The Founder

The businessman relies on values; the bureaucrat relies on fear.

Time and time again, it has been demonstrated that the American businessman, as the greatest productive genius in ever recorded in history, has raised the bar for rich and poor alike, and is rewarded as the scapegoat for any perceived sin or injustice that might cross the politician’s mind.

In his 2004 propagandized hit piece Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock, giddy with puke and drool dripping off his chin, suggested the consequences of a fast food diet were detrimental to leading a healthy life, focusing solely on McDonald’s.

If this recently released biopic, The Founder, proves anything, it’s that Spurlock did not bother to assess the impact of death by starvation in his analysis but was anxiously conducting yet another attack on capitalism!

The movie centers around Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton as a self-made force to be reckoned with, rooted in post-war expediency on the cusp of 1960s rampant consumerism. As a struggling door-to-door milkshake machine maker, he takes a fledgling family business from it’s four-corner foundation and pulls it into a billion dollar international enterprise responsible for feeding 1% of the world on a daily basis.

And he did so through an eye for opportunity, with the insight to accept that both the product and the profit had to matter, with the understanding that growth through conflict builds fortunes and complacency stagnates and cripples expansion.

Most who will see The Founder will be turned off by Kroc as a predatory con-man who maneuvers himself into the good graces of Mac and Dick McDonald, brothers who by trial and error originated the concept that made the Golden Arches a recognizable trademark as a restaurant that catered to the hustle and bustle of ‘50s suburbia, inventing water spigot condiment dispersal and efficient workplace logistics where an affordable meal in 30 seconds would catch the nuclear family at ground zero! But they failed to consider expanding beyond their San Bernardino neighborhood. Kroc’s mistreatment of his dedicated wife, played by Laura Dern, who stood by him through one brainstorm after another, only to be cast off on the verge of his true success, is both unbecoming and caddish. But does it make him a villain?

He is shown being abrupt and callous with bill collectors and smug-ugly country club cretins, able to recognize potential combatants and allies alike. If he had flaws, it was his willingness to capitulate on good intentions and skimp on quality to save cost rather than cut wages or fire staff.

Two examples are evident. Only one is disclosed in the film.

The Founder, like similar films that delve into the basics of capitalist entrepreneurship (Joy, or Rod Serling’s Patterns, for example), explore the conflict of maintaining quality control in light of rising costs.

The McDonald brothers had been clear about their unwillingness to negotiate away the taste of their burgers and beverages for corporate funding or financial savings. When it comes to Kroc’s attention that milkless milkshakes will result in profitability and electrical conservation, he wants to give it a shot. They will not budge.

The point being that it foreshadows two decisions that would alter McDonald’s to its core later on.

Ray Kroc is on record as saying that for him, the French fry was “almost sacrosanct, its preparation a ritual to be followed religiously.” In their earliest days, their fries were made from scratch, lending to McDonald’s becoming the largest buyer of potatoes in the US. As things expanded, to cut labor costs, reduce the number of suppliers and ensure the consistency of its taste at every location, McDonald’s in 1966 switched to frozen potatoes. Then in 1990, under pressure to reduce cholesterol content, the cooking process eliminated the use of beef tallow, replaced by 100% vegetable oil. Their fries lost their taste.

The brothers had been adamant that the focus should stay on hamburgers, fries, soft drinks and milkshakes. In The Founder, Ray has a fit when he discovers a franchise offering chicken in a basket as a desecration of principles. Years later, Chicken McNuggets would rival hamburgers as the most profitable item on the menu.

What would the world be without McDonald’s?

Healthier, or hungrier?

It has become an indelible part of the American landscape, from Happy Meals to the Ronald McDonald House to its iconic sideways halo, the Golden Arches. A sullied crown of fries, perhaps, but The Founder makes the case that someone had to flip the burgers, and Ray Kroc did so, turning fast food into real estate, and in the process fed street corners around the world.