prefer the fries that you can get at any neighborhood Vienna hot dog stand. Was McDonald’s really a force of evil? Apparently a good chunk of the world was starting to develop this opinion, although I always thought it was kind of cool that McDonald’s does make attempts to make culturally appropriate food when it opens locations in a new country. The McFalafel available in some parts of the Middle East sounds kind of tasty, and for those foreigners in Wisconsin McDonald’s makes a McBrat. Of course, McDonald’s isn’t perfect. When it tried to introduce the culturally sensitive McPizza to Chicago, it was a bomb—not “the bomb”, mind you, but the “it stunk and it bombed” kind of bomb.
Curiously enough, no matter how revved up I thought the lawsuit would have made me, I just couldn’t find myself hating McDonald’s. When that lady in 1992 spilled the coffee all over herself, I certainly jumped on the bandwagon saying, “Of course the coffee was burning hot, that’s what coffee is supposed to be!” Of course, I had never seen the litany of lawsuits (compiled lovingly by our old Spotlight Site friends at rotten.com), but I doubt I would have cared.
Then at some point I took a closer look at these goofy dinner plates I got from McDonald’s way back in 1977. There was a different plate for every season, and like a good little sheep I know I howled until I got them all. But looking at them as an adult (more or less), I noticed a shocking anti-authoritarian message hiding behind the goofy grins of the McDonaldland inmates. There’s a theme here—namely, “stick it to the man”. Let’s take a closer look at these plates.
Ronald McDonald soaking the mayor with a hose: Whew, that’s a few steps toward the extreme of what is generally considered acceptable political protest. I suspect that if I tried that I’d be beaten and jailed, similar to that guy who hits politicians with pies.
Ronald McDonald keeping an octopus from stealing (most likely previously stolen) pirate treasure: OK, this is just kind of weird, but it still seems to fall closely under “aiding and abetting” a criminal. Bad Ronald. Do not pass go, go directly to jail.
Ronald McDonald provoking our favorite reformed monster, Grimace, by trespassing on his leaf pile: Also downright weird (you can’t tell if Grimace is happy or what, he always looks like that). I think the message here is to go and mess up yard work in your neighborhood, for which you may not be jailed, but very well may be beaten.
Ronald McDonald laughing while Hamburglar escapes from Big Mac via a snowman-double: Far and away my favorite. We can’t be sure if Ronald McDonald merely is enjoying a good laugh at the inept law-enforcement abilities of Big Mac, or if in fact Ronald has helped build said snowman-double. All I know is this plate quite clearly suggests that 1) cops are stupid and 2) breaking the law is fun.
I look back and think about the 20 + years I’ve eaten off these plates, and the countless hundreds of times I’ve probably stared at these images after finishing my meals (only after receiving new plates as a wedding gift did I retire them), and suddenly the light bulb goes off: McDonald’s is a leading subversive element of the counterculture!
That’s right, my political leanings and disdain for authority can be traced back directly to McDonald’s! So much for blaming the Grateful Dead…
So maybe McDonald’s is a monster after all—a monster political organization designed to take down the system from the inside! It camouflages these anti-government messages with happy cartoon characters so it can pitch them to children, and by god, if that required building a multibillion-dollar international burger and fry empire in the process, well, that was just the price that hippie-in-disguise Ray Kroc was willing to pay.
So in the immortal words of Grimace:
Always Have Fun! Smile Lots! Always Make Friends!
Author’s Note: If you really want to scare yourself, visit the website that is trying to start a grass-roots campaign to bring back the Shamrock Shake. Good god, why not try to bring back something less harmful to mankind, like the plague, or polio? You do have to love their sincerity, though.