Fast Food Nation

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Golden Arches Symbol Analysis

Golden Arches Symbol Icon
McDonald’s Golden Arches began as a stylistic quirk of the first McDonald’s Speedee Service Restaurant in San Bernardino, CA—a quick way for drivers to spot the burger stand from the side of the highway. As McDonald’s expanded throughout the company—after Ray Kroc took over from the McDonald brothers, and decided to “franchise” locations in many states—the Golden Arches moved from an architectural feature of the restaurants to a broader symbol of the company. By the 1970s, the “M” in McDonald’s signage was created of out two interlocked arches, and often affixed to the top of buildings—again, so that drivers could see McDonald’s from the road.

Golden Arches Quotes in Fast Food Nation

The Fast Food Nation quotes below all refer to the symbol of Golden Arches. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Diet, Nutrition, and Food Safety Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Mariner edition of Fast Food Nation published in 2012.
Chapter 1: The Founding Fathers Quotes

Richard McDonald . . . though untrained as an architect . . . came up with a design [for McDonald’s stores] that was simple, memorable, and archetypal. On two sides of the roof he put golden arches, lit by neon at night, that from a distance formed the letter M.

Related Symbols: Golden Arches
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

The Golden Arches, in Schlosser's estimation, are one of the great design innovations and trademarks of mid-century America. They are instantly recognizable, and were no small reason why McDonald's became lodged in the American consciousness so soon after the war. The Arches were associated with a cheap, fun, easy place to eat - and to eat as a family, after a ride along the highway, especially in California where the brand began. The Arches thus took on the optimism, indeed the utopian quality that early franchised fast food assumed in the American consciousness. They were, in short, arches symbolizing progress over backwardness, cleanliness and comfort over difficulty, uniformity and expectedness over messy, unpredictable individuality.

Over time, the Golden Arches have remained a symbol of McDonald's, and they have moved that symbolism into other countries, where McDonald's is now prevalent. The Golden Arches are thus, in many parts of the world, a symbol not just of cheap food but of American influence, of the manner in which fast food-style eating has become the norm for people in all walks of life. 


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Chapter 2: Your Trusted Friends Quotes

This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog. I’ll kill ‘em, and I’m going to kill ‘em before they kill me. You’re talking about the American way of survival of the fittest.

Related Characters: Ray Kroc (speaker)
Related Symbols: Golden Arches
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Ray Kroc's idea of McDonald's franchising, and the business model that keeps McDonald's afloat, is very different, in this telling, from the positive image the company projects in its restaurants and advertising. McDonald's succeeded, and continues to succeed, according to Schlosser, because it is a restaurant that understands the amorality and occasional brutality of the market. McDonald's restaurants therefore are strongly anti-union, because they consider labor law to be an impediment to corporate profits and growth. They are also opposed to any of the social safety net policies that might protect their workers over time. Indeed, McDonald's restaurants run best, for Kroc, when they are staffed with people who do not stay very long - who therefore can claim no seniority and therefore no higher wages or extra benefits.

Likewise the franchises, once established, must perform well and court customers or else risk being taken over by other nearby restaurant chains. McDonald's strategy of ruthless competition therefore prizes corporate profits above all else - and makes the dining experience all the more "streamlined," meaning mass-produced, impersonal, and, ultimately, inexpensive.

Chapter 4: Success Quotes

As franchises and chain stores opened across the United States, driving along a retail strip became a shopping experience much like strolling down the aisle of a supermarket. Instead of pulling something off the shelf, you pulled into a driveway. The distinctive architecture of each chain became its packaging . . . .

Related Characters: Eric Schlosser (speaker)
Related Symbols: Golden Arches
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Schlosser here notes a feature of suburbanized American life in the 1990s and early 2000s - the transition, in local economies, from local "Mom and Pop" stores to larger chains, whose economies of scale allow them to sell goods and services at much lower prices, and thus force local stores, who do not have these economies of scale, out of business. Big box stores and other national chains are, like fast food companies, designed to be uniform. Variation between one store and the next is frowned upon. Thus commercial strips on highways in the suburbs surrounding major cities look largely the same. They contain the same stores, in the same configurations, and sell mostly the same products for the same prices. 

Schlosser argues that this system, which is good for the big box stores participating in it, is not nearly so good for the consumer, who often has a more limited set of choices as to where to buy goods. This, not to mention the monotony of encountering the same several stores on each commercial area in a given suburban region. 

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Golden Arches Symbol Timeline in Fast Food Nation

The timeline below shows where the symbol Golden Arches appears in Fast Food Nation. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Your Trusted Friends
Greed, Corporations, and “The Bottom Line” Theme Icon
Independence vs. the Social Contract Theme Icon
Bureaucracy and Complex Systems Theme Icon
Work and “The Good Life” Theme Icon
...the country. Kroc also helped introduce what would become McDonald’s most recognizable corporate embodiment—after the Golden Arches themselves—Ronald McDonald, the red-and-yellow-suited clown who would go on to achieve even broader name recognition... (full context)
Chapter 4: Success
Greed, Corporations, and “The Bottom Line” Theme Icon
Independence vs. the Social Contract Theme Icon
Bureaucracy and Complex Systems Theme Icon
Work and “The Good Life” Theme Icon
...period of franchise expansion, changed some of its stores from the original, “old-time” McDonald’s, whose Golden Arches were a structural part of the buildings, to the common “mansard roof” McDonald’s now seen—though... (full context)