Friday, May 24, 2024

A Ronald McDonald float is readied for the 2006 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. (Photo: Vidiot)

The campaign to disappear Ronald McDonald was outside Porter Square Books on Friday, with volunteers luring petition signers with the question, “What do you think about McDonald’s?”

This is kind of like campaigning against Jar Jar Binks by asking “What do you think about Star Wars?” Most people’s relationship with McDonald’s, or Star Wars, is complicated but, at bottom, one of indifference; people here have grown up with both, but they can acknowledge it without any real passion. Reactions to Ronald McDonald and Jar Jar Binks are bound to be more extreme, though, since the characters are probably the least-loved thing about each franchise.

Most people just don’t like clowns, and Ronald McDonald is possibly the least funny and most compromised clown of all time: He was created solely to sell things, although he took on a self-justifying charitable mission with his Ronald McDonald House, just as fraternities and sororities do good as a defense against accusations of sybaritism.

This is why the Boston-based Corporate Responsibility International wants Ronald McDonald gone — he is compromised. He’s designed to look like he’s going to tell jokes and bring joy, but 30-second TV spots don’t really allow for that. His appearance is like a shortcut to indicate delight, without actually inspiring it, while McDonald’s meals are like a shortcut for food without actually being nutritious.

According to the campaign:

Success has come at the expense of our children’s health. Since the inception of Ronald McDonald, obesity rates have more than tripled among American children and the prevalence of diet-related conditions like type 2 diabetes has skyrocketed.

A worker for the campaign said, causing alarm and a reflexive bit of skepticism, that 100 percent of all U.S. children knew of Ronald McDonald. One hundred percent? Really?

In other circumstances, I might have questioned such a figure. In this case, the campaign’s concern for children and my general loathing of Ronald McDonald coincided, and I signed basically just to remove the clown from public life. That my agenda could be attached to a good cause was, well, a plus.

If there’s an argument to be made that eliminating the clown would hurt his eponymous charity, I would reply that the only result might be better for the company. In “McDonald House” versus “Ronald McDonald House,” the company doesn’t lose anything except the cost of new signs and stationery.

The campaign workers Friday said they’d had a good day, with many signatures collected.

It’s true, they said, no one likes clowns — except for kids, or except for the kids who aren’t scared by them.

But another worker noted a tween who had just been at the table who’d told the workers he hated Ronald McDonald. Not because clowns are scary. Just because he hated him.

“After all,” said the worker recounting the story, “this is Porter Square.”