The McDonaldization of Citizenship

George Ritzer’s The McDonaldization of Society brings to light an alarming trend in our country. The new United States is a land of generic shortcuts, where efficiency and knowable responses have displaced the authenticity that once made the American dream seem possible. We want to live simple and predictable, like a Super-Sized Extra Value Meal.

McDonaldization is not limited to the products we buy or the food we eat. Its greasy sluggishness bleeds into our civic arena, too, clogging the channels that once energized a free-flowing democracy, polluting the deep waters where healthy dissent once swam. Now shallow sound bites wade through the sticky swamps of public dialog, salting over sovereignty with shimmering distractions.

Enter the McDonaldized the citizen.

As everyone grows more apathetic, apathy itself becomes the stylish norm. It’s socially acceptable, when discussing politics or world affairs, to boast proudly that we have no clue what the hell we are talking about. Equipped with suitable sound bites, and confident we can recite them numbly without being called “dumb,” we pardon ourselves from making any sort of informed contribution to important debates.

Consider the “War on Drugs,” funded by special interests, but waged mainly by armies of alarmists who put little thought into the passion behind their opinions. When I argue with the anti-drug ilk, I am baffled by how little they’ve bothered to learn about a topic they seem so invested in. Usually, they have not the faintest clue about the science of drugs, or about what biologically is going on inside a human body as it reacts to a substance. They know neither the chemical compositions of drugs, nor the chemical distinctions between them. They know so little in the way of facts, it’s a wonder they feel entitled to have an opinion at all.

Still, they keep rolling down that hill, like a big boulder overcome by inertia. One of my favorite arguments against legalization is the “nanny state rhetoric” we so often hear from McDonaldized citizens burping it up.

The crux of “nanny state rhetoric” is to declare “wars” on things deemed scary, in order to protect “the people.” In the war on drugs, nanny-state rhetoric holds that we can no longer call drug use a victimless crime. The new doublespeak paints drug users as predators, preying on themselves. Since drugs are allegedly harmful, you are now your own victim if you decide to dabble in them. Drug statutes, then, including anti-marijuana laws, are put in place to protect us from ourselves.

Predictably, the gullible McDonaldized citizen sides with whichever camp can afford more media advertising. In this case, Budweiser and Phillip Morris happen to have more political clout than potheads and poets. Thus, we are protected from the horrors of cottonmouth. And if that doesn’t make you feel safe and warm inside, then you must be a terrorist. Why else wouldn’t it comfort you to know the law’s out there, protecting you from yourself, promising to punish your “id” should it ever threaten your super-ego?

What isn’t the state “protecting” us from these days?

I’m not really into drugs, anymore, but I do have a stubborn sweet tooth. My gut keeps expanding, and I worry that one day my girlfriend will ditch me for a skinnier dude. Damn all these Twinkies and Swiss Cake Rolls, incessantly tempting me to victimize myself! What are my chances of scoring some protection against them as well? Tons of people die each year from health conditions exacerbated by shitty diets. Think of all the lives we’d save by shutting down Little Debby permanently, and by fining fatsos who exceed their recommended daily calorie intakes.

But the same logic that keeps pill-poppers behind bars sounds asinine when applied outside the happy meal box, doesn’t it? The McCitizen is baffled and speechless, but not so much that critical thought is considered. Not so much that they realize the obvious. Regurgitating the “protection from oneself” litany doesn’t mean one actually cares about drug users, any more than a yellow ribbon bumper sticker shows genuine “support” for “our troops.” These shenanigans are just rituals of “replacement citizenship,” formalities that denote that one cares, while letting him dodge the hassle of actually doing so.

If Ronald McCitizen did care about drug users or U.S. soldiers, he’d educate himself regarding their respective predicaments. But what the McCitizen really wants is to live on in blissful ignorance, regurgitating Civics 101 sound bites that purge reality from the record like Al Gore votes.

Were they to invite reason back into the discussion, they’d find a nuanced reality not accessible in biased 30-second TV ads. They’d find that, in the real world, many Americans have very productive relationships with substances popularly labeled as “drugs.” The more educated we are, collectively, the less likely our keg-party narratives will end up as horror stories in D.A.R.E. manuals. Even health experts like Dr. Andrew Weil acknowledge that the “problem” lies not with drugs themselves, but with the “bad relationships” misinformed users develop with them.

And let’s not forget that when it comes to self-destructive personalities, the risks aren’t limited solely to activities that wealthy elites haven’t found a way to profit from. For every heroine overdose, countless lives are destroyed by completely legal addictions to alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, gambling, sex, even shopping! When a person forms an unhealthy alliance to any of these vices, nothing further poisons their relationship like the stamp of social disapproval, the self-imposed guilt and shame that accompanies being labeled a “drug addict.”

Ironically, drug users and soldiers do have at least one thing in common: their fates are prearranged for them by influential corporations. Iraq meant big bucks for the oil industries, the military hospitality industry, and all the other no-bid contracts awarded to inefficient war-profiteers as paybacks for election favors. Legalization would mean increased economic competition against the very powerful alcohol and tobacco industries, both of whom deploy powerful lobbyists and fund handsomely the “War on Drugs” campaign. To these industries, the risks are dire—increased competition in the stress reduction and party-drug business. How many law-abiding partiers would prefer the peaceful haze of marijuana to the chaotic blur of foot-in-mouth alcoholism, drunk drivers swerving outside the bars, mornings without memories? Who knows; Anheuser-Busch sure doesn’t want to find out. Better to keep feeding propaganda mills than to acknowledge realities and let the “free market” do it’s thing. That goes not just for those who benefit from disinformation, but also for the shortcut-hungry McCitizens who won’t remove their comfy blindfolds.

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~ by Matthew Frederick on May 15, 2008.

14 Responses to “The McDonaldization of Citizenship”

  1. merry pranksters

  2. there’s a lot of good stuff on the drug culture….. 60’s Counterculture

  3. an extremely well put, articulate, truthful comment on society. Unfortunately. I can only stand and say ‘Salute’. I would applaud, too, but I am eating a Big Mac.

    Seriously. Good.

  4. I’m typing this while sucking on my vaporizer. I never drive stoned and I don’t drink. And since almost every blogger that has ever visited my site has given me a raft of shit for it, I smoke cigarettes. I know. I’ve heard it from many of you before, I stink. But at least I agree with you.

  5. Yes, it is monoculture

    Regards,

    Tengrain

  6. This nation needs a gastric by-pass STAT! Followed by a brain transplant.

    Good work.

  7. Fucking Meat Eaters!

  8. I have had to read this a couple of times. The Ritzer book is on my weekend list. Your thoughts paralell things that I have said, but you have stated them with such clarity that, again, I must say….well done!!!

  9. I like to eat dead animal parts while I watch The Hills. Hey, did that one guy get voted off American Idol yet?

    I’m with everyone on this (is that monoculture-y?) but I’ll always eat dead animal parts. Pass the burgers, BBQ chicken, steak and pork chops. Yum!

  10. Legalization would mean increased economic competition against the very powerful alcohol and tobacco industries, both of whom deploy powerful lobbyists and fund handsomely the “War on Drugs” campaign.

    Ok, I’ll admit that I don’t follow the lobbying efforts of the top 4 beer producers (preferring craft beer) nor the liquor industry, but this isn’t in my face either. Other than “drink responsibly,” I haven’t heard any sermonizing (And the drink responsibly stuff is only out there because social conservatives brow beat them into doing it). I’m not saying it’s not out there, just that it’s so buried it hasn’t come across my radar. As someone who favors decriminalization (and eventual legalization), I’ve tried to keep current on who the anti crowd is and who’s funding it, but the beer and liquor industry?

    I’ve never heard of some grand conspiracy that people will stop drinking beer if pot becomes legal. I don’t know of anyone who let the illegality of drugs interfere with their use nor do I know of anyone who is of the mentality that their drug of choice is superior to someone else’s. Maybe I don’t run in those crowds or live in those states.

    Can you provide a link or two that shows Budweiser, Diageo, et al are running “Just Say No” ads because of this fear they’re gonna lose customers to pot? I just find it bizarre.

    How many law-abiding partiers would prefer the peaceful haze of marijuana to the chaotic blur of foot-in-mouth alcoholism, drunk drivers swerving outside the bars, mornings without memories?

    Wow, that’s a bit extreme for comparison. Holding frat boys up as the standard for alcohol consumption is like using W as the standard for American presidents. I’ve had bad experiences with marijuana that rivaled my bad experiences with alcohol. Both are capable of being abused. It’s up to the imbiber/smoker to know their own limits when indulging in either.

    Now, I know that Anheuser-Busch and its brethren in swill have felt threatened by the craft beer market. Boston Beer (Sam Adams) is now the #5 brewer (in terms of volume) in the US. They’ve run ads trying to show that they’re not swill and the whole Michelob brand has been overhauled to be their pet craft brew line. And now they’re trying to compete with Corona with that lime flavored stuff. But competing with pot?

    Other than that, the whole monoculture part of the post was good.

  11. DED-
    First of all, there’s more to the War on Drugs than “sermonizing” and “Just Say No” ads.

    An effective propaganda campaign needs bogus research to back up its bullshit. Scientific research is expensive, so scientists who want to get theirs funded know they need to pander to the funding agency’s agenda. Sad to say, many professional researchers are as corruptible as politicians. I don’t have time to track down sources for you now, but the medical journals are filled with articles comparing alcohol to marijuana… check to see who funded these studies. If the article portrays marijuana as significantly more harmful, it probably was funded by a special interest, “sister foundation” to someone like Anheuser-Busch or Seagram’s or Smirnoff.

    Didn’t mean to imply it was a “grand conspiracy”–you’re right, die-hard alcoholics won’t ditch beer cold turkey just because they can toke up. But the alcohol industry will lose a chunk of their market share. It’s simple capitalism. People use drugs as an escape, to change their mindset, etc. When teens seek that sort of experience, legality does make a difference, I find it odd and admirable that you and all your friends were enlightened enough to say “screw the law” from day one. I wasn’t. And what about middle-aged parents who just want to wind down after a hard day’s work, relax with the family? Even if they’d rather get high, its more convenient to grab a beer or cigarette. There’s the social stigma, feeling uneasy about getting stoned in front of the kids, and just an overall inconvenience that comes with having to dial up a drug-dealer to track down illegal substances. Much easier just to stop off at the 7-11, no?

    I’m somewhat stunned that you found this notion so “bizarre.” To me it seems like a no-brainer; as predictable as the oil industry paying off scientists to discredit global warming. If a corporation stands to lose profits, why wouldn’t they pull strings to maintain their competitive advantage? This is, after all, America!

    I suppose technically marijuana can be “abused.” But by any statistical measure–overdoses, deaths, accidents, withdrawals, addiction, etc.– the severity of alcohol-related fuck-ups is far greater. And rarely does one’s pot abuse pose a danger to innocent pedestrians.

  12. MFV,

    I can agree with your reasoning for legalization, as far as the comparison to alcohol goes, but I do have a problem with this argument, and that is that it does not seem to be a very virtuous cause. Maybe when compared to the effects of alcohol, legalization of marijuana couldn’t be any worse, but how does it IMPROVE society? You’re comparing one vice to another. Personally, I’d rather see someone fighting to end hunger, poverty, inequality, disease, war, global warming, etc., before we got into fighting to allow the widespread use of a mind-altering substance.

    Now, if it’s lightening or lifting the sentences for non-violent users that you’re after, I could see that as being a way to help society. However, if the point is simply to let “middle-aged parents … wind down after a hard day’s work, relax with the family”, or college kids to toke it up whenever they like, I’m not sure I share your concern. Maybe making it illegal does make much sense from a chemical, psychological, or statistical standpoint, when compared to other legal substances like alcohol, but I’m not sure how legalizing is a virtuous endeavor in the grand scheme of things.

    I would like to say, too, that I do share your concern over those who hold certain positions and can only debate using short, regurgitated sound bytes. I dealt with that all the time, when discussing global warming with many different skeptics. The vast majority provided arguments no deeper than “the Sun is causing it”. Ugh.

  13. An effective propaganda campaign needs bogus research to back up its bullshit….

    Yes. I’m quite aware of the whole “check out who’s funding the study” point. I dealt with it myself in the early days of the global warming debate and we’re seeing more of that now with the pharmaceutical industry.

    But the alcohol industry will lose a chunk of their market share. It’s simple capitalism.

    You state that as if it were fact but don’t offer any proof to back it up. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Just like liquor and cigarettes aren’t mutually exclusive, but often used simultaneously. In fact, I would think that the cigarette companies have more to fear: people opting to smoke more pot and less cigarettes.

    When teens seek that sort of experience, legality does make a difference, I find it odd and admirable that you and all your friends were enlightened enough to say “screw the law” from day one.

    I didn’t smoke pot until I was 18. I could’ve started when I was 12, but I wasn’t ready to try it. Others were. Access to pot was easier than alcohol. And this was Florida in the 80’s. I moved during my sophomore year of high school to Connecticut and, once again, I could’ve started then too. Two very different states, same ease of access.

    But I still wasn’t ready. And it had nothing to do with legality. I was more concerned with the effects. When I’d observed enough times that the effect it was having on others was no big deal, I finally tried it.

    From what I saw, the passage of time hasn’t made it any more difficult. In the 90’s, our band’s drummer was in high school and he had no problem smoking pot because it was illegal. So I don’t see legality as deterrent to drug use for teens. People who want to do it, will.

    Even in our post-9/11 country, the pot smokers I know aren’t having any difficulty getting it.

    And I certainly wouldn’t say that we were “enlightened.” It was more conscious/subconscious rebellion mixed with curiosity. “Enlightenment” infers some sense of wisdom or high intelligence. That certainly wasn’t the case.

    And what about middle-aged parents who just want to wind down after a hard day’s work, relax with the family?…..

    When we became parents, my wife and I both gave up pot. We really can’t function after smoking it. Neither one of us felt that we could handle being stoned AND taking care of the kids. Those first 2 years, you’re pretty much on call 24-7, even after they start sleeping through the night. Being forced to change a diaper at 3AM or consoling a distressed child after a nightmare after smoking a bowl, no chance. And that assumes we’d wake up. Functioning after a beer or 2, not a problem. Maybe there are people who can, but I suspect that those people, if they’re like our friends who still smoke pot, are always going to have their stash on hand and their dealer is probably a friend. They’re not going downtown to make a score.

    I’m somewhat stunned that you found this notion so “bizarre.”

    I find it bizarre because it’s like saying Ford, GM, Toyota, et al are worried about motorcycle or bicycle sales eating into their profits. Instead of funding studies saying how unsafe either is, they offer bike racks and motorcycle trailers. Sure there are going to be people who may abandon their cars for biking or even mass transit (if you live in an area where that’s feasible), but they’re an insignificant minority. Even $4 gas isn’t stopping people from driving around! The same thing with pot vs alcohol. The two aren’t mutually exclusive and I feel that the owners of the big name beer and liquor manufacturers realize this (unless they come from social conservative outlets). I would think that memories of Prohibition would instill a sense that funding anti-drug research would make them hypocrites. I could be wrong so I’ll keep an eye out for it. However, I still don’t buy your argument that legalized pot would compete with alcohol sales.

    I suppose technically marijuana can be “abused.”

    I’m starting to see signs of it in friends of mine. It’s no longer the end of the day unwinding sort of thing. It’s the get through the day stuff. Just as you wouldn’t want someone getting drunk at work, you really don’t want someone getting stoned on the job either.

    the severity of alcohol-related fuck-ups is far greater. And rarely does one’s pot abuse pose a danger to innocent pedestrians.

    I agree with you there. But then you don’t have to be a drunk to be a menace with a car. Old people have proven that. I still remember the headlines about senile drivers plowing into crowds of people. Where are the Mothers Against Incoherent Drivers?

  14. MFV – A little late to this post, but I’m glad I got to it. What stuck with me the most was this:

    Regurgitating the “protection from oneself” litany doesn’t mean one actually cares about drug users, any more than a yellow ribbon bumper sticker shows genuine “support” for “our troops.”

    Generally, people don’t give a shit about these problems, but they’re compelled to keep up appearances to do so. It’s the same mentality that drives one to hoist a gigantic American flag from the back of their pick-up trucks. And let’s not forget that Ronald McDonald is a character in make up and that we’re not supposed to know the person behind all that paint.

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