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Somewhere in the frigid remoteness of the North Arctic sea, girls and boys, conveniently located for shopping near the island of Misfit Toys, is a land where the forgotten shills for swill still live and play.  Yes, fast food companies want to sell you as much as your little bodies can stand, and they’ll throw just about any idea toward that task.  Come, let us meet the denizens of the Island of Discontinued Fast Food Mascots!

Back in about, I dunno, 2005, or so, it was THE thing for every hipster to rave about how much they loved the Burger King “King” mascot.  Maybe they liked the ironic distance that the commercials kept between the audience intended (dudes) and the audience received (hipsters and satirists).  That’s what I liked about them for a while too,  but he’s retired by the company now (they’ll do that to everyone, sooner or later) and not many of us miss him.  It got kind of old, after a while, didn’t it?  And who ate at Burger King anymore?

The commercials themselves got overblown within two years.  All the things we liked about them- that they were filled with amateur actors, filmed in the real world, used dry humor, etc.- was carried to an extreme such that, even if you were found somehow watching a TV, it wouldn’t be just to watch Burger King commercials.

Mac Tonight was everything we wished the Burger King was, and twenty years before.  His job was to sell McDonald’s food to adults driving around late at night.  First, let’s watch one of his commercials.  You’ll know him like how you know a Scooby Doo villain: he’s the only one in it.

The first things you probably notice are either the blaring music (Brecht/Weill) or Mac Tonight’s appearance.  Well, what do you see?  A man with a crescent moon for a head, wearing a show jacket and Ray Bands, seated at a piano, singing.  Obviously he’s a composite of Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong and several other people.  Indeed, Mac Tonight carries just a whiff of black caricature in him, in the singing and in the sculpting of the face.  It isn’t enough to be outright rude, like a Scotch golliwog, but its still there.  Okay, Ray Charles had just done Pepsi at the time these commercials were coming out, and the I know California Raisins are racist in the same vein- but still, fellas, isn’t your depiction of Mac Tonight a little risky?

Well, the song he’s playing isn’t from the black American tradition.  Rather, it was inspired by it.  Kurt Weill wrote the music and Bertolt Brecht wrote the lyrics- a jazz introduction to their 1928 play, The Threepenny Opera, a satire on capitalistic society.  Singing a lounge version of Mack the Knife, McDonald’s uses the version sung by Bobby Darin as their template.  Darin’s version doesn’t hide the predatory nature of the lyrics.  Even a change of lyrics makes the song no less predatory.  Mac Tonight sings about searching for “a good time…a great taste…dinner” at McDonald’s.  He will purchase the thing that he craves.  In the source material, the singer muses on the skillfulness of a criminal, thinks about the strange goings-on in his community. In the McDonald’s version, the suggestion is that you purchase something and then go home, because it’s late.  

One wonders what Brecht and Weill would think to be a shill for McDonald’s.  But interestingly, McDonald’s didn’t wonder.  And they didn’t wonder what you thought about their racism.  But isn’t it a little offensive?  Annoying?  Stupid, at least.  They didn’t care, and their ads were successful.  People bought the food, people remembered the songs.  Mac Tonight was around for ten years, and made a comeback in Singapore in 2007, while the Burger King was retired after eight years.  How did they get us like that?  I had a Mac Tonight bathtub toy growing up.   He was on a skateboard.

Mac Tonight succeeded where the Burger King failed on one point:  the use of sets and stagecraft.  The Burger King existed in the real world, filmed on Los Angeles back lots and stuff like that.  Some of us could even relate to being a bit like the Burger King, maybe.  But Mac Tonight doesn’t exist anywhere.  Take another look at any point in the video.  See those platforms rising; they built those.  They actually built that Hamburger dispensing machine!  What is that clock supposed to be, Big Ben?  Like Disney, McDonald’s created a pure fantasy world in which any slight to reality- conservatism, corniness, racism, shamelessness- could be accepted.  Man with a moon for a face? I don’t know if I buy that.  Is he floating on a piano?  Past Big Ben?  Near a Hamburger generator?  Fine, it all isn’t real- in fact, ha, ha, it’s fun!

The fact that it has nothing to do with the real world means that real world rules don’t apply.  So they slipped that one by us.  We’re all older now and we don’t eat McDonald’s or watch commercials on YouTube.  We can set it behind.  If it’s pure fantasy, it doesn’t have any ties to us anyway.  Well, but I guess it does have one tie to us: some of us watched it.  And some of us hummed it.  Some of us played with Mac Tonight in the bath.   But when I got out of the tub, he was another castaway on the Island of Discontinued Fast Food Mascots and I was no longer the target market.

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