Shortly before Christmas a story of a San Francisco mother and a group called Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a lawsuit against McDonald's for marketing Happy Meals (including toys) to children. I have been meaning to comment on it, although not in the way that this kind of story is intended to provoke comment ("McDonald's is preying on children!" "Learn to parent rather than waiting for a judge to do it!" "Won't somebody please think of the children?")

The media are obsessed with this stories of this kind – the classic "The whole world has gone crazy, Ethel!" stories for middle aged men reading the newspaper in a well-worn recliner. It is intended to provoke ranting and a quick scan of the internets reveals that it works like a charm. Parents vs. Courts – vote here and be sure to use the comment section to let everyone know What's Wrong with the World.

That's why these stories bother me so much. It's not that they set people off a-rantin'. It's that they set people a-rantin' without even paying lip service to the issue of whether this is a representative example of…anything. Remember the tale of the college graduate who sued her alma mater in 2009 because she couldn't find a job? That kept the blogosphere and the talk shows and your nutty aunt who sends you 10 emails every day and the people around the water cooler busy for a week. Which is good, because unemployed graduates suing universities is an epidemic. Right?

This obsession with "News of the Weird" stories is the ultimate source of straw men in a nation full of people who don't know their neighbors' names. Uncle Al may not leave his house except to go to work and he may never have met a person from California, but goddammit, he knows exactly what them San Francisco libruls are like. He knows what Messicans are like too, not to mention the homos, big city black people, The Feminists, college kids, and so on. These stories fit the preconceptions of a nation full of angry, angry people – Look! Everyone else is an asshole! Everyone else has a gross sense of entitlement! Whatever happened to hard work? – and they provide what looks deceptively like evidence. Have you heard what the libruls are doing now? They're suing McDonald's!

Of course a reasonable analysis of the McDonald's lawsuit would see the plaintiff as someone cooperating with a small, relatively unknown interest group in what amounts to a publicity stunt. In the hands of our commentary driven media and society it becomes a harbinger of the end of Western civilization. And right now I sound like the crank, predicting doom from what appear to be harmless, somewhat silly news items. Maybe that's true. Or maybe these pieces of Culture War bait are yet another tactic aimed at creating prejudices and stoking distrust of the strange, scary world (and people) around us. I guess the best thing to do is vote for people who will protect Common Sense and Our Way of Life.

23 thoughts on “CULTURE WAR FODDER”

  • The point and idea are good, but I feel like you're kind of reaching with the conclusion. News and other similar distractions are all about visibility and ratings. TV news networks and bloggers and other entertainers know that stories like this will turn into instant ratings, so they run them and often. There's probably not any malice, just the burning bottom line.

  • It's an asinine lawsuit, an insipid story, and, as far as I'm concerned, the point is not an angry nation but that anyone beside the principals is aware of it. I repeat my mantra: we are not immortal. Choose carefully how to fill your time.

  • "I guess the best thing to do is vote for people who will protect Common Sense and Our Way of Life."

    I do not know what is "common sense", but I suppose the definition ubiquitously invoked in political discourse means "the same thought processes, sentiments, prejudices, judgments, and attitudes" that resemble my own. Ironically, it is often used to imply that there is a paucity of common sense among the general public or elite (meaning that "common sense" isn't "common") thus it creates a perception of a world that is fundamentally irrational and a sense of alienation among those making those claims since it seems the world is bereft of like-minded people. This definition of common sense is inherently arrogant as it assumes that the only way of proper thinking is congruent with their own thought processes and they are uniquely privleged at comprehending the world.

  • What a rant! So, obviously, the point is the culture war, where conservatives can have cable news talking points and fight from the trenches of some AOL message board.

    The stereotypical "Leave it to Beaver" worldview vs. everyone else…what an uphill battle.

  • Wow the 4th paragraph made me feel like I was entering the serious part of a Bill Hicks routine, like when he talks about how we shut up the people who point out that it's all just a ride. That's prob a compliment.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    they LIVE NEXT DOOR! I see them out there every day, them… OTHER people. They're different from me, you know? They don't believe in God, I know it! You know what they said to me the other day?? "Happy Christmas!" Everyone knows that it's "MERRY christmas!" I bet they're a bunch of librul commie pinko muslim terrorists.

    Don't worry, I'll take care of them soon enough. Just as soon as my gas mask arrives in the mail and I can go outside again. Ever since the libruls replaced the air with VAMPIRE gas I haven't been able to go outside. Luckily I keep my basement stocked with nutritious Campbell's bean with bacon soup. I used to eat Tomato soup until that fag Andy Warhol turned it into a communist icon.

  • As a brief aside, it's for exactly this reason that the liberals who pat themselves on the back by saying, "I spit on Palin and the breeder hicks that support her; I am so sophisticated!" are playing right into their enemies' hands. The most virulent elements of the American right would love it if the American left (and hell, the American center) were all culture war all the time. It gets white liberals to act like arrogant classist assholes and distracts from things like the ongoing dismantling of things like unions and the right to unionize.

  • Center for Science in the Public Interest is the group that used to haul out one fatty food dish every year and tell you that if you ate it three times a day you'd die. Remember fettucini Alfredo as "a heart attack on a plate?" That was CSPI, who also pointed out that buttered movie popcorn might not be something you want to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They've been silent for several years, so this sounds like they're pulling a Bill Donohue and trying to get back in the public eye by stoking more manufactured outrage.

  • In terms of the media itself, I think this is what they call a "human interest" story, which I quickly learned means "waste of my time/why is this news?"

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Andrew R:

    What else can the "elitists" do? If you disagree with Palin you're an elitist. It doesn't matter if you use pejorative language or not.

  • displaced Capitalist,

    I think that with things like pro- or anti-Palin, if you've agreed to play the game, then you've pretty much already lost. Note: I'm not talking about saying that she was utterly unqualified to run for VP or that she'd be a terrible president if–God forbid–she should run. No, I'm talking about the whole business of engaging her on the Culture War level. *That's* the problem with accepting the whole Culture War business from those who offer it. It has been and always will be a trap.

  • And I saw this story on The Daily Show with Aasif Mandvi playing the perfect foil, interviewing the SF councilman who banned Happy Meals as the perfect Nanny-stater.

    It all plays back into the class warfare crap we've been seeing these last few years. "Oooh those hoity toity San Francisco elites with their Napa chardonnay and Starbucks lattes want to tell YOUR kids what to do! Why, I heard Sarah Palin say Michelle Obama wants to outlaw dessert!"

    Pfft. Typical red state yahoo bullshit.

  • airguitarnightmare says:

    Re the 4th paragraph: Just like we know what conservatives and Tea Party members and everyone in Texas is like. Works both ways. On purpose. Divide and conquer works wonders, and I encourage lefties to remember that we're subject to tribalism and being incited just like the guy in the well-worn recliner. By the way, I'm planning to organize a Happy Meal picnic in front of the S.F. City Hall. Because f@*k them, that's why.

  • "These stories fit the preconceptions of a nation full of angry, angry people – Look! Everyone else is an asshole!…"

    Now hold on there, Bobbalooie!" I'm not an angry, angry people (I'm just terribly, terribly hurt), but it is my considered opinion that damn near everybody else _is_ an asshole. Sure there are a few exceptions – my sainted mother, my unbelievably sexy wife (who I still can't believe I was able to bamboozle into marrying me), my whip-smart and button-cute kids and one or two others, but the sad truth is (you notice I didn't put my dad in there, right? I love him like a father, but in all fairness, he is, as I am, a real asshole a lot of the time. Family tradition, I guess – handed down from father to son from time immemorial), being an asshole is basically what makes us human. I say, embrace your essential assholishness – you will be a better person for it.

  • Voting Solves Nothing says:

    What a coincidence. Just today a writer for the KC Star used this McDonald's story as an example of liberals sticking their noses in other people's business, on the same level as anti gay marriage and anti choice conservatives. THAT'S what's wrong with political discourse today–fringe liberal group ideas are considered equal to planks of the republican party platform.

  • If I remember correctly, when this story hit a few months ago, the mother's claim was that McDonald's made it too hard for her to not to feed her kids Happy Meals. It wasn't that McDonald's was unhealthy, it was that she wasn't able to say no to her kids so she wanted McDonald's to get rid of Happy Meals so she wouldn't have to be the bad guy.

    From there it was picked up by special interest groups who turned it into a health-conscious thing. But initially, it was precisely a case of a parent too spineless to say no to her kids.

  • I'm with RT Butte. When I was a kid, there was a strong focus on being Normal, which cut both ways: crackpots were mocked or ignored, ugliness was hushed up, and Everything was Just Fine. Though this put random nuts and freak accidents into a healthy perspective, it also kept gays in the closet, kept the mentally ill from seeking treatment, kept the Catholic church from admitting they harbored pedophiles. But once we saw some unusual ideas had merit, the media turned its eye to the odd. Ratings boomed, and activism bloomed, and the good became very good (media exposure for worthy causes) and the bad became nutty (special snowflakes, fear of obscure dangers, absurd litigation, reactive lawmaking, etc.)

    I don't mean to say that we can thank David Susskind for the folks who call 911 when their pizzas are late, but once the media focused on the marginal, a new generation thought it was the norm and acted accordingly.

  • @AndrewR (2nd post): props for saying succinctly my thoughts. Though obviously there's a diff between not paying Pallid any mind when she makes a comment on Obama's no desserts thing, and an OCA initiative (hope I never have to vote against that crap again).

    It's more about choosing one's battles.

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