This month McDonald’s embarked on a new marketing campaign in which select customers are allowed to pay for their meals by “showing their lovin” – McDonald’s lingo for taking an embarrassing picture of yourself dancing like a fucking moron in exchange for a two dollar cheeseburger. Alternatively, some customers are allowed to call their mothers and tell them that they love them. It’s not clear if you have to tell your mother why you’re calling. Hopefully your mother is dead and she never finds out how low you’ve sunk as a hungry adult.
The campaign isn’t meant to raise awareness for a cause or a charity and it seems like a bizarre way to promote the company itself as McDonald’s has been, and will continue to be, a very visible brand that serves a distinct purpose – killing poor people with shitty food and shitty pay because they have no other options. It’s the giant red clown boot pressed upon the heads of the working class. The “show your lovin” campaign isn’t really about improving McDonald’s image so much as it’s about literally commodifying emotions themselves. They’re setting the exchange rate for both love and humiliation, telling you exactly how much your love, and your dignity, are worth.
Of course no one is really in love with McDonald’s, and despite the smiling faces in those pictures, no one at McDonalds is genuinely happy. They’re asking customers to participate in their fraud. You’re not really paying with a selfie, or even happiness. You’re paying to lie on behalf of McDonald’s. You’re paying with your integrity.
While this seems like par for the course for a company that poisoned a man this week there’s a hidden benefit in all this. Unlike cash payments, some of the customers’ humiliation bleeds over onto the employees that McDonald’s refuses to pay a living wage. Emotional currency is hyperliquid and incredibly volatile. It’s impossible for a fry cook, probably on state assistance and considering suicide themselves, not to enjoy somewhat the pathetic look in the eyes of an obese man as he asks if he can get the free burger if he smiles for the camera. While this won’t make the cashier’s life better, it will remind him that others are suffering as well. And this, in a way, is a form of payment, especially when McDonald’s has created a system where “lovin” is subject to scarcity.
The flip side is of course that it takes two to tango, and undoubtedly some unwilling employees will be forced to hug sweaty deal hounds who hit rock bottom years ago. Some chap lipped pimple-chinned man who considers hugging a McDonald’s employee for McNuggets to be a lateral move, if it’s even a move at all and not just a delicate shifting from their perpetual couched position. In this situation, the employee will actually end up earning less than minimum wage. Luckily for McDonald’s, they don’t have to give a shit.
All we can do is hope that those employees don’t end up like that poor Target boy who killed himself last month after management paraded him around the store in handcuffs on the assumption that he had shoplifted. If only he had just been allowed to dance in front of everyone instead, he could be alive today, like his coworkers, who most certainly enjoyed humiliating him for their 7.50 an hour.