Beneath every article discussing McDonald’s recent woes—declining sales, problems connecting with millennials, suing to continue paying its workers a pittance to sculpt its salted meat-piles, sexy Hamburglars—you will find comments from people offering the counterpoint that, hey, they like McDonald’s. They consistently meet their lowered expectations, and their fries are good. Most of the time, these people are not James Franco. However, given Franco’s polymath tendencies, eventually they are, as seen in today’s Washington Post.
In an op-ed titled “McDonald’s Was There For Me When No One Else Was,” Franco assesses the multibillion-dollar corporation’s efforts to fight these growing calls for it to provide living wages and healthier food, concluding that he doesn’t know anything about all that. “All I know is that when I needed McDonald’s, McDonald’s was there for me,” James Franco writes, before spinning a romantic yarn of how the restaurant played a vital role in the story of James Franco, i.e., the story of America.
Like so many, James Franco found himself working at McDonald’s due to desperate economic circumstances and a lack of viable career options—in his case, being cut off by his parents because he dropped out of college to go to acting school. Thus abandoned by society, and boasting a limited resume—having been fired, he says, from a coffee shop and a driving range for reading on the job—Franco recognized that there was only one place for a briefly down-on-his-luck, autodidactic, aspiring thespian like himself. “I was definitely not too good to work at McDonald’s,” he says, and so began his humbling journey into the heart of honest American labor, for about two or three months.
Yes, much has been made lately of stories of McDonald’s forcing 25-hour shifts on its employees, withholding wages owed to meet labor costs, and responding to its workers’ complaints of poverty-level pay rates and grueling conditions by suggesting those workers should eat less and sing more. But Franco reminds us that working for McDonald’s also provides you with invaluable career opportunities, such as:
A forum to practice your fake accents!
“I refrained from reading on the job, but soon started putting on fake accents with the customers to practice for my scenes in acting class. As bad as the accents were (Brooklynese, Italian, British, Irish, Russian, Southern), people actually found them persuasive. I was asked to give Italian lessons to a cute young woman who thought I was from Pisa; of course I couldn’t follow up as I did not speak Italian. The casting director for NYPD Blue liked my British accent, but was put off when I revealed that I was actually just a California boy. A couple of people wanted to fight my spunky Irish self. And I went on several dates as a thick-tongued kid from Bed-Stuy, even though my only brush with the actual place had been through watching Do the Right Thing.”
All-you-can-eat French fries!
“I hate to whistleblow, but everyone ate straight from the fry hopper. You’d walk by and snag a fry and pop it in your mouth. So easy. I also put tons of salt on the fries because that’s how I like them. I don’t know if the customers ever complained.”
A sense of compassion, fostered in response to selfish parents who have no time for funny accents and just want to feed their demanding brats—and then have the nerve to complain when their $1 burger isn’t correct. C’mon lady! It’s $1!
Parents ordering for their children are the worst, and parents ordering for a group of children, like a sports team, are the devil incarnate. Some customers seem to think that paying for food entitles them to boss the service workers around, but if you’re buying fast food, how much entitlement does that buy you? When you’re paying a dollar for a burger, is it the end of the world if I accidentally forgot to take the mustard off the order?
A front-row seat to the human condition, ideal for providing color to your anecdotal essays!
A homeless mother and her son frequented the restaurant. They lived out of their car and did crossword puzzles all day. Sometimes they would order McDonald’s food, but other times they would bring in Chinese or groceries.
Offers of sex with your coworkers!
I got hit on by the hamburger cooker. He wanted to hook up in the bathroom, but he didn’t speak English, so he had someone translate for him.
River Phoenix something something!
I had been a vegetarian for a year before working there because I was obsessed with River Phoenix, a staunch vegetarian—he actually cried on a date with Martha Plimpton when she ordered soft-shell crabs.
While these are all compelling reasons to write an article in a national newspaper fretting about a mega-corporation’s slight dip in profits, above all else, Franco reminds us, McDonald’s is a place for unskilled laborers to work for low wages while bettering themselves for a future career. Or, waiting around until someone casts them in a Super Bowl commercial for Pizza Hut, which is what allowed James Franco to quit after just three months and never look back at McDonald’s—except when waxing nostalgic, thanking the company for the way it “cut me slack.”
As Franco puts it, “When I was hungry for work, they fed the need,” as they have for so many employees who are struggling to get by while being enrolled in social welfare programs or acting classes, until their own Super Bowl commercials finally come around.
Also, hey, James Franco likes McDonald’s. “I still love the simplicity of the McDonald’s hamburger and its salty fries,” Franco says, allowing that “after reading Fast Food Nation, it’s hard for me to trust the grade of the meat,” but admitting that he still likes to pop in “maybe once a year” for one of those dubious cheeseburgers when he’s out there, working on a movie. Hopefully this celebrity testimonial will be enough to reverse that very minor decline in sales and repair the damage to its public image, before McDonald’s has to resort to more drastic measures, like changing the business practices that have so fostered our nation’s James Francos.