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Elaine Cartas' Career Assessment Portfolio

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No one would have ever imagined that a small burger stand in San Bernardino known as “McDonald’s Famous Hamburgers” would become the foundation of the most influential development in contemporary society (Schlosser 2002). McDonald’s success is known as McDonaldization, or “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world” (Ritzer 2004). McDonaldization can be applied to Max Weber’s theory on rationalization. The theory of rationalization examines the process to increase a product or service’s efficiency and calculability rather than the quality of the product. Rationalization creates the sense that people are trapped in cages that dehumanize them with no motivation of custom, tradition and emotion, which Weber labels the “iron cage.” Although McDonald’s is not the sole instigator of this rationalization process, it perpetuates the implementation of capitalist ideals through the four dimensions of the consumption process: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. First, efficiency is the optimal level for accomplishing a task. This is similar to Ford’s assembly-line, which divides the task to efficiently provide a maximum amount of goods or services. Second, calculability is the ability to create vast quantities of the product, which is more important than the quality itself. Third, predictability provides the customer and employer with the stability and assurance of knowing what to expect through standardized and uniform states. And lastly, control is the ability to have power over people through the replacement of human judgment with rules, regulations, and structures (Ritzer 2004). McDonaldization imposes these fast rationalization techniques onto the American and global family households. In other words, McDonaldization does not merely embody the consumption of American food, but it also epitomizes the infiltration of the rationalization process in twentieth century society. Just as rationalization creates an iron cage, so too does McDonaldization dehumanize the American and global family identities by replacing culture with capitalist values.

While Americans may be “lovin” McDonald’s quick and inexpensive meal of a burger and fries during a busy day, the rest of the world is not “lovin it.” On August 12, 1999, Jose Bové and a band of sheep farmers descended among the 851st half-built McDonald’s in France, and literally dismantled it with tractors and forklifts. Over night, Jose Bové and his group known as “McDonald’s Ten,” were hailed as France’s national heroes (Kingsnorth 2000). As Americans, we perceive McDonald’s as a fast food restaurant that provides quick hamburgers at an affordable price. However, to global citizens—such as Bové and the “McDonald’s Ten”—McDonald’s is more than just a bite into a juicy Big Mac. It is the consumption of an all-American success story, the symbol of Western economic development via capitalism, a corporate bully, and an object of disdain (Kinchloe 2002). Furthermore, McDonalds is seen as an entity that has made itself too familiar to the public. For instance, the Golden Arches in the shape of an “M” are more recognized than the Christian Cross to children (Hardcastle and Willis 2004). Additionally, 96% of children recognize Ronald McDonald more than Santa Claus (Schossler 2002). Therefore, McDonald’s has greatly influenced today’s modern society as a model of casual dining. In fact, every eight minutes a new McDonald’s is opened (Ritzer 2004). McDonald’s has been portrayed as a global icon, which has made significant changes among a myriad of cultures. As defined by James Watson, culture is “a set of ideas, reactions, and expectations that is constantly changing as people and groups themselves change” (Ritzer 2004). Therefore, the process of McDonaldization has changed the commodities and ideas across national boundaries.


Two Brothers, Mac and Dick McDonald, created the McDonald’s American consumption process, which led to the basic integration of rational principles. However, McDonald’s was not the first fast-food chain that provided fast service. In 1941, Carl N Karchner started the fast food industry with a small hot dog stand in Anaheim, California. In 1948, the first McDonald’s was created in San Bernardino near a high school and at the end of Route 66. Since the idea behind fast-food restaurants were novel, San Bernardino was ideal for this cultural experimentation because it was an industry and agriculture melting pot. Every year, millions of people pass through San Bernardino since it is the last stop on Route 66, which is the end line for truckers, tourists, and migrants from the east. Although Carl’s Jr. was the first fast food restaurant with McDonald’s as second, McDonald differentiates itself in the fact that it implemented the ideals of a capitalist society via the Ford assembly line. By the end of the 1940s, the McDonald brothers were tired of new carhops, short-order cooks, and the constant replacement of dishes, glassware, and silverware. As a result, they created larger grills to increase speed, which lowered prices and raised the volume of sales. Additionally, they got rid of two-thirds of the menu by eradicating anything eaten with a knife, spoon or fork. The McDonald brothers replaced all utensils with dispensable paper cups, paper plates, and plastic utensils. Instead of using personalized services to cater to one’s needs, the McDonald brothers applied Ford’s assembly line for cooking and serving food. Ray Kroc bought the McDonald’s business from the McDonald brothers, and brought McDonald’s abroad. Kroc soon became a global franchising genius by applying the Ford’s assembly line overseas. This assembly line provided a fast, reliable, and inexpensive service. These concepts allowed the McDonald brothers to develop the first rationalized fast-food factory (Schossler 2002).


Many people have argued that the success of McDonaldization originates from the advantages of rationalization through the consumption process. The predictability of McDonald’s being the same regardless of which McDonald’s one enters provides comfort to the customer (Illous & John 2003). Also, McDonald’s provides a wide range of goods and services to a huge population, who otherwise would been able to receive them by other restaurants. Furthermore, McDonald’s success has led to the development of various fast food restaurants such as KFC and Pizza Hut (Kinchloe 2002). The emergence of these new rivals provides a great diversity for consumers to choose from. Additionally, these goods and services are inexpensive and fast, which frees families from cooking. Critics have argued that the process of rationalization provides enough time for McDonald’s to become a global philanthropic organization (Ritzer 1998). For instance, McDonald’s is known for the Ronald McDonald House, which provides a home for families of seriously ill children. Therefore, many critics believe that McDonald’s provides a positive image due to their efficient service, and non-profit organizations (Fishwick 1983).

Others have admired McDonald’s success through its ability to rationalize and apply the principle “Think globally, and act locally.” By adapting to local markets, McDonald’s gains power over local cultures. Each McDonald’s throughout the world provides the uniform Big Mac and fries. However, McDonald’s has also adapted to the local cultures by providing specific menu items. Giddens explains the process of McDonaldization, “…as the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa” (Watson 1997). For instance, McDonald’s Norway sells McLaks, a grilled salmon sandwich with dill sauce on whole-grain bread. Netherlands created the Groenteburger, also known as a vegetable burger. Japan created the Chicken Tatsuta sandwich, a fried chicken spiced with soy sauce and ginger with cabbage and mustard mayonnaise (Watson 1997). Additionally, McDonaldization in the Philippines created McSpaghetti with tomato and a meat sauce with frankfurter bits (Ritzer 1988). However, although McDonald’s may seem to adapt to the distinct cultural foods, there is a central problem with the global homogenization throughout the world.

Even though McDonald’s provides specific cultural foods, the perpetuation of McDonald’s rationalization throughout the world has led to the loss of national identities. Thus, McDonaldization threatens the cultural difference throughout the world. The McDonald’s franchising genius, Ray Kroc, explains, “We cannot trust some people who are non-conformists…we will make conformists of them in a hurry” (Royle, 2003). Not only does one consume the taste of a Big Mac and fries, but one consumes the conformity of American ideals. This conformity is strikingly seen in McDonald’s influence throughout the world, especially in Japan’s culture. Although McDonald’s provides a unique cultural Chicken Tatsuta, it does not necessarily mean that the culture is not collecting a whole array of American attributes. The Japanese are known for their unique etiquette of sitting down and eating with chopsticks. They associate the use of hands as “barbaric” and uncivilized; thus, to prove that they are civilized, they consume food with chopsticks. Additionally, the Japanese associate eating while standing as something an animal does. Therefore, they eat sitting on pillows (Watson 1997). However, McDonald’s has destroyed Japan’s cultural norms through the consumption of food by the use of hands and eating while sitting on a chair. Thus, McDonald’s has affected Japan’s lost of cultural etiquette by perpetuating societal norms through a capitalistic ideology.

Due to the consequences of McDonald’s homogenizing the world, McDonaldization has created a festive revolution. In China, cafes and teahouses are used to create an inviting environment to celebrate birthdays. However, we have seen a decrease in Chinese-style family atmospheres. For instance, Beijing consumers have used the McDonald’s restaurants for various personal and family rituals. One ritual includes a child’s birthday. According to Watson, they choose McDonald’s as a site for these celebrations for two reasons: “(1) it is new and more stylish than what they perceive as the vulgar traditional Chinese restaurants; and (2) it is relatively inexpensive for a decent banquet” (Watson 1997). In effect, there has been a decrease in China’s cafes and teahouses due to the McDonald’s mania that has increased in the country. Additionally, it has replaced China’s indigenous foods used in birthday celebrations to burgers and fries. There seems to be a clear paradox that although McDonald’s is catering to the local cultural preference, it is at the same time diminishing parts of the actual culture.

As Americans living in a capitalist society, we have these misconceptions that McDonald’s saves money and gives good intentions. However, Richard Cohen states that there are three different irrationalities, “(1) Rational systems are not less expensive; (2) they force people to do unpaid work; and (3) most importantly here, they are often inefficient” (Watson 1997). Thus, McDonald’s proves to be problematic when everyone uses it. These irrationalities are displayed through the long lines at McDonald’s and long car lines awaiting the drive-thru. Also, the twenty or twenty-five dollars spent on a McDonald’s family dinner is the same amount spent on ingredients for a home-cooked meal (Ritzer 2004). Although McDonald’s may be categorized as a “fast-food restaurant,” we must question the image they are really portraying. Even though McDonald’s Ronald McDonald’s Houses do help seriously ill children, it does not diminish the fact that McDonald’s is helping children for their own best interest—there is an underlying motive for their good deeds (Fishwick 1983). McDonald’s uses this advertising scheme to gain lifelong consumers. In addition, McDonald’s appeal to children has enabled them to create lifelong consumers as well as the many generations to come. Through this outreach, McDonald’s has successfully created a variety of gimmicks to attract children through Ronald McDonald’s fun and loving character, play houses, birthday celebrations, and toys that come with a happy meal. It is not surprising that McDonald’s would create a Ronald McDonald House to provide an altruistic image by helping children, their target consumers. Thus, it is not surprising that many Beijing children go to McDonald’s after school (Watson 1997). Due to McDonald’s success, children learn how to place an order, find a table, clean after themselves, and eat with friends. Therefore, McDonald provides a false philanthropic and friendly image in order to gain customers.

McDonald’s perpetuation of the Western values of fast and inexpensive meals has enforced the Westernization of traditional family practices with neolocality and the welfare of the nuclear family. Neolocality is the practice of one’s post marital residence pattern into a new household rather than the husband’s family. The practice of the nuclear family is supporting the welfare of one’s spouse and children. McDonald’s has encouraged Westernized ideals as the legitimate culture that other nations should follow. In doing so, McDonald’s has created jobs for men as well as women. For example, in China, the opening of jobs has caused a family strain as children feel neglected from their parents (Watson 1997). Eric Scholosser describes this disintegration, “This food is cheap if you look at the price of the menu, but if you look at the cost of society, it’s enormous and fast food companies don’t have to bear those costs. They are basically profiting off the rest of society to pay the bill.” Scholosser points out that although McDonald’s provides an immediate solution by saving time and money, but it does not compensate for the lost of family values and family time. Therefore, McDonald’s displays the embodiment of the capitalist fast food nation by de-emphasizing family quality time. For instance, there is no quality time shared between families when they gobble down their food in a fast-food restaurant. Additionally, we have seen a change in the post marital residence pattern of other nations. The spread of McDonaldization has created the emergence of the Westernized lifestyle of neolocality. For generations, Taiwan has practiced patrilocality, or the practice of living with one’s husband’s parents (Watson 1997). However, the emergence of capitalist ideals through McDonald’s has changed these traditional practices. Additionally, there has been the focus of the conjugal unit or the married couple through the image of the nuclear family. Before the era of McDonaldization or capitalism, families supported each other through a large kin group starting from a grandfather to a grandchild. Yet, there has been a shift in the welfare of the kin group to the nuclear family (Watson 1997). Therefore, McDonald’s has enforced the misconception that they are the legitimate culture who can rightfully enforce these Westernized ideals onto the global context.

The consequences of a rationalized McDonald’s can be perceived through the false friendlessness and dehumanization of the employee and consumer through an “iron cage.” McDonaldization encourages the predictability or the demand for social practices of “skills” and “strategies” to be used by those who are perpetuating McDonaldization as an employer (Ilouz and John 2003). Predictability allows consumers to be comfortable. For workers, predictability and efficiency transforms them into “human robots” that have little interaction between the worker and tasks. As Tony Royle states, “The worker’s skills are eliminated and the work is labour intensive with the machinery making the cooking decisions” (Royle 2000). This is clearly perceived through the workers’ tasks such as: greeting the customer, taking the order, making the order, presenting the order, receiving the payment, thanking the customer, and doing the routine throughout the day. This method does not allow employers to have any creativity. It is no wonder Ritzer describes the McDonald’s system as an “iron cage.” For instance, jobs tend to involve a series of simple tasks, where the main goal is to finish the job as quickly as possible. According to Jerel Natividad, a past McDonald’s employer for 10 months states, “The work was tedious and boring, I worked long hours of doing the same task over and over again.” Nativid points out that this work is predictable since the employees continually do the same thing like computerized robots or “human robots.” Not only are the employer roles predictable, but the consumers are as well. The consumers are expected to get their own drinks, pick up their food, eat as fast as they can, and clean after themselves (Kincheloe 2002). Even the interaction between the employer and consumer is scripted, which makes the interactions uniform. It is blatant that McDonaldization creates an iron cage through the uniformity of an employer and consumers’ roles and expectations.


Many critics argue that McDonaldization provides nations with societal progress and cultural change through capitalistic norms. Yet, this does not explain the tensions between the McDonald’s corporation and the 45,000 anti-McDonald’s groups such as Jose Bové and McDonald’s Ten. These anti-McDonald’s groups have one thing in common—they fight against McDonald’s dehumanization of the individual that occurs with the consumption of an American meal. The McDonald’s meal becomes a part of a cultural identity that is imposing itself onto larger global cultures, which creates a homogeneous world. This dehumanization is displayed through the disintegration of family time and a controlled world known as an “iron cage.” Thus, we must remind ourselves that McDonald’s ultimate goal is to remain a profitable and successful business.

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