OAK PARK, IL—The hip, underground fast-food chain McDonald's is being assailed with cries of "sell-out" from its rabid fan base, which has expressed anger and disillusionment over a merchandising deal signed recently between the restaurant and the Disney Corporation.
For years one of the most respected and influential members of the nation's underground fast-food scene, McDonald's earlier this summer began selling "collectors cups" from the Disney film Hercules for 99 cents with any food purchase.
"God, I can't believe they would do something like this, man," said 25-year-old Ted Dolgan of Durham, NC. "I've been eating there since, like, '82, back before they even had McNuggets. They'd never have done something like this back then."
"Obviously, it's all just a money thing to them now," said Stacey Opperman, 20, a Minneapolis-area college student. "What about integrity?"
Frederick Regis, McDonald's director of community relations, expressed regret over the negative fan reaction, but said that in today's fiercely competitive fast-food market they simply could no longer afford to remain viably independent.
"Movie merchandising, 'instant-win peel-offs,' NBA tie-ins, these kinds of things are, unfortunately, necessary if you want to survive these days," said Regis, who left the Washington, D.C.-based independent punk label Dischord Records before joining the fast-food chain in 1992. "It was either start doing corporate promotional tie-ins or die. It's sad, really."
Added Regis: "Sure, there are a lot of purists out there decrying this as a sell-out. But believe me, nothing will change. McDonald's is still 100 percent committed to serving the same cutting-edge 'burgers with attitude' its fans have come to expect. Our street cred will remain rock-solid, let me assure you."
Ever since making waves in the fast-food underground with the seminal, groundbreaking McRib sandwich in the late '80s, McDonald's has grown steadily, today boasting a rabidly devoted following numbering in the thousands. The chain has proven hugely influential, spawning the so-called "McDonaldland Scene" of the mid-'90s and shaping the menus of dozens of fast-food outlets.
Perhaps no chain has been more influenced by the famed "McDonald's Taste" than its chief rival, Burger King.
"Burger King has always been just a lame McDonald's cover chain," said Sean Grady, 22, a longtime McDonald's fan. "When McDonald's released the Filet O' Fish, Burger King came out with the Whaler. When McDonald's came out with the Happy Meal in '81, Burger King ripped them off with the BK Kids' Club Happy Pak. It's like, McDonald's is Nirvana, and Burger King is totally Bush."
Long praised by its cult following for rebellious, anti-authority slogans like "You Deserve A Break Today" and "We Do It All For You," and for its steadfast refusal to compromise its burger-making to win a mass audience, McDonald's was something independent franchisers and customers regarded as a "family."
"This used to be my McDonald's," said Jared Gildon, 16, of Austin, TX. "But now I just don't know."
"I remember back in '93, '94—that was when I got into them, they were doing really cool, hardcore shit like the McLean Deluxe," said Stacey Orton, 17. "It was a way-cool scene. Now it's all just poseurs who just want to eat McDonald's 'cause it's the 'in' place to be."
Added Orton: "I'm totally into Arby's now. They've got the dopest horseradish."
Said Marc Jaworski, editor of College Fast-Food Journal, "McDonald's was the only true independent left. Who else? Wendy's? Taco Bell? All those other chains sold out years ago. Either that or they were driven out by the mainstream, like Burger Chef was. Burger Chef put out some tasty burgers back in the '60s and '70s, too. Totally experimental, underground stuff too—onion rings, the works. Now they're long gone."
"How can McDonald's seriously expect to get the customers in there to buy their food if they're going to have big cross-marketing schemes with Disney and the NBA?" Jaworski said. "No one will take them seriously as a restaurant anymore."
"What about the shakes?" Jeff Webber, 22, of Stockton, CA, said. "It used to be all about the shakes. But now it's all about one thing: c-a-s-h."