Manufacturing Fast Food Founders

By Jason W. M. Ellsworth

Who founded McDonalds? The film, The Founder, tells the history of Ray Kroc as the founder of McDonald’s. It even opens, like many other Hollywood biographical films, with a simple set of words written in white letters set to a black backdrop — “based on a true story.” But, not everyone agrees that the credit should go to Kroc. The film’s title and focus on him gives the impression of a simple enough story, but, as the study of religion demonstrates, origins and founder narratives are usually highly contested with much at stake.

The Founder stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, a traveling milkshake appliance salesman in the 1950s. Unsuccessfully pedaling machines one at a time to various drive up diners, Kroc is curious about one restaurant in California requesting eight of the appliances. When Kroc arrives, he finds a well-oiled diner that runs like a Ford assembly line, one where every burger is consistently of the highest-quality and served lightning quick — “orders ready in 30 seconds, not 30 minutes.” Mac and Dick McDonald are the architects of this highly stream-lined kitchen where no stone is left unturned in the name of efficiency. They originally opened their first McDonald’s BBQ in 1940, and then reopened their newly improved McDonald’s in 1948. Continue reading “Manufacturing Fast Food Founders”

On the Self-Mystification of Intellectuals

pierre-bourdieuThis is part of a collection of posts of quotations from The Sociologist and the Historian, (first published in French in 2010 and in English in 2015), a short collection of transcripts from a series of late 1987/early 1988 radio interviews between Roger Chartier and the late social theorist, Pierre Bourdieu.

As far as populism is concerned, I do not believe that I’ve left the least room for ambiguity. Here again, I could use a Socratic metaphor: Socrates questions, but he does not take the answers he is given as legal tender. And the sociologist knows very well that people who give answers in perfectly good faith do not necessarily speak the truth. His whole work consists in constructing the conditions for elaborating truth on the basis of observed behaviors, of discourses, writings, etc. Even if there are always a few imbeciles who believe that the common people speak more truly than others. In fact, one aspect of people being particularly dominated is that they are particularly dominated by the symbolic mechanisms of domination. For example, anyone who thinks (this was the fashion at the time the left was in power) that putting a microphone in front of the mouth of a miner will gather the truth about miners; in fact, what you get are the trade union discourses of the last thirty years; and when you do the same with a farmer, you get the discourses of schoolteachers — transformed. So the idea that you could find a kind of place of original insight in the social world, whether this is the intellectuals, or the proletariat, or some other group, is one of those mystiques that have enabled intellectuals to give themselves a boost, but on the basis of a dramatic self-mystification. The sociologist listens, questions, has people speak, but he also gives himself the means of subjecting every discourse to criticism. That goes without saying in the profession, but I think it is not known outside of it. (25-6)

Listen to the original radio broadcast, in French, here.
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How Old is That?

fossil2

The following is a brief excerpt from my own Introduction to the soon-to-be published collection of essays, Fabricating Origins, from the Working With Culture on the Edge book series.

Among the assorted knick-knacks that line my office’s shelves — ranging from such relics as photos of friends and family or gifts I’ve accumulated over the years to a selection of tattered romance novels shelved long ago among my books by mischievous students — is a nicely matted and framed “fossil” of Knightia, a long extinct genus of small boney North American freshwater fish, dating to more than 35 million years ago (or what scientists know as the Eocene epoch), and which was recovered from the well-known (to fossil hunters, at least) Green River Formation in southwestern Wyoming. I bought it one summer, heavy wooden frame and all, about ten years ago in a gift shop in downtown Iowa City, Iowa, at the same time that I purchased for my Department’s library a number of other artifacts, such as the stereotypical dancing Shiva statue and the Thai-styled bust of Buddha, complete with its intricately carved curls. I never anticipated writing about my framed piece of sedimentary rock, though I have often used it in classes to illustrate a point or two about discourses on origins; I now realize that this rock might have some uses outside of the classroom. Continue reading “How Old is That?”

“I Was an Orphan. I Grew Up in Pennsylvania…”

Picture 21Tonight is the series end to Mad Men, the story of the early years of Madison Avenue ad men (and women). When last we saw him, the protagonist, Don, had given away his car to a young scam artist, offering him a new start, and was seated alone at a bus stop, his belongings in a big paper sack. His ex-wife, Betty, had been diagnosed with lung cancer but was going back to school anyway. His onetime boss and then partner, Roger, was playing an electric organ in their freshly vacated offices while Peggy, once a secretary but now an integral part of the creative team, had rollerskated her way into a new found self-confidence and a new office, armed with some erotic Japanese art.

peggy Continue reading ““I Was an Orphan. I Grew Up in Pennsylvania…””

An Apology for Etymology

Picture 5I was asked a question at a recent presentation I did up at the University of Chicago, concerning why the etymology of technical terms is a focus in an intro book that I wrote (and which I use in my own 100-level classes). Given my persistent critique of quests for origins it seems odd, or so the question might go, to focus on the origins of words, no?

etymology (n.)
late 14c., ethimolegia “facts of the origin and development of a word,” from Old French etimologie, ethimologie (14c., Modern French étymologie), from Latin etymologia, from Greek etymologia “analysis of a word to find its true origin”

Good point. Why do I talk about etymologies in that book? Continue reading “An Apology for Etymology”

Fabricating Origins

Picture 17We used a typescript copy of my small, forthcoming edited volume, Fabricating Origins (due out this summer), in my upper-level seminar this semester, a course devoted to examining origins narratives — seeing those various sorts of “In the beginning” tales we so commonly tell as not being about the past their tellers claim to narrate but all about the present and future hopes of the tale’s narrator. The course started out with Barry Levinson’s endearing film “Avalon” (but one that opens the way to discussing hidden fractures in the life of any social group) and then a couple weeks later we watched Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (in which the notion of nostalgia is problematized so nicely) — both setting the tone for the course. Students kept notebooks in the class (something I learned from Jonathan Z. Smith and which I’ve incorporated into most of my upper-level seminars), and they handed them into me last week; it was interesting to see, from some of their notes, how effective the films were in framing the problem of the course. And then, eventually, we worked our way to the ten revised posts from this site, collected together in the above-named volume, complete with commentaries on each by a group of young scholars I’ve mostly met online through social media. And, like the movies, the volume seems to have worked well with students, to press home the point of the course.

And that point was…?

Don’t look in the distance, or the past, at whatever someone is gesturing toward; rather, keep your eyes on the one trying to direct, perhaps even to force, your gaze. Continue reading “Fabricating Origins”

Manufacturing Booty: On How We Stake Our Claims

CoverAs I’m sure we’ve all heard by now, Kim Kardashian’s backside, displayed for the world’s consumption and viewing pleasure (or not) on the front cover of Paper Magazine, “broke the Internet” just a short while ago and has since caused a flurry of debate, shock, praise, and disbelief. Add to that a big-booty praise of “#allday” from her beloved husband, Kanye West which received thousands of Retweets. I’ll leave it for those entering into the debate with interests and intentions of conflict management and moral maintenance to weigh in on what Kim’s big ‘ole butt plastered on the Internet for the world to view and deconstruct means for progress, freedom, justice, feminism, America, motherhood, identity politics, women, sexuality, Kanye, blackness, and much, much more. Amazing how a bare ass on a magazine can speak to and says something about such a *****wide***** variety of topics!
Something more interesting — and fascinating (in my opinion) has caught my attention about the unfolding conversation and ensuing public debate and discourse — that has seemingly little to do with the perceived “object” of study here. I’m more curious about how all of these emerging grand claims to truth (seen in what follows below) sparked by Kim K’s naked badonkadonk are helping it to break the Internet and make possible the Sui Generis booty she (and the world) thinks is so NOT-unique, or, not unique enough to warrant all of the hype. One is not born a big booty, rather, one becomes a big booty, so it seems. We have manufactured the Kardashian booty that we so love to hate and hate to love. Continue reading “Manufacturing Booty: On How We Stake Our Claims”

Why, When I was a Kid…

Picture 8The other day I was cruising around the web reading old New York Times pieces and came across one entitled “Does Religion Oppress Women.” As with many things on the web (e.g., the banana slicer for sale at amazom.com), the comments section is the best part. For example:

Picture 5kaybee’s comment stood out for me because it nicely represents a commonplace strategy — a strategy at home within the academy no less than in comments on the web — of positing a pristine originary moment that, once expressed or shared, is only later corrupted and polluted. It’s a model not unlike the telephone game (problematically known as “Chinese whispers” earlier on), which judges the contemporary against the pure source, and one that we find in the U.S. supreme court (when a justices measure current behaviors by the standard of what the writers of the Constitution intended) as well as in the study of etymology itself (whose own etymology denotes studying the true meaning of a word). Continue reading “Why, When I was a Kid…”