The Doubter’s Companion: A Big Mac

“A Big Mac: The communion wafer of consumption. Not really food but the promise of food. Whatever it tastes like, whatever it is made of, once it touches lips A Big Mac is transubstantiated into the mythological hamburger.

It is, along with Perrier, one of the sacred objects of the leading philosophical school of the late-twentieth century public relations. Cynics often unjustly suggest that this school favors superficial appearances over content. Had this been the case, PR would have failed. Most people, after all, can easily recognize the difference between appearances and reality.

A Big Mac, for example, is not big. It doesn’t taste of much. It isn’t good for you. And it seems sweet. Why does it seem sweet if, as the company says, it isn’t laced with sugar?

What the philosophy of PR proposes is theoretical content (such as sex appeal, fun, individualism, sophistication, the rejection of sophistication) in the place of actual content (banal carbonated water and a mediocre hamburger). This is modern metaphysics.

Because public relations are built on illusion, they tend to eliminate choice. This is an important characteristic of contemporary capitalism. A Big Mac, like so many creations of PR, is a symbol of passive conformity. As Mac McDonald put it: ‘If you gave people a choice, there would be chaos.’”

Excerpted from: Saul, John Ralston. The Doubter’s Companion. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

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