I go to McDonald’s almost every day for a cup of coffee. There is one downstairs from my apartment building in Queens where I live, so it is convenient. McDonald’s coffee is cheap, pretty good, and the location has wireless. I can sit there for an hour and half without feeling guilty, like I do in a typically overcrowded New York Starbucks with limited seating, and others waiting.
About two weeks ago, I mentioned on Twitter that I was trying out their new oatmeal, and that it was mediocre. I complimented McDonald’s for at least offering something healthier than the Egg McMuffin. A few people commented back, mocking McDonald’s and their lame attempt to be “healthy.” Others blamed McDonald’s for American’s obesity problem and vowed to never bring their children into the fast food chain.
It was a good and interesting discussion. It was only a few days later that I felt a surprising chilling effect. Knowing that McDonald’s is not a favorite locale of my readership, with all sorts of negative connotations, should I mention my daily trips to McDonald’s anymore? How does this affect my “brand?”
Of course, I already know your response to that question. You are all nice people. You are going to say I should write about anything I want. But I’m human, too, and I think peer pressure is a worthy subject to discuss, even when it is involved with something like storytelling.
I remember speaking out against the “People of Walmart” website, calling it mean-spirited, even though so many of you thought it was hilarious. But let’s face it, millions of people go to Walmart every day, whether we like it or not. How many personal storytellers have now decided NOT TO TELL their little story about their family’s trip to Walmart online because of the negative association the store has with their online friends? How many women are afraid of telling some funny story about feeding their baby some baby formula, scared to death that they are going to be attacked by breastfeeding advocates. Or is THAT the point? To change people’s attitudes by peer pressure?
We are not talking about opinion pieces here. We are talking about stories. Human stories of life. I think we need to make a distinction between opinion/news and storytelling. Arguing about the Republican’s health care plan is political. Arguing with a non-political story about a Republican-voting wife is not always appropriate. It could just be a story about going to the doctor. Even Republicans have to go to the doctor.
We all proclaim that the internet is about “giving voices” to everyone, and “letting everyone tell their story.” But do we really believe it? Perhaps what we are really saying is that “we want to free the voices that have the same beliefs that we do.”
Stories are a funny business, because not every single story is a moral tale, or even makes the hero look good. For instance, there was once this fight in junior high, and my friend got involved, and rather than helping out, I ran away, wanting to save my own ass. I’m sure you can see why I fear telling this story. It is a tale of cowardice. But it is a human story, a story of a specific time and place. My eyes are already rolling from visualizing the comments, a combination of friends supporting me and trolls saying someone should cut off my dick. Too often, we read each other’s stories like they are public announcements of confession or attacks. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
I supposed it is the job of the writer to present his unique story in a way that undercuts the reader’s stereotype. One day, I would like to write a truly beautiful post about my local McDonald’s. Yeah, yeah, I know it is a corporate giant and the food is terrible and is making our children into fat slobs. I know all this, and I agree with you.
But I enjoy my cup of coffee in McDonald’s. Rightly or wrongly, my McDonald’s attracts a very mixed crowd, and in my eyes, it is probably the most ethnically, racially and class mixed group I have ever encountered in one enclosed place. There are blacks and whites, working class guys, and a businessman stopping for a quick bite before he runs for the bus. And you know what? We are all nice to each other. We have a common denominator — McDonald’s mediocre fast food. Even though McDonald’s isn’t kosher or halal, I see both Jews and Muslims in the playground area with their kids, playing together. In some ways, my local McDonald’s is our neighborhood’s public park, our Central Park — and even more diverse. People write poems about Central Park. Why not about McDonald’s?
But I wonder what the reaction would be if I wrote this glowing tribute the the Golden Arches. Now if I had a McDonald’s advertisement plastered on my blog, THAT no one would care about. But a personal opinion would be ripe for attack. Would some advocate suggest that McDonald’s is “using” minorities for corporate gain by supplying them with cheap, unhealthy food? Perhaps. But that is not the story I am telling. And it would ruin the point of my story. After all, you might write a lovely tale about your family’s lovely luncheon at the organic food restaurant in the Village. I’m sure you would not appreciate it if my review of your story was “typical long-winded stuff about a wealthy New York going to a cafe of overpriced food with other white, privileged patrons.”
I believe ideology is the enemy of storytelling. Let people live their lives and tell their truth, without shame, even if the story doesn’t always fit into your box. If you really want to hear “the voices of people,” you have to hear about visits to McDonald’s and Walmart — because that’s part of their story.
Note: Speaking of stories, you can read a post I wrote for Studio 30+ about the pitfalls of searching for photos of topless women online when you are a 30+ male.