The Fears of a Clown

Ladies and gentlemen, your next Nobel Peace Prize winner: Ronald McDonald.

OK, that may overstate the case a little. But McDonald’s has been just a wee bit on the defensive lately. Especially since a watchdog group called for the hamburger chain’s world-famous clown to hang up his big, floppy shoes.

Why? Because Ronald McDonald – shh, don’t let this get out – has been encouraging kids to eat unhealthy food.

The horror!

I can only imagine that all of you were as shocked as I was to discover that McDonald’s  — a company built around the sale of hamburgers – has been using Ronald McDonald – the only being in corporate life with brighter hair than Donald Trump – to MAKE CHILDREN WANT TO EAT HAMBURGERS!  I mean, next people will be saying that ExxonMobil encourages folks to pump gas.  Where does it end?

But as horrifying as this undoubtedly was to you and me, it seems to have hit the folks at the top of the Golden Arches even harder.  Ronald McDonald is not just some corporate shill, they’ve insisted. Why, he’s a smiling, happy face for the world, Mother Teresa in barber-pole socks.

“He is an ambassador of McDonald’s and he is an ambassador for good,” McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner said at the company’s annual meeting.

An ambassador for good?


Far be it from me to disparage Ronald’s credentials as our next Secretary of State. After all, one could also make a case that the Marlboro Man encouraged healthy, outdoor living. But let’s be honest. Ronald is there to sell a product and do a job.

Don’t fire him for that.

Fire him because he doesn’t do the job very well.

My sisters and I have childhood memories of Ronald McDonald. They have withstood the years; they may well withstand attempts at psychoanalysis. I suspect many of our old classmates would feel the same.

Because the fact is, Ronald McDonald scared the bejeebers out of most of us.

It’s one of those bizarre facts of childhood.  Clowns are supposed to be fun, jolly, enjoyable. But most young children I’ve known (my youngest sister especially included) find them to be utterly terrifying. Our fears may not go to the extremes of Stephen King’s “It,” but they’re knocking on doors in the same neighborhood.

Now add in a clown who’s all but ubiquitous. One who hangs out with bizarre hallucinogenic creatures like Grimace.  Who could show up without warning  at your birthday party.

That’s not an ambassador of good. That’s an unsettling neighbor you’re just as happy to have stay on the TV, thank you. The public even seems to agree – a 500-person survey by a company called Ace Metrix found that most people considered the grand old clown “creepy.”

So don’t blame obesity on Ronald McDonald. As I’ve said before, parents have wallets and minds and choices. They can exercise all three at their discretion.

But please. Retire the clown. Leave his name on the charity if you wish, but let Mr. McDonald enjoy a well-earned rest in Castle Rock, Maine, or wherever he hangs his wig.

Do it. Do it now.

The parents of a million sleepless children will forever thank you.

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