The McRib is back, bringing conflict prevention in its wake

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When I saw this sign at a McDonald’s here in Madison I had to take a picture. Why? Because of its potential international-relations consequences. Back in 1996, Tom Friedman proposed his famous Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention in the New York Times:

[W]hen a country reaches a certain level of economic development, when it has a middle class big enough to support a McDonald’s, it becomes a McDonald’s country, and people in McDonald’s countries don’t like to fight wars; they like to wait in line for burgers.

And sure enough, in 1996 it was true that, as Friedman claimed, “No two countries that both have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other.”

Then, in 1999, the U.S. bombed Belgrade, a city where you could get a Big Mac. The Golden Arches Theory appeared to be in big trouble. Friedman offered this defense:

Once NATO turned out the lights in Belgrade, and shut down the power grids and the economy, Belgrade’s citizens demanded an end to the war. It’s that simple. Not only did NATO soldiers not want to die for Kosovo — neither did the Serbs of Belgrade. They wanted to be part of the world, more than they wanted Kosovo to be part of them. They wanted McDonald’s re-opened, much more than they wanted Kosovo re-occupied. So, yes, there is now one exception to the Golden Arches Theory — an exception that, in the end, only proves how powerful is the rule.

But I much preferred the alternative proposed by James Poniewozik in Salon (yes, before he became Time’s pop culture guru he was an important foreign affairs pundit):

Perhaps the theory simply needs refinement. I suspect, for instance, that no two countries with access to the limited-markets-only McRib sandwich have ever fought a war. Or maybe the answer lies in a different area of pop culture. For instance, no two countries that have served as the setting of a Whit Stillman film have ever gone to war with one another. Well, not since 1898 — OK, the 1930s, if you count the Abraham Lincoln Brigade — but the general principle stands that a nation that can support an urban comedy of manners exploring the social mores of prep school graduates is a peaceful nation, and we should be signing up Chris Eigemann and Chloe Sevigny for “The Last Days of Kim Il Sung” pronto.

Whit Stillman hasn’t made a movie since 1998, although according to his website he has an unfinished project called Red Azalea that’s set in China. (Think of all the money the Pentagon is spending on coming up ways to counter the hypothetical future military threat from China, and think how much less it would cost just to help Stillman finish his danged movie. It’s a no brainer!) And now the McRib is back, although apparently only on a farewell tour. Make that comeback permanent, and get Whit Stillman directing again, and we could have peace in our time. Or am I putting too much stock in silly pop-culture explanations of how the world works?