Last night Channel Seven screened a controversial documentary called McDonald’s Gets Grilled about the titular fast food deity.
The 40-minute documentary followed six members of the public who are granted unlimited access through the Golden Arches to its people and food. Channel Seven dubbed it “a social experiment. One that tests whether people, faced with overwhelming evidence challenging their long-held prejudices, can ever accept the truth.” So, the pitch to viewers is along the lines of a small scale Super Size Me set in our own backyard.
The problem is that, unlike an independently produced documentary like Super Size Me, McDonald’s Gets Grilled was fully funded by McDonald’s who paid for the production as well as the 9.30pm broadcast time slot – a slot which it incidentally won with a reported average audience of 761,000. And, so, despite the program’s claimed attempts to show a measured, objective editorial about the restaurants, the show was, in reality, little more than a lame 40-minute advertisement.
Even the story arcs were ad-like! My favourite was the guy who really hated McDonald’s at the start, and then 180’d into the biggest sundae-toting Big Mac enthusiast of the six of them by the time the credits rolled.
Today the film’s producers pooh-poohed allegations that the doco was nothing more than propaganda, with one producer saying, “[McDonald’s executives] were very uncomfortable [when they watched it], I can tell you. They squirmed quite a lot. There are things in there that they went ‘oh no, we don’t really want people hearing that’ and we said ‘do you want integrity, do you want credibility or don’t you?’ If you do, you have to let us be the ones who make the decisions about what goes into the content.”
But… even with words like “documentary”, “objective”, “testing” and “scientific” thrown around repeatedly, something smells fishy here. And I’m not talking about the ambiguous crumbed squares found on a Fillet-o-Fish. If McDonald’s had came out and just said: Yep it was an expensive marketing tool we put on TV under the guise of entertainment ho ho enjoy your burgers! that would be infinitely more palatable and less ethically dubious than suggesting it is something more.
Title Image by Justin Sulivan via Getty