What We Can Learn From James Franco's Love Letter to McDonald's

Have you ever worked at McDonald’s? Well, celebrated Hollywood actor James Franco has, and he tells the world that the fast-food juggernaut was there for him when nobody else was. 

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Franco, an Academy Award nominee and star of "The Interview" and "127 Hours," penned an article (or love letter, to some) in the Washington Post last week entitled "McDonald’s was there for me when no one else was." In the article, Franco reminisces about his experience working at McDonald’s during the mid-1990s. 

During his days at the iconic fast-food restaurant, Franco practiced his accents, ate fries from the fry hopper, auditioned for roles and dealt with rude customers. It was an entry-level job that so many other young people work at. Like other first-time jobs, Franco, and others, gained valuable skills, experience and, most important of all, memories. 

Although McDonald’s usually generates responses of nausea or politics, Franco simply wrote about his time at the Los Angeles store. That’s it. However, people have considered it a dissertation on the socio-economic conditions of working at McDonald’s. Is it really? 

Here are six things we can learn from Franco’s love letter to McDonald’s:

1. A Learning Experience

"I was given the late shift drive-thru position. I wore a purple visor and purple polo shirt and took orders over a headset. I refrained from reading on the job, but soon started putting on fake accents with the customers to practice for my scenes in acting class." 

For the unskilled and the uneducated, working at McDonald’s can be a good thing. It allows people to garner new skills to build upon their human capital. Or, it can just be another experience to add to your lifetime of memories. For Franco, he used this job to improve and practice his acting skills, while also working in various positions within the restaurant (drive-in, cashier, etc.), and earning a paycheck. Both parties mutually benefited from the relationship.

2. Transition from Job to Career

"After three months of working at McDonald’s, I booked a Super Bowl commercial for Pizza Hut. Because it was for the Super Bowl, it was very elaborate: a computer-generated Elvis singing and serving the new Deep Dish pizza. From that point on, I could support myself through acting." 

To Franco, McDonald’s wasn’t his choice of career. Instead, it was a job that helped pay his bills as he concentrated on landing acting gigs. For most of the front-line McDonald’s staff members, it isn’t a long-term career endeavor or something they wanted to do since they were toddlers. Simply put: McDonald’s is just a job for the short-term until you land the occupation you want.

3. Customers can be Rude

"Parents ordering for their children are the worst, and parents ordering for a group of children, like a sports team, are the devil incarnate. Some customers seem to think that paying for food entitles them to boss the service workers around, but if you’re buying fast food, how much entitlement does that buy you? When you’re paying a dollar for a burger, is it the end of the world if I accidentally forgot to take the mustard off the order?" 

Whether you’re working behind the counter or you’re a customer standing in line, it isn’t shocking to realize that there are many uncouth people out there. According to Franco, parents ordering for kids are the worst types of customers and they feel "entitled," even if they’re just paying a buck for a burger. Unfortunately, everywhere you go, there will always be at least one rude customer.

4. The Food Isn't Sanitary

"I hate to whistleblow, but everyone ate straight from the fry hopper. You’d walk by and snag a fry and pop it in your mouth. So easy. I also put tons of salt on the fries because that’s how I like them. I don’t know if the customers ever complained." 

It’s no secret that McDonald’s isn’t the cleanest and sanitary restaurant around. We all have at least one horror story about McDonald’s food. Franco says every employee ate, with their bare hands, fries from the fry hopper. Gross. Again, what do you expect from any type of fast food?

5. Franco Wasn't Promoting an Agenda

"But maybe once a year, while on a road trip or out in the middle of nowhere for a movie, I’ll stop by a McDonald’s and get a simple cheeseburger: light, and airy, and satisfying." 

Despite what the Washington Post’s Lydia DePillis writes, Franco wasn’t promoting an agenda, but rather sharing with millions of readers about his time at McDonald’s. DePillis published an article entitled "What James Franco gets wrong about working for McDonald’s," but here’s a question: how can you be wrong when you’re writing about your own experiences?

6. Everyone Gets an Entry-Level Job

What Franco wrote should remind us that we all apply for an entry-level job, whether it’s in high school or straight out of college. We all have to start somewhere, and Franco started at the home of the Big Mac. Rather than soliciting feelings of resentment, Franco’s piece should make us chuckle as we look back at our first jobs. Twenty years ago, you may have washed cars for a living, but now you’re a senior manager at an accounting firm.

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Everything shouldn’t be about politics. When perusing through the comments sections of newspapers and blogs that carried or wrote about the story, the primary discussion is about "living wages" and how Franco doesn’t know anything about the corporate structure of McDonald’s. So what? He wrote a comical tale about his time at McDonald’s. That’s it. He didn’t endorse a political party, campaign or movement. 

Here’s a question, though: if he outright lambasted the company, would he have still garnered the same response a la DePillis? 

Washington Post