In innumerable television COMMERCIALS, COMIC BOOKS, and promotional materials, RM has emerged as the gentle overseer of a brightly colored but dismally unimaginative fantasy world, featuring various characters—such as an anthropomorphic hamburger named Mister Mayor, the ineffectually larcenous Hamburglar, talking Chicken McNuggets, and walking mops known as the Fry Kids—designed to remind children of McDonald's food. The clown's adventures, such as they are, typically involve overcoming some trivial obstacle to arrive safely at McDonald's to have lunch. At times, RM displays — ineptly — various MAGICAL powers (his recent theme song is the Lovin' Spoonful classic, "Do You Believe in Magic?"); his one consistent attribute is the ability to move his fingers in the air and materialize a stylized yellow "M" (for McDonald's, of course).
Why bother to discuss such a threadbare and exploitative creation in this volume? For one thing, because McDonald's literally makes dozens of commercials every year featuring the character, RM possibly qualifies as the most frequently and lengthily depicted fantasy character on film. He has undoubtedly made his mark on the American psyche: in surveys of American children, RM is consistently the second most well-known personality, having long ago surpassed the EASTER BUNNY and now closing in on SANTA CLAUS. RM briefly starred in four issues of his own Charlton comic (1970-1971); McDonald's has plastered his name on several worthwhile projects, including the Ronald McDonald Children's Charities and the Ronald McDonald Houses, temporary homes near hospitals for parents of sick children; and recent commercials often make no efforts to connect the clown with food, instead depicting him simply as a wonderful magical playmate for children. There are other signs that he may move beyond the role of commercial spokesman: in a television special for children, RM appeared as host and storyteller, with nary a hamburger in sight. If this progress to respectability continues, RM may become yet another American figure to evolve from joke to icon.
In Clifford D. Simak's Out of Their Minds (1970), a novel which posits that all fictional characters come to life in their own separate world, the DEVIL visits the President of the United States and complains about the low quality of recent additions to his realm: "Once, our land was peopled by a hardy folk, some of them honestly good and some of them as honestly evil .... But now what have we got? .... We have Li'l Abner and Charley Brown [sic] and Pogo. We have Little Orphan Annie and Dagwood Bumstead and the Bobbsey Twins, Horatio Alger, Mr. Magoo, Tinkerbell, Mickey Mouse, Howdy Doody .... They have no character. They have no flavor nor any style. They are vapid things." What would he have said about Ronald McDonald?
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