Off the clock with The Checkout Girl: I’m lovin’ it

A California woman is suing McDonald’s for putting toys in their Happy Meals, claiming that the fast food giant is “getting into [her] kids’ heads without [her] permission and actually changing what [her] kids want to eat.” The Checkout Girl has some thoughts about that (and we’re sure you do as well).

In the glut of free time that I’m afforded during the holidays (read: while using the crapper or putting on too much makeup in the hopes that I can construct a face that deceptively conveys caring), I like to catch up on news and events. Keeping current gives me something to discuss with my customers, almost humanizing me in their eyes. After all, robots care not about health care reform or which Jerseylicious cast member is the dumbest. Anyway, one of my secrets to success is the HLN Channel, or Headline News. It’s pretty much exactly what the name implies. An attractive woman or man sits in front of the camera and reads a headline and a twentyish second run down of a story, with video, then moves on to the next. It’s the USA Today of television. Like Current Events for Dummies.

While applying the perfect “I agree, your mother-in-law IS a bitch. Let’s discuss this more.” mouth this morning, the pretty lady on HLN was telling the story of a woman in California who, along with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is suing McDonald’s for putting toys in their Happy Meals. The woman complains that “We have to say no to our kids so many times and McDonald’s makes that so much harder to do. I object to the fact that McDonald’s is getting into my kids’ heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat.” While the director of CSPI, a consumer advocacy group that was also instrumental in letting you know how much fat is in a tub of movie theater popcorn, suing Kellogg for marketing sugary cereals to children, and hounding Kentucky Fried Chicken into no longer frying in partially hydrogenated oil because it is high in trans fat, claims McDonald’s employs “one of the most insidious marketing practices — dangling a toy in front of a small child.” and “The food industry has a responsibility not to intrude into families by using sleazy marketing techniques getting kids to pester their parents.” “Sleazy”? Now it’s getting personal.

So now we are going to outlaw everything that requires us to make smart choices and teach our children to do the same? Assuming you don’t actually live in a McDonald’s restaurant (and, if you do, do you have an extra room I could rent? or son I could marry?), how is the company intruding into your family? Are your children watching too much television? Perhaps you should sue the estate of John Logie Baird, the man who invented the TV, or, God for giving them eyes (though, I gotta say, he’s probably got an excellent legal team)? Why, instead, are you not insisting that there is a time and place (maybe never, in your house) for Happy Meals and this is not it? Unless this is it. Then get them a Happy Meal. You know, something akin to parenting.

My kids are teens. They love junk food and toys. They eat Happy Meals sometimes but are also pretty smart about their choices and don’t always err on the side of crap. I like to think I did that. And diarrhea. But mostly me. Not an advocacy group and certainly not a court. They know that no means no, and I said it early and often. It was rare that anyone “intruded into” my family unless I opened the gate. Even those that snuck over or under were negated with common sense. After all, I didn’t dive and cover their eyes every time a beer commercial came on the television or go through and rip questionable ads out of magazines, but they’re not alcoholics, drug addicts, or Skoal chewers. Yet.

And guess what? McDonald’s sells Happy Meal toys, without the Happy Meal. If they fuss and cry because their life is incomplete without the crappy little stuffed hamster or pretend spy communicator, first question all of the life choices that have led you to this place, then buy it and feed them something that doesn’t come out of a factory tube looking like a bubble gum anaconda or Katy Perry’s poop. Ever heard of actual chicken? Did you know that fries are made from a root vegetable called a “potato”? Plus, there’s a new invention called a “plate” that kids should eat off of, from time to time.

You know what else? I like the veil of mystery that surrounds my 55-gallon drum of movie popcorn and its not at all butter-like (but still so delicious that I’d sell a kidney for it) yellow topping. And I enjoy the brightly-colored, too loud, completely manipulative ads that push my favorite marshmallow-laden, neon rings of milk mush goodness. And don’t get me started on trans fat and the positive differences it has made in my life — that’s like telling someone that their lover is a serial killer. But I was never, ever, fooled into believing that any of those things were good for me or my kids (KFC’s middle name is Fried, for heaven’s sake), BUT I LIKE THEM ANYWAY. And I like Happy Meals. And toys. And parenting my own children. Go advocate for someone else.

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Yes I understand that saying “no” to your kids isn’t always fun. Neither is taking them to the dentist or having to discipline them for bad behavior. But all are necessary at some point in the parenting process.

    Stuff like this amazes me. AMAZES ME. Focus your energy on teaching your children about smart food choices and not on suing a food establishment that no one is making you visit.

  2. Jeb Hoge on said:

    It’s just about the lawsuit (or settlement) money. Someone’s figured out a tactic to try to extort some money from Mickey D’s.

  3. Not saying “no” is how she got kids in the first place. I bet you if there were toys in birth control CVS would be out of stock and we would have a population problem in this country.

    It’s called sales lady! Without sales there would be no jobs at McD’s, the packaging plants, the truck that deliver or the farmers that provide the cow…this is how the world goes around not sure why she is new to this.

    Also…if she needs someone to say “no” to her kids, I’m totally available.

  4. Jeff E. on said:

    Oh California

  5. [I posted the same comment on the Richmondmom post on the same topic]

    Public regulation of marketing to children has been severely lacking since the 1980s. When the public institutions fail to do a sufficient task regulating something, you will see people resort to lawsuits.

    Everyone would agree that parents need to parent and exercise control of what their kids do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work through our public system to try and make it easier for us to do so.

    An oft-used analogy with childhood marketing: Imagine there is a playground, with a street running next to it. A trucking company discovers that that street is the most efficient route for its trucks. So now you have a playground next to a dangerous street. Is it the sole responsibility of the parents to keep their kids out of the road? Could parents petition the city to restrict trucks from going on that road?

    I bring this up not to necessarily say that the “Happy Meals” lawsuit isn’t over the line, but that it is important that we as a society actively discuss where public marketing policy should end and sole parental responsibility should begin. “Parents have a choice” is always the line the corporations hide behind when the public contemplates even small regulation that might help just a little bit. I’m not looking for the government to dictate what my kids can and can’t do, but it would be great if it were just a little easier to have my parental choices not fighting against billions of marketing dollars. Just a little easier.

  6. While I agree that you should definitely teach your kids not to eat disgusting food, why are we not arguing about how you can’t run an alcohol commercial during a kids’ show or how you can’t have televised cigarette ads at all anymore. I don’t really see how this lawsuit differs from those. McDonald’s is terrifyingly unhealthy, and making it less manipulative to a really impressionable demographic doesn’t seem like a bad thing to me.

  7. Well, I’m sympathetic to the critics of marketing or, as it used to be called, industrial psychology. I think you can make the argument that a bloated, heavily consolidated, subsidized and privileged corporate media complex has intruded upon healthy civil society and families. These institutions exist for the sole purpose of manipulating and tricking you to increase a bottom line on a ledge somewhere. Whether or not it always works is not the point; it’s so pervasive that even if it successfully worked upon us only a tiny fraction of the times we’re exposed to it, it would be enough to still make quite an impression on us – especially if you’re a child who is not completely self-conscious.

    So marketing and advertising sucks. But the last institution you want to task with correcting this imbalance is the bloated, clumsy, and cruel government bureaucracies. They’re partially responsible for the media situation – just like the media complex wants you to consider a government regulatory apparatus they largely control as your only alternative to corporate domination. While it is challenging to be a parent today, parents should look to each other to build consensus and alternative arrangements to protect their children, rather than trying to capture government and try to force their one-size-fits-all solutions down everybody else’s throat.

  8. TCG, am laughing too loudly in an open-plan office (LTLIAOPO). Ha! Liked your piece a lot.

  9. TCG, am laughing too loudly in an open-plan office (LTLIAOPO). Ha! Liked your piece a lot.

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