“I can see your 86 inch plasma tv, I can hear your surround sound and your subwoofers, I can even imagine you sitting on your sectional sofa and admiring your ‘rare indoor waterfall’.  But when there’s a game on at your house, I can assure you that all your friends will be watching at my house.  Because sometimes it’s not the size of the tv that determines the party, but rather the plethora of Mcnuggets.”

This is a transcription of McDonald’s recent audio advertisement played on Pandora internet radio.

There are two significant grammatical issues with this advertisement, and I’m troubled by their presence because I believe McDonald’s is purposely contributing to the dumbing-down of our society through the belittlement of intelligence and sensitivity.

The first is the mention of a “rare indoor waterfall”.  Waterfalls are not artifacts or items that can be collected.  There aren’t limited edition waterfalls or renowned waterfall craftsmen who only make a small number of waterfalls before their death.  Waterfalls cannot be traded or transplanted or preserved in a display case, much less resold.  There are no waterfall appraisers.  Therefore, there’s no such thing as a “rare indoor waterfall”.  There may be an unusual indoor waterfall, a beautiful indoor waterfall, or even an enchanted indoor waterfall, but a waterfall, by definition, cannot be rare.

The second error is the final line of the ad, just before the catchy “bah-dah-bop-bah-daaah” jingle: “sometimes it’s not the size of the tv that determines the party, but rather the plethora of Mcnuggets”.  There’s probably a term for the issue here, but essentially the two items being compared are not comparable.

1. “The size of the tv”: a noun (tv) being described quantitatively by another noun (size).  Note that this phrase can be further described by a range of adjectives (e.g. “large size” “small size”, or “medium size”)

2. “The plethora of Mcnuggets”: a noun (Mcnuggets) being described by another noun (plethora).  Note that this phrase cannot be further described with an adjective, as plethora cannot be quantified.  There is no “large plethora” or “small plethora”.

These two phrases are implied to be related to the quality of “the party”—both factors, when modified quantitatively, will qualitatively affect “the party”.  But while a larger TV may positively affect the quality of the party, the “plethora of Mcnuggets” cannot be modified.  The amount of Mcnuggets can be modified.

The grammatically correct comparison would read: “it’s not the size of the tv that determines the party, but rather the amount of Mcnuggets”.

Everybody makes grammatical mistakes.  Even I, in my righteous crusade against bad grammar, have made mistakes on this very blog.  But Mcdonalds spends more on advertising than any other restaurant company—about $2 billion a year, in fact.  It is highly unlikely that a high-profile and long-running audio ad such as this would be aired with an unintentional grammatical error, much less two.

If we reject the assumption that these two mistakes are unintentional, we must therefore assume that McDonald’s corp. is knowingly and willingly running an advertisement with two grammatical mistakes.  But why?

The ad portrays two very different people in its brief fifteen seconds.  The narrator is perhaps a middle-class American male.  He likes sports, he likes chicken Mcnuggets, and he’s pretty cool.

The other character is perhaps a wealthy and successful man.  He has expensive tastes, is educated, but not very cool.  His only means of attracting friends is through his lavish living room and big-screen TV.  He obviously has no personality or sense of humor.

We the listeners are meant to identify with the narrator and scornfully dismiss the waterfall connoisseur as a fool.

But is this sensitive soul really so worthless?  Sure, he has a sectional sofa and a big-screen tv, but does this make him a bad person?  Is it wrong to be wealthy and successful?  So he has a strange obsession with waterfalls, does this mean he doesn’t care about or share the problems of the common man?

There is obviously no value in a rare indoor waterfall.  But grouped with the waterfall—and scorned by our cool narrator—are all other subjectively valued things that the average American may not understand—like art.

What McDonald’s, and much of corporate America wants very badly is for us to belittle intelligence, to take pride in stupidity and poverty, and reject the value of education, wealth, and art itself.

Closing out the ad, and giving us a feeling of camaraderie and triumph in our stupidity, is the “plethora of Mcnuggets”.  Here we have our own dose of exoticism, our own elaborate use of language.  “We can use big words too” is essentially the message, and while most will not recognize the misuse of “plethora”, those that do aren’t worth a damn.

I think a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle is particularly relevant here:

“A winded, defeated-looking fat woman in filthy coveralls trudged beside us, hearing what Miss Pefko said.  She turned to examine Dr. Breed, looking at him with helpless reproach.  She hated people who thought too much.  At that moment, she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.”