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The NS Interview: Jake and Dinos Chapman, artists

“We look at our work and think: why do we have to do this?”

For your new show, you worked apart. Did you want to destroy the idea of your partnership?
Jake:
The idea of suddenly, in our twilight years, deciding to work separately might have led one to believe that this could produce some more personalised, emotional work - but when you look, it's just the same old shit.

Are you surprised that people take your work so seriously?
J:
Yes. There are serious elements in the work which are continuous with being funny. We're serious about laughter. It produces schisms in thinking and it's a political force.

We are besmirched by the term "shock", which really is a euphemism for idiocy. I've never met anyone who's shocked by the work, although I hear it all the time. The first paragraph of any kind of critical review is "children with penises . . . blah blah blah".

The critics are never shocked themselves - they assume it on behalf of others.
J:
It's true. I've seen people who don't know anything about art look at the work and piss themselves laughing. They get that the work is an incitement to laughter, rather than an incitement to some sort of moral panic.

Do you think that the moral boundaries we create around art are false?
J:
I think that moral constructs are so wafer-thin that when people are faced with something that supposedly tests them, they have to give an
extreme reaction in order to demonstrate they are on the right side of the ethical divide. The most offensive work you could make would be to put the penis in the right place on the mannequins - that would be outrageous! Putting it in the wrong place means it's a joke.

Would you ever describe your work as satire?
J:
Satire tends towards something cartoonish, non-transcendent - it's poking fun. Art has some longevity to it. But I wouldn't be averse
to thinking that our work had satire in it.

Do you vote?
J:
I have voted, yes. We're involved.

Are you worried about what the government is doing to the arts?
J:
Not just the arts. It's complete social suicide.
Dinos: The "big society"? Great, isn't it? No government responsibility.

Tracey Emin approves of its arts policy.
D:
She's an idiot. She wants to be a baroness.
J: I mean, how can you not pay your taxes?
D: Stop using the roads, stop using the air, stop drinking water. Buy bottled water, hover above the ground, don't breathe. Because, like it or not, you're part of this society.

Has art become commodified?
J:
The sublime is the ultimate capital. It's purposeless labour put to the service of people who can speculate on its scarcity.

Are you uncomfortable with the commercial success of your work?
J:
We've bent over backwards to try to future-proof the work from its inevitable success. You make a work called Fuck Face - you can't redeem it too well. It is only what it is.
D: Then it backfires horribly.
J: It becomes the bourgeois object par excellence.

Do you want to disown it at that point?
J:
We'll disown it when it's gone. We'll disown it when we've had the money and spent it.
D: We're not very bourgeois.
J: I don't know if we've acquiesced in this prostitutional exchange and thought: "As long as we spend the money on things you shouldn't spend money on, then that's kind of all right."
D: I think we're well aware that we are barnacles. We're not people who are desperate for the accoutrements of success.

Do you like your own work?
J:
We did a retrospective at the Tate and friends said, "It's lovely to see your old work" - and it's not, it's horrific. It's like seeing all your mistakes, like an autopsy laid out in front of you.

Why do you feel that disgust?
J:
There's a gluttony. You're led by the idea that this thing will fulfil all of the ambitions you have for it. When you look back on it, it represents those narcissistic desires.
D: Jake and I would love to make minimal sculptures and paintings. I look at the things I love and think, "Why can't I make those?"

Like what?
D:
I'm not going to tell you. You don't make the things you want to make, you make the things that want to be made. Sometimes, we look at our work and think, "Why do we have to do this?"
J: You're compelled for reasons that are not always clear. I feel disgusted I had the audacity or stupidity to do it, or that I was so self-important that I didn't notice I should shut the fuck up.

Is there a plan?
D
: Yes, to have no plan.

Are we all doomed?
J:
Yes, but in a good way. It's the tendency of successful species to accelerate towards extinction and that's a good thing.

Defining moments

1962 Konstantinos ("Dinos") Chapman is born in London
1966 Iakovos ("Jake") is born, Cheltenham
1997 They show work in the "Sensation" exhibition at the Royal Academy
2003 Show including defaced Goya prints opens at Modern Art Oxford
2004 Fire at a warehouse in east London destroys their sculpture Hell
2011 "Jake or Dinos Chapman" opens at White Cube gallery, London

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 15 August 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The coming anarchy

Wikimedia Commons
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The secret anti-capitalist history of McDonald’s

As a new film focuses on the real founder of McDonald’s, his grandson reveals the unlikely story behind his family’s long-lost restaurant.

One afternoon in about the year 1988, an 11-year-old boy was eating at McDonald’s with his family in the city of Manchester, New Hampshire. During the meal, he noticed a plaque on the wall bearing a man’s face and declaring him the founder of McDonald’s. These plaques were prevalent in McDonald’s restaurants across the US at the time. The face – gleaming with pride – belonged to Ray Kroc, a businessman and former travelling salesman long hailed as the creator of the fast food franchise.

Flickr/Phillip Pessar

But this wasn’t the man the young boy munching on fries expected to see. That man was in the restaurant alongside him. “I looked at my grandfather and said, ‘But I thought you were the founder?’” he recalls. “And that’s when, in the late Eighties, early Nineties, my grandfather went back on the [McDonald’s] Corporation to set the history straight.”

Jason McDonald French, now a 40-year-old registered nurse with four children, is the grandson of Dick McDonald – the real founder of McDonald’s. When he turned to his grandfather as a confused child all those years ago, he spurred him on to correct decades of misinformation about the mysterious McDonald’s history. A story now being brought to mainstream attention by a new film, The Founder.


Jason McDonald French

“They [McDonald’s Corporation] seemed to forget where the name actually did come from,” says McDonald French, speaking on the phone from his home just outside Springfield, Massachusetts.

His grandfather Dick was one half of the McDonald brothers, an entrepreneurial duo of restaurateurs who started out with a standard drive-in hotdog stand in California, 1937.

Dick's father, an Irish immigrant, worked in a shoe factory in New Hampshire. He and his brother made their success from scratch. They founded a unique burger restaurant in San Bernardino, around 50 miles east of where they had been flogging hotdogs. It would become the first McDonald’s restaurant.

Most takeout restaurants back then were drive-ins, where you would park, order food from your car, and wait for a “carhop” server to bring you your meal on a plate, with cutlery. The McDonald brothers noticed that this was a slow, disorganised process with pointless costly overheads.

So they invented fast food.

***

In 1948, they built what came to be known as the “speedy system” for a fast food kitchen from scratch. Dick was the inventor out of the two brothers - as well as the bespoke kitchen design, he came up with both the iconic giant yellow “M” and its nickname, the “Golden Arches”.

“My grandfather was an innovator, a man ahead of his time,” McDonald French tells me. “For someone who was [only] high school-educated to come up with the ideas and have the foresight to see where the food service business was going, is pretty remarkable.”


The McDonald brothers with a milkshake machine.

McDonald French is still amazed at his grandfather’s contraptions. “He was inventing machines to do this automated system, just off-the-cuff,” he recalls. “They were using heat lamps to keep food warm beforehand, before anyone had ever thought of such a thing. They customised their grills to whip the grease away to cook the burgers more efficiently. It was six-feet-long, which was just unheard of.”

Dick even custom-made ketchup and mustard dispensers – like metal fireplace bellows – to speed up the process of garnishing each burger. The brothers’ system, which also cut out waiting staff and the cost of buying and washing crockery and cutlery, brought customers hamburgers from grill to counter in 30 seconds.


The McDonald brothers as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

McDonald French recounts a story of the McDonald brothers working late into the night, drafting and redrafting a blueprint for the perfect speedy kitchen in chalk on their tennis court for hours. By 3am, when they finally had it all mapped out, they went to bed – deciding to put it all to paper the next day. The dry, desert climate of San Bernardino meant it hadn’t rained in months.

 “And, of course, it rained that night in San Bernardino – washed it all away. And they had to redo it all over again,” chuckles McDonald French.

In another hiccup when starting out, a swarm of flies attracted by the light descended on an evening event they put on to drum up interest in their restaurant, driving customers away.


An original McDonald's restaurant, as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

***

These turned out to be the least of their setbacks. As depicted in painful detail in John Lee Hancock’s film, Ray Kroc – then a milkshake machine salesman – took interest in their restaurant after they purchased six of his “multi-mixers”. It was then that the three men drew up a fateful contract. This signed Kroc as the franchising agent for McDonald’s, who was tasked with rolling out other McDonald’s restaurants (the McDonalds already had a handful of restaurants in their franchise). 

Kroc soon became frustrated at having little influence. He was bound by the McDonalds’ inflexibility and stubborn standards (they wouldn’t allow him to cut costs by purchasing powdered milkshake, for example). The film also suggests he was fed up with the lack of money he was making from the deal. In the end, he wriggled his way around the contract by setting up the property company “McDonald’s Corporation” and buying up the land on which the franchises were built.


Ray Kroc, as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

Kroc ended up buying McDonald’s in 1961, for $2.7m. He gave the brothers $1m each and agreeing to an annual royalty of half a per cent, which the McDonald family says they never received.

“My father told us about the handshake deal [for a stake in the company] and how Kroc had gone back on his word. That was very upsetting to my grandfather, and he never publicly spoke about it,” McDonald French says. “It’s probably billions of dollars. But if my grandfather was never upset about it enough to go after the Corporation, why would we?”

They lost the rights to their own name, and had to rebrand their original restaurant “The Big M”. It was soon put out of business by a McDonald’s that sprang up close by.


An original McDonald restaurant in Arizona. Photo: Flickr/George

Soon after that meal when the 11-year-old Jason saw Kroc smiling down from the plaque for the first time, he learned the true story of what had happened to his grandfather. “It’s upsetting to hear that your family member was kind of duped,” he says. “But my grandfather always had a great respect for the McDonald’s Corporation as a whole. He never badmouthed the Corporation publicly, because he just wasn’t that type of man.”

Today, McDonalds' corporate website acknowledges the McDonalds brothers as the founders of the original restaurant, and credits Kroc with expanding the franchise. The McDonald’s Corporation was not involved with the making of The Founder, which outlines this story. I have contacted it for a response to this story, but it does not wish to comment.

***

Dick McDonald’s principles jar with the modern connotations of McDonald’s – now a garish symbol of global capitalism. The film shows Dick’s attention to the quality of the food, and commitment to ethics. In one scene, he refuses a lucrative deal to advertise Coca Cola in stores. “It’s a concept that goes beyond our core beliefs,” he rants. “It’s distasteful . . . crass commercialism.”

Kroc, enraged, curses going into business with “a beatnik”.


Photo: The Founder

Dick’s grandson agrees that McDonald’s has strayed from his family’s values. He talks of his grandfather’s generosity and desire to share his wealth – the McDonald brothers gave their restaurant to its employees, and when Dick returned to New Hampshire after the sale, he used some of the money to buy new Cadillacs with air conditioning for his old friends back home.

“[McDonald’s] is definitely a symbol of capitalism, and it definitely sometimes has a negative connotation in society,” McDonald French says. “If it was still under what my grandfather had started, I imagine it would be more like In'N'Out Burger [a fast food chain in the US known for its ethical standards] is now, where they pay their employees very well, where they stick to the simple menu and the quality.”

He adds: “I don’t think it would’ve ever blossomed into this, doing salads and everything else. It would’ve stayed simple, had quality products that were great all the time.

“I believe that he [my grandfather] wasn’t too unhappy that he wasn’t involved with it anymore.”


The McDonald’s Museum, Ray Kroc’s first franchised restaurant in the chain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Despite his history, Dick still took his children and grandchildren to eat at McDonald’s together – “all the time” – as does Jason McDonald French with his own children now. He’s a cheeseburger enthusiast, while his seven-year-old youngest child loves the chicken nuggets. But there was always a supersize elephant in the room.

“My grandfather never really spoke of Ray Kroc,” he says. “That was always kind of a touchy subject. It wasn’t until years later that my father told us about how Kroc was not a very nice man. And it was the only one time I ever remember my grandfather talking about Kroc, when he said: ‘Boy, that guy really got me.’”

The Founder is in UK cinemas from today.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.