McDonald’s & The Prison Industrial Complex

The prison industrial complex refers to the rapid expansion of the inmate population in the United States over the last few decades. More specifically, it refers to the goods and services contingent on this inmate population and the motivations for keeping people incarcerated instead of rehabilitating them. While this has been the topic of much debate, there is one thing that can be universally agreed upon. McDonald’s, a corporation known for their work in the fields of childhood obesity and heart disease, has taken a strong stance on this disturbing societal trend.

Consider for a moment one of McDonald’s famed cartoon characters: Hamburglar. His backstory is foggy, but we can assume three things about Hamburglar. He is wearing striped prison garb but is not currently behind bars, so he’s recently broken out of prison. His name reveals that he was locked up for burglary, so his crime was likely stealing imitation hamburgers. Finally, he’s on the run, but has been spotted on occasion carrying a bag of burgers, so he’s relapsed. What a tragic state of affairs.

What exactly does this iconic villain represent? This man clearly has a problem. In the United States we fear what we don’t understand, like hamburger addiction. Hamburglar, caught stealing dozens of instant, just-add-water hamburgers from McDonald’s, was imprisoned when he should have been rehabilitated. In a moment of desperation, Hamburglar found a way to break out of prison and what was his first priority? He didn’t even change into a fresh pair of clothes before returning to the world of crime. Hamburglar is McDonald’s way of voicing their disapproval of incarceration over rehabilitation.

What is McDonald’s motivation? That could be the subject of several debates, but I would challenge you to examine the target audience of their television ads before you make any conclusions. All we know for sure is that Ronald McDonald will not rest until the current incarceration rate has made a significant turn… or until his unique brand of cardboard flavored cheeseburgers is served in all US prisons.