The Original Advertisement
This original advertisement was created by a third-party advertising agency based in Toronto for McDonald’s Canada. The ad intends to appeal to feelings of patriotism in Canadian consumers, and is especially relevant in 2017 as government-sponsored Canada 150 celebrations take place across the country at a cost of over $500 million in federal expenditures (Scotti). The first impression of this advertisement is an innocuous message of congratulations for Canada Day. In doing so, the ad’s creators seek to appropriate Canadian history and insert a joint narrative between Canada and McDonald’s. This suggests to consumers that a benevolent restaurant chain has always been a mainstay of Canadian culture, and eating at McDonald’s is an extension of an ambiguous form of essential “Canadian-ness.”
There are many issues with this message. By seeking to capitalize on a celebratory spirit connected with this particular holiday, this assumes a uniformly positive history of Canadian Confederation. It ignores all injurious aspects of our state’s past and subverts the lived experiences of those whom centralized political governance have negatively impacted. Such examples are Chinese-Canadians subjected to the “head-tax,” Japanese Canadians who were interned during World War Two and had their belongings expropriated and sold to finance the racist policy that interned them in the first place, and Indigenous Canadians whose traditional territory was stolen by colonial and post-Confederation governments, who also simultaneously fought to extinguish their entire culture, most notoriously through the residential school system.
I do not mean to suggest that celebrating Canada Day is inherently nefarious, or that any expression of patriotic spirit is essentially an injurious sentiment, but that doing so without considering the way an event like Confederation impacted communities outside the dominant culture only perpetuates their marginalization in public discourse, and therefore the political institutions that govern our country. With that being said, it is difficult to summarize the countless lived experiences in one image, especially if that image is ultimately meant to sell a certain product. While I take issue with this advertisement’s obliteration of history, I acknowledge that the same criticism can be levied at any advertisement, especially those aiming to capitalize on the spirit of patriotism, such as during Olympic Games, or events in history, such as Canada Day. Rather, my culture jamming sought to address the uniquely injurious partnership between institutions such as McDonald’s and marginalized communities in Canada.
The Culture Jam
Having established the macro-level issues of culturally or historically appropriative messaging, while also acknowledging its diffusion into the mainstream of Canadian society, I will elaborate on the particular message my culture jam sought to establish. This related to economic disparity and access to public health within marginalized communities.
McDonald’s, like many fast-food chain restaurants, provides inexpensive, good-tasting and highly unhealthy food. With caloric values far beyond the necessary requirement humans need per meal, and similarly high fat, sugar and sodium contents, fast food is a primary contributor to elevating rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. McDonald’s, which pioneered the commodification of convenient eating and is the most globally recognized fast food brand, is at the center of this movement. As was noted by Dyck and Dossa, fast food is also comparatively cheaper than healthy food options (696), and is marketed towards families as being a legitimate and convenient alternative to home-cooked meals.
This ultimately leads many economically disadvantaged communities to rely on fast food as a primary food source, and negatively impacts their health outcomes. At the same time, while reliance on fast food increases economically marginalized individuals’ likelihood of developing diet-related illnesses, the hierarchy of health care means the racialized or gendered communities who disproportionately rely on fast food are often simultaneously excluded from accessing public health care. As we read in the second and third modules of GRSJ 300, health outcomes in marginalized communities are often highly disproportional, and the ability to gain access to quality healthcare is often difficult of impossible. This was highlighted by Torchalla, Aube Linden, Strehlau, Neilson & Krausz, and Benoit, Carroll & Chaudhry in their analyses of Indigenous access to health care in Vancouver, which illustrated that even when individuals from racialized communities are seeking treatment for maladies that would be considered more “societally appropriate” (ie not related to drug or sexual histories), the structural inequity of health care access can often dissuade individuals from seeking treatment.
My culture jam ultimately aimed to comment on this mutually enforcing vicious cycle by drawing attention to the correlation between fast food and health outcomes. While marginalized communities are often forced to rely on comparatively inexpensive food options whose nutritional content negatively impacts their health, the structurally tiered system of health care often means they will receive lower quality treatment than members of the dominant or majority culture or ethnicity. The confluence of economic disparity and lower access to health care further harms those identifying as LGBTQ2+, and women in a society that still remains fundamentally gendered.
- Benoit, C., D. Carroll, and M. Chaudhry. “In search of a healing place: Aboriginal women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.” Social Science & Medicine4 (2003): 821-833. Web. 20 June 2017.
- McDonald’s Canadian Flag. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2017. http://adsoftheworld.com/media/print.mcdonalds_canadian_flag.
- Dyck, I., and P. Dossa. “Place, health, and home: gender migration in the constitutions of healthy space.” Health & Place 13 (2007): 691-701. 20 June 2017.
- Khullar, Dhruv. “Bad Hospital Design is Making us Sicker.” New York Times.p., 22 Feb. 2017. Web. 20 June 2017.
- Scotti, Monique. “Canada 150 Celebrations will cost taxpayers half a billion.” Global News. Corus Entertainment Inc., 17 May 2017. 20 June 2017.
- Torchalla, I., I. Aube Linden, V. Stehlau, E.K Neilson, and M. Krausz. “Like a lot’s happened with my whole childhood”: violence, trauma, and addiction in pregnant and postpartum women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.” Harm Reduction Journal1 (2015): 1-10. Web. 20 June 2017.