It Is, Apparently, OKAY to be GAY. But Only In France.

It Is, Apparently, OKAY to be GAY. But Only In France.

By: Shelly Kramer
June 15, 2010

It's Okay To Be Gay!

As I trolled through this morning’s news, I stumbled upon a Chicago Tribune interview of Don Thompson, the guy who took over as McDonald’s No. 2 and COO this past January.

McDonald’s has chugged right along during the course of the last few years, in spite of the economy that managed to take so many other businesses – restaurants among them – out at the knees. In spite of that success, there are many hurdles ahead, one of which is trying to convince a nation captivated by Food, Inc. and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution that eating at McDonald’s isn’t akin to letting your kids smoke cigarettes. A harsh comparison, I know, but in addition to being a straight, gay-loving human being, I’m also a mom. And these days, my focus is on putting good stuff in my kids’ bodies and keeping them fit and healthy. That does not include more than an occasional meal at McDonald’s or any other fast food joint. But hey, they’ve gotta keep those doors open — I get it!

I digress. McDonald’s has another hurdle – and it’s figuring out how comfortable they are with a diverse customer base. The thing about the Tribune interview that got my attention was the question about the TV spot that is currently airing in France, featuring a gay teen and his father. And the spot has, apparently, stirred some controversy, not so much in France or even in Europe – but here, in the U.S.

This little video has only had 1.8 million views on YouTube in the two weeks since it aired — oh, brands do so love it when there’s a controversy. And, always reliable when it comes to classy responses, Bill O’Reilly, Fox’s crackerjack news anchor, mocked the ad on air by quipping “ Do you think they have an ad for Al Quaeda?” likening the McDonald’s ad to something a terrorist group might produce. Brilliant, Bill. Just brilliant. Naturally, gay activists’ chic boxer briefs are in a wad and they’ve demanded a public apology from O’Reilly. As if that will actually mean something.

Back to McDonald’s and their #2. Thompson claims McDonald’s strategy is to “be there for our customers … and that’s what our focus is: Great product, great food, great experience, great service….” And, apparently, in Thompson’s world, McDonald’s can be there for their gay customers in France, but everywhere else, their strategy is to keep that on the down low.

Following the O’Reilly outburst, a McDonald’s spokesperson said “the purpose of the campaign was to show society the way it is today without judging” and “there’s obviously no problem with homosexuality in France today.”

The New York Daily News‘ take on the situation was that McDonald’s “wants to be seen as a company that welcomes everyone. Judging by a new advertisement running on French television, that includes gays.”

Such an epiphany! McDonald’s – something for everyone. And who knew that France was the only country in the modern world that could be considered diverse and, more importantly, nonjudgmental when it comes to those pesky homosexuals? And appalling, as reported ad nauseum by both bloggers and news sources the world over, that McDonald’s would have the cojones to “target” these very people. These Gays. Oh my!! Seriously. People. McDonald’s isn’t trying to target gays – they’re too afraid of that — at least in the U.S. But they are dipping their toes in the water (and trying to make a buck) — and starting with France. Where people are, apparently, gay. And it’s okay.

Thompson addressed this topic in the Tribune interview in a manner not at all uncommon in the world of corporate doublespeak — roudaboutly. Yes, I made that up. He said, “cultures are very different around the world. (For instance), I’ve never shied away from the fact that I’m a Christian. I have my own personal beliefs and I don’t impose those on anybody else.” He went on to say “ … it’s not that I’m to be the judge or the jury relative to right or wrong. Having said that, at McDonald’s, there are core values we stand for and the world is getting much closer. So we have a lot of conversations. We’re going to make some mistakes at times. (We talk) about things that may have an implication in one part of the world and may be the cultural norm in another part of the world. And those are things that, yes, we’re going to learn from. But, you’re right, that commercial won’t show in the United States.”

He said it. That commercial won’t show in the United States. I’m so very proud to be an American at moments like this. Arrgh.

My take. Americans, pull your heads out of your collective rear ends. Gay people exist. Just like the rest of us. They even eat hamburgers. And that advice goes for you, too, McDonald’s. Don’t hide behind the curtain of the religious beliefs of your leaders and/or purported beliefs and mores – if you truly believe the stuff you spin, your customers (and your marketing efforts) should include people from all walks of life. That includes people with different skin color AND different religious beliefs AND different sexual orientations. And the fact that we’re even still discussing this in society today makes me have a little mouth vomit just thinking of it. And, for the record, David Ibsen at The Daily Casserole said it nicely, too. I’m going to be sure and read his stuff more often. You should, too.

Yeah, that’s right, I’m taking a stand. Gay people are awesome. The fact that they are gay is irrelevant. And the fact that McDonald’s or any other major corporation is afraid to put a gay “character” in one of its hundreds of thousands of TV spots because of the potential fallout in our apparently backasswards country is appalling.

This gay lover – wait – scratch that. This people lover has spoken. Bring it.

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  • First of all I must tell you that I ran upon your comments via a retweet on Twitter, and have been following your delightful repartee ever since. So here I am a few days later enjoying your blog as well. Thank you for being such a charismatic read. Back to the topic on hand. As far as people like Bill O'reilly, he is in the business of marketing himself as well, and whether he truly believes what he says, or like every other media celebrity out there, these are all carefully spun idioms that stir controversy and help the bottom line, I agree an appology from him means nothing, and a public outcry for change just lines his pocket with more anti-gay, pro AmeriKKKa viewers. However, the ad is interesting in it's own way. The message seems to be kind of mixed. What are they actually saying? The father doesn't know his son is gay yet but McDonalds does, and welcomes him? Also the ad really highlights lack of choice, and continued secrecy/closetedness. The father doesn't know his son is gay, the teen is not even ordering, nor does he seem to be enthused to be in McDonalds, he is simply staying quiet rather than challenging the status quo. He is even hiding his true personality as soon as his dad comes, especially when talking about being a lady's man, and going to an all boy school. What else is he hiding? Perhaps his disdain of McNuggets? Furthermore, the concept that as a gay teen he enjoys an all boy school, is simply giving in to the heterosexual stereo-type that gay men and women simply can't wait to be put in “gender safe situations” and pounce on the unsuspecting heterosexual, to “lure them” to the “dark side”. Unless the message is, McDonalds as a physical building is happy to have you here, talk away, just quiet down as soon as the rest of society comes to break bread with you. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for representing our miserably beautiful humanity as it is, but like you said between battling Food Inc, and Jamie Oliver, I don't see where this ad is going. Nor do I find it liberating to the gay community. Furthermore the last message “come as you are” would have been more apt to a table of teens representing the gays, the goths, the punks, and whatever other sub-culture/lifestyle people have embraced as of late, and having them all enjoy each others company over a big-mac. Not because of the solid representation of all walks of life, but rather because they are specifically targeting teens, and teen identity is nearly always in flux, so why not give them the greatest gamut of images to relate to? In summary I am glad that McDonalds has taken on a it's ok to be gay perspective (in France), I just think they could have done a better job.

  • ok, first I was irritated b/c my French is a tad rusty and there was some ad thing running over /in the way of half of the subtitles. But I got the jist of it.

    You know this is right up my alley since my dad is QUEER. People need to wake up. It's not a big deal. And guess what? EVERYONE knows someone who is gay. Whether you think you do or not.

    I'm grateful this ad is airing somewhere, even if not here….but wish McDonald's would have the cojones to run something similar on our soil.

    Excellent post, my dear. Not that I'd expect anything less from your brilliant self.

  • Sam,

    I completely agree with you. The ad is a train wreck and a horrible marketing message. Just shows you how not dialed in McDonald's is on the issue. I cringed to watch it – but that's a whole different blog post!

    My message is, like yours, the best strategy is to do what you say your mission is and welcome all – if you're targeting teens, that could easily be done by showing goths, punks, jocks, gays and bookworms …. this was a fail on all counts.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts. Always the greatest compliment for any blogger and I am honored.

    Come back any time :))

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks tootsie,

    I actually thought it was lame that the one time they do a “gay” ad that it's about somebody hiding it — sigh — I guess you can only expect so much. Like you, I will be impressed when McDonald's is “brave” enough to feature people from all walks of life in their marketing messages :)))

  • Gay people exist? What's next? Interracial couples!? People with disabilities? 😉 My favorite part of this is how McDonald's says they're having lots of conversations. That is important, and more companies should do that. But conversations with whom? If it's just a slice of America they think are the cultural majority, that won't serve anyone. Great post, Shelly! (You're awesome, too!)

  • Shelly Kramer

    I know! Can you believe it? There are gays out there? And apparently running rampant in France AND eating hamburgers. Seriously, I agree about the conversations part and at least they are dipping their toes in the water – albeit in a very segmented way. And the ad sucks – which is sad. I mean, why reinforce the idea that this should remain hidden … especially when it comes to teens. Gah. I’ll stop here. Thanks Jeannie, for stopping by. Seeing you always makes any day better!!

  • I know the country still has issues with gays but I thought we had advanced to the point that that ad would be shown here. As Sam and you point out, the ad is showing a boy hiding the fact he's gay, so it's not “offensive and open” by showing 2 gays kissing with McD's food on their lips.

    Bill Reilly's remark is meant to be controversial but if being gay was accepted and a non-issue, he wouldn't have said anything. I have a friend who over the years has become a fundamentalist style Christian so, sadly, there's a lot we can't talk about. He would be totally offended and freaked out about that ad and probably never watch the station that aired it or buy McD;s again. I don't understand it. Not one bit. Thanks for a good post Shelly.

  • I'm sitting at the Barnes and Noble cafe on Central Avenue near Scarsdale, New York, and looking around at the people here. I'm imagining the ad McDonald's might run if we just let people be who and what they are.

    This big guy in the blue shirt reading Sh*t My Dad Says; this sweet older woman with the slavic accent, brown vinyl purse and hair net, this Latino dad who's teaching his daughter how to use her new laptop while they share a Frappuccino. In the real world, people are fat, old, disabled, ugly, too sexy, flat-chested, weird, stupid, gorgeous… there's a black man studying for medical school, an asian woman reading People magazine – and this guy in the pink polo shirt, khaki shorts and golf cap.

    In our perfectly balanced McDonalds ad, it wouldn't matter what color, religion, gender or sexual preference they happened to be. We could even feature Bill O'Reilly fans – and who'd know? Cuz it wouldn't matter what show you watched or how much I weighed or where you bought those great shoes (well, wait, maybe that WOULD still matter. We've got to have standards! )

    I'm just saying, people are people are people.

    PS In my perfect world, McDonald's would serve nothing but french fries… and raw food.

  • I thin what I'm understanding from your post is that Actors, are actors, are actors… But I totally agree with you… McDonalds fries should be on Maslow's hierarchy of needs 🙂

  • Late to this, but O’Reilly comparing being gay to being an Al Qaeda terrorist … man oh man. Have we far to go or what!

  • Anonymous

    Yes, Dan, we still have far to go. Sigh. Happy Friday! And thanks for coming by.

  • Rockin2449

    Not gonna lie, that was one of the best articles I have ever read. Everything you said was extremely true. People in the United States are very ignorant, coming for a (gay) American! It’s not like if you keep us out of your “2D” world, we’ll go away, no, it doesn’t work like that. Look at the big picture, when you have 14 year old’s coming out and being proud of it, you can’t ignore the fact that their here. Our generation is different, and even if we have to wait until every hate-teaching parent and adult figure is gone, we will have our day.