These are dark times for Finnish Big Mac fans. Their beloved mascot, a life-size statue of the grinning clown Ronald Mc Donald, was kidnapped and threatened with execution last week by a gang of hooded health-food activists.
The “kidnapping” took place on January 31, in a McDonald’s restaurant in central Helsinki. The gang, which goes by the name of “Food Liberation Army”, acted in broad daylight, posing as maintenance workers who came to give Ronald a fresh coat of paint.
At first, no-one noticed something was amiss. But the following day, the gang posted an ominous videotaped message on the Internet: if McDonalds failed to answer questions on the quality of its food by February 11, they would “decapitate” Ronald.
In the following days, the FLA posted two more videos on their website: one showing how Ronald was kidnapped, and another in which they listed the specific queries they had for Mc Donald’s. “Why are you not open about the manufacturing processes, raw materials and additives used in your products? How many tons of un-recycled waste do you produce per year? Do you employ illegal immigrants?” were just a few of questions put to the company.
The videos were an instant YouTube hit, gathering more than 250,000 views in a few days. Most viewers seemed to find them hilarious, but neither McDonalds nor the Helsinki police were amused. Heli Ryhänen, a McDonald's spokeswoman, responded to the attack by stating that the company “does not negotiate with criminals.” As for the police, they conducted a raid on Finnish artist Jani Leinsen’s home on February 8, arresting two suspects, seizing cell phones and computers, and recovering the “kidnapped” Ronald.
Video posted on www.freeronald.org.
Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.
“We didn’t think that stealing a plastic store decoration would spark such a strong reaction. Ronald is a stronger symbol than we thought”
Jani Leionen is a Finnish painter whose work often touches on political or social themes. He was one of the organisers of the Ronald McDonald kidnapping.
“When we came up with the idea of the “kidnapping “, we saw it as a way to bring up serious questions in a way that, hopefully, would catch people’s attention and make them laugh. We didn’t expect McDonald’s or the police to take the issue so seriously, nor did we expect the huge, positive public reaction following the videos’ publication. We thought the joke would get some local attention, but I have gotten messages of support and interview requests from people around the world.
“The kidnapping was not just a ‘performance’”
The “Food Liberation Army” is basically an informal association of about 200 people in Finland of various professions and backgrounds (advertisers, food critics, actors), who share the same concern for the quality and ethics of the food we eat. We saw this operation as a way to draw attention to key information McDonald’s isn’t disclosing – like the exact amount of saturated fats, which are known to be addictive and very unhealthy, in its food - and also as a chance for McDonalds to actually respond and address these issues. Since it became known that I am an artist, people have been labelling the kidnapping a “performance”. But it’s not just that – most people in the movement are not artists, what we really wanted to do was get a message across.
However, although Mc Dondald’s made several statements to the press after the kidnapping, not once did they put forth clear answers to our questions. They say, for instance, that they have a strong recycling programme – but give no figures on how much of the waste they produce is left un-recycled. And obviously, they refused to bring up the issue of illegal workers, although everyone knows they are employed by fast food restaurants around the world.
“Mc Donald’s made several statements, but not once did it put forth a clear answer to our questions”
On Tuesday, a team of seven policemen stormed and raided my house, arresting me and another person, who prefers not to be named. They confiscated every telephone and computer in the house, as well as some of my artwork and anything else they considered “evidence”. We were detained for 48 hours and interrogated, and I have no doubt that McDonald’s or the city will press charges. I don’t know if they have identified other people in the movement.
Frankly, I found their reaction disproportionate. No-one was hurt by what we did, no jobs or livelihoods were affected. Our videos were clearly meant to be humorous. We didn’t think that stealing a plastic store decoration would spark such a strong reaction. Ronald is a stronger symbol than we thought!”
Videos originally posted on www.freeronald.org