An Interview with author George Ritzer
submitted by T of DC
You have described the McDonaldised society as a
system of "iron cages" in which all institutions come to be
dominated by the same principle. So what sort of world would you like us
to be living in ?
Well, obviously (laughter)...a far less caged one. I mean the fundamental
problem with McDonaldised systems is that it's other people in the system
structuring our lives for us, rather than us structuring our lives for
ourselves. I mean, that's really what McDonald's is all about. You don't
want a creative person clerk at the counter - that's why they are
scripted. You don't want a creative hamburger cook - you want somebody who
simply follows routines or follows scripts. So you take all creativity out
of all activities and turn them into a series of routinised kinds of
procedures that are imposed by some external force. So that's the reason
why it is dehumanising. Humanity is essentially creative and if you
develop these systems that are constraining and controlling people they
can't be creative, they can't be human. The idea is to turn humans into
human robots. The next logical step is to replace human robots with
mechanical robots. And I think we will see McDonaldised systems where it
is economically feasible and technologically possible to replace human
robots with non-human robots. I'd like to see a society in which people
are freed to be creative, rather than having their creativity constrained
To what extent do you think McDonald's threats of
lawsuits and censorship are an attempt to control their public image?
Well, I think they are certainly not the first or alone in trying to
control the public image that they have, and of course their public image
has been very important to them. I suppose it could be related to the
control idea, you are accustomed to controlling everything else so why not
try to control that public image.
How important is McDonald's image?
Well, the fact is of course that they are producing what everybody else
produces - there is very little to distinguish the McDonald's hamburger
from anybody else's hamburger, except maybe the special sauce or something
like that. Basically they have to manufacture a sense of difference and a
lot of that manufacture has to do with the fun and the colours the clowns
and the toys and the squeaky clean image.
How much duplicity do you think there is going on
here in terms of the image McDonald's presents?
I think there is a duplicitousness about McDonald's in the sense that it
wants to portray an image of children and happy employees and one big
joyous happy family and everyone having a good time. I think that American
corporations in various ways try to create a duplicitous image, a false
image. I mean that's what, in a sense, successful capitalism is about it's
"WE ARE THE WORLD" and a number of major companies have tried to
do essentially the same thing.
You say very rightly that it's not just McDonald's -
but why do you think that you, and Helen and Dave, and other people keep
choosing McDonald's as the one to pick on?
They are the icon and McDonald's is chosen by critics because it stands
for a variety of things. I mean, from my point of view, it stands for
efficiency and predictability. For other people it stands for America and
America's influence throughout the world, so it gets picked up as a
positive model. Although all of these things are virtues, the problem is
that they are taken to such extraordinary lengths by McDonald's that they
end up producing all kinds of irrational consequences so that the
irrationalities outweigh the rationalities.
Do you go as far as to say that McDonald's
Well it's a funny kind of capitalism that McDonald's represents because
after all capitalism - American capitalism - for generations was the
symbol of the huge smoke-stack industry, steel and automobiles ... but it
is not the automobile industry that represents America around the world
now it is McDonald's and Disney and Coca Cola.
Do you think going into McDonald's, particularly in
other countries, is more like entering the Western Dream than just buying
It's not just that you are buying a product - you are buying into a
system. In the 1940s there was a big flap in France over what was called a
Coca Colonisation. The French were very upset about the coming of Coca
Cola to France. They felt it threatened the French wine industry, it
threatened the French way of life. But that was just the influx of an
American product - what we have here is the influx of an American way of
life, which is to trivialise eating, to make it something that is fast,
make it something that's to get done and over with.
But it's striking to me that the last time I was in
Paris the Parisians appeared to have embraced this kind of fast food
phenomenon . You have developments of fast food croissanteries where this
model French way of life - the croissanterie - has been reduced to fast
food. French bread is more and more treated on a fast basis rather than
lots of local bakeries baking their own distinctive kind, so if the French
succumb to this in the realm of food then it strikes me that there is
little that is safe from the expansion of this process.
The significance here is not buying the big Mac, it's
buying the system, buying the whole package and being part of America,
that's the key.
Do you think this process is ever going to be
Well the caged imagery suggests that there is an inevitability to it.
Clearly, all the trends are in the direction of the greater spread of
McDonald's or greater spread of the process of McDonaldisation. And there
is certainly plenty of room for it to expand into other cultures, and
there are still many cultures which are completely or relatively
But there are also always counter-reactions, there are
also always all sorts of things that are coming up from the people that
represent innovations and creations. I mean you are not going to get
innovations and creations from McDonaldised systems. Those innovations and
creations - those non-McDonaldised ways of doing things - are going to
well up from the people. But what makes me most pessimistic is that
anything that's any good, anything not successful, some entrepreneur or
organisation is going to come along and make great to rationalise it, make
great to McDonaldise it, trivialise it, they are going to turn it into a
system - a cash counter - and generate money. There is nothing that seems
to be immune to this process, no aspect of life that seems to be immune to
it. It's difficult to think of things that can avoid the process.
Does it mean that it is appealing to some
fundamental call of human nature?
Well, sociologists don't believe in human nature. You never say human
nature to a sociologist because if it was human nature that really
mattered, then sociologists would be out of business. I think that there
are a variety of things that people need at some level, like some degree
of efficiency in their lives and some degree of predictability. What
McDonald's has done is pick up on those and transform them into a system.
I don't think people need the level of efficiency that McDonald's provides
for them or want that level of efficiency … it's not something that is
Another sort of pessimistic aspect to this is that you
have children born into this McDonaldised world, you have people being
trained, being lured into the system by the commercials and the toys and
the clowns and the bright lights. They are trained that this is the way
you eat, this is the way a hamburger should taste, this is how a French
fry should taste, salty-sweet. These are the standards and so you if try
to say to people of this generation "well look, this is not really
how a hamburger should be, here is a home cooked hamburger" they will
likely turn their nose up and say "well, that doesn't taste
There are really, it seems to me, only two groups that
historically have been critics of the process of McDonaldisation. They are
the people who were born before the process and knew a different way of
life and then were stunned by the development of McDonaldisation, or
people from non-McDonaldised cultures who see this influx and are able to
react. But once that generation that was born before McDonaldisation dies
off, and once all these other cultures are McDonaldised, well where is the
opposition going to come from .. from children who have been trained by
McDonald's or gone to McDonald's schools and done everything that they had
to do from one McDONALD'S SYSTEM AFTER ANOTHER?
Obviously McDonalds and related corporations are spending billions of
dollars to socialise children into this system so that this becomes their
One of the basic premises of McDonald's is to focus on
quantity, low price (or what appears to be low price) and large quantities
of things and inevitably what suffers when you emphasise quantity is
quality so they are serving what is at best mediocre food.
But why do you think that Dave and Helen are able to
criticise the process?
You see I don't think that England is as McDonaldised as the U.S.A. In
Europe you have some degree of McDonaldisation but nothing to the degree
that this process has proceeded in the U.S. So there would be examples of
people in other cultures who, because of the nature of that culture and
the large number of non-McDonaldised aspects of that culture, would be
sensitised to it. I think fewer and fewer Americans are sensitised to it,
question it. I mean they don't know anything else, you are going to go and
eat you go to fast food restaurant and eat. You mentioned the French
cuisine and I think one of the trends in the future of McDonaldisation is
the McDonaldisation of higher-up restaurants, of haute cuisine. You
already see sort of middle range restaurants and restaurant chains in the
U.S. now. Red Lobster or a chain like that is selling fairly upscale food
but you now see signs that some elegant restaurants are trying to move in
the direction of developing chains. So the challenge is going to be how do
you McDonaldise a system by retaining quality because all McDonaldised
systems have sacrificed quality. It's the process that's the problem here.
Do you think that the issue should be broadened to
include more than just the specific case of McDonald's?
Yeah, see for me it's that they've set in motion something which is so
much bigger than they are, that this process is so much broader than what
they are. In fact, McDonald's could disappear tomorrow, or could go out of
business tomorrow and this process would continue on. You might have to
give it a different name but the process would continue, I mean the
process has a history long before McDonald's. In Weber's theory of
rationalisation and in Weber's model was the bureaucracy, the German
bureaucracy, and we're living in an extension, a massive extension of that
process with a new model in the fast food restaurant. The fast food
restaurant, or McDonald's could disappear but that process will be
transformed into some new form.
Is there a 1984/Brave New World kind of element to
The Brave New World/1984 image is one of centralised control. What
McDonaldisation means for me is kinds of microsystems of control or whole
systems of microsystems of control. Actually Michelle Foucault, the French
poststructural theorist, talked about these micropolitics of control,
micromechanisms of control and I think that what's being set in place here
is not an iron cage, but innumerable mini iron cages and there are so many
of them and they're so widely spaced throughout society that the iron
cages envisioned here is one where you simply have your choice of which
cage to enter but there's nothing but cages to go to.
What effects does a McDonaldised society have its
I think that McDonald's has a profound effect on the way people do a lot
of things I mean it leads people to want everything fast, to have, you
know, a limited attention span so that kind of thing spills over onto,
let's say, television viewing or newspaper reading, and so you have a
short attention span, you want everything fast, so you don't have patience
to read the New York Times and so you read McPaper, you read USA today.
You don't have patience to watch a lengthy newscast on a particular issue
so you watch CNN News and their little news McNugget kinds of things so it
creates a kind of mindset which seeks the same kind of thing in one
setting after another. I see it in education where you have, in a sense, a
generation of students who've been raised in a McDonaldised society, they
want things fast, they want idealic nuggets from Professors, they don't
want sort of slow build up of ideas, you gotta keep them amused, you gotta
come in with the Ronald McDonald costume and quip a series of brilliant
theoretical points or else they're going to turn you off. It's quite
amazing what they've done, what they've undertaken here.
What do you think of what Helen and Dave are doing?
I think that clearly, from very small beginnings, they've created a
worldwide movement here, worldwide attention, and have laid the basis for
a real potential threat to McDonald's and the process of McDonaldisation.
We talked about this earlier, the possibility of bringing together these
disparate groups and I think that McDonald's has got to devote, I mean if
they want to prevent this from occurring, they've got to devote some
attention to how to diffuse and strategically keep apart these
oppositional forces that seem likely to come together, to focus on it as a
negative force. I mean if there really comes to be a time where McDonald's
is viewed as this evil force in the world by a significant number of
people, then that becomes a real threat to the organisation. But again I
want to point out that even if McDonald's disappeared tomorrow, even if
they closed their doors because of the McLibel trial the process would
Do you eat at McDonald's?
Only when I'm in the iron cage and it's the only alternative. I mean, you
do find yourself in the United States in a situation especially when
you're on the highways now where there is no place to go other than a fast
food restaurant. One of the big developments on American highways is that
virtually all of the rest stops have been taken over by the fast food
chains and so if you're driving on the highway and you wanna eat you're
gonna eat in a fast food restaurant.
There is no alternative unless you get off the highway
and then all of the restaurants that are immediately off the highway are
going to be fast food restaurants too, so you've got to search quite a bit
to avoid eating in a fast food restaurant. So occasionally you just find
yourself now in the States where that's your only alternative and of
course again that's the ultimate iron cage. I mean, when the whole
society's like that, where you just cannot find any kind of alternative,
you just throw up your hands and say "ok, I'm gonna eat this way, I'm
gonna do things this way".
George Ritzer is a Professor of Sociology at the
University of Maryland, where he has been named Distinguished
Scholar-Teacher. He is the author of 'The McDonaldisation of Society'
(Pine Forge Press)
book available here:
The McDonaldization of Society :
An Investigation into the Changing
Character of Contemporary Social Life
by George Ritzer
David Icke WebSite