Reporter Champions Beloved Vandalized Mural (and, Inadvertently, Fast Food Advertising)

For years, the mural depicting RonaldGrimace, the Hamburglar, and other characters from McDonald’s corporate ad campaigns was a treasured feature of the neighborhood landscape in Huntington Beach, California — so much so, in fact, that a few years ago Los Angeles Times columnist Chris Epting went out of his way to learn more about the mural’s creator. It turns out that he was a really nice guy, so it’s all the more difficult to hear about the vandals who painted the word “VEGAN” over most of the fast food playtime characters. Epting is angry, and he doesn’t care if the hyperbole police get involved.

Some background information might be in order. In the early 1980s, Iranian-born Saeed Danosian moved to the United States and found work at a McDonald’s in Orange County, sustaining a management position with which he could support his wife and daughter. A trained artist who loved children, Danosian also taught art on the side, and was eventually recruited to paint a mural for the restaurant’s “young customers,” which remained visible and intact for 20 years. Signs of sincerity and gratitude are hard to overlook in Epting’s description of the hundreds of people who appeared at the muralist’s home to pay their respects after Danosian died of an aortic dissection in 2008.

And clearly, what should follow is a reference to the author of “Homage to Catalonia.” Comparing the eco-thugs to the vandals who meddled with election signs on the fronts of people’s lawns, Epting asserts that “the militant fringe within any group needs to be called out for what it usually is: gutless, fly-by-night cowards.”

“Through their own militant, Orwellian lenses,” he writes, “members of the fringe often believe their voices supersede all, public or private property be damned.”

Mr. Epting, you’ve lost us. It’s obvious that the graffiti artists, who sound like jerks, have covered a well-meaning piece of art with something unwanted, but what they did wasn’t repressive in any way that might resemble an antagonist from “1984” or “Animal Farm.” George Orwell‘s writing might have some appeal in people’s minds when it comes to questions of freedom of expression, but it’s unlikely that he would’ve had anything to say about a few idiots messing with a cartoon that was originally designed to sell McNuggets.

This is without getting into a discussion about the high environmental cost of a meat-centric Happy Meal, or the fast food advertisers who target groups — most of all children — with misinformation about the place of a hamburger, fries, and large soda in a healthy diet. By taking a rhetorical stand against vapid vandalism, you’ve dipped your toe into a very big pool of stupid overstatement. Leave that to people who make street art. They know what they’re doing.

— Reid Singer