“We are homesick most for the places we have never known.” ~Carson McCullers
“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” ~Peter De Vries
“Too much has been forgotten in the name of memory.” ~Don DeLillo, Americana
Remember the good’old days when everyone was young and innocent and all was right with the world? When poodle skirts flowed and showed curvy calves, and neck scarves and bobby socks completed a look…. When school-produced and chaperon-provided “Sock Hops” dances were held in gyms across the country…and “The Twist” defined a decade? When red & blue 3-D glasses were common in theaters across the country, and pointedly, women’s bullet-bras shaped the standard of what was alluring? When beatniks were not quite cool, but would never be found at the faddish American drive-in….
Those are some of the things I think about when I consider “American Vintage.”
Well, McDonald’s in the Far East is flirting with all-things Americana, particularly with their new “American Vintage Campaign,” unveiled through a 1950s American Diner menu recently released here in Okinawa. In a phrase, McDonald’s Japan is attempting to take the nostalgia that many in the East have for most things West, and cram it into sandwiches and on top of fries which neither resonate with our prototypical ideal of an American Diner, nor with the food of that time!
Now, when an America thinks of a 1950s Diner, what may come to mind? Perhaps “Happy Days” and “The Fonz.” Or, perhaps, you might think about a classic period true American Diner or the time, a la James Dean and Marilyn Monroe (and the other strap-hangers and wallflower that make up that iconic night crew). And the standard American vintage meal of the period is easy enough to conjure up: a no frills burger, fries, soda, and perhaps a malted milkshake….
However, here in Japan, they are…doing it wrong. As least partly. For instance, the signature “American Vintage Diner” items seem to consist of two sandwiches and special-order french-fries. The burger – the “Diner Double Beef” – is anything but American Vintage! Check out the layers of oddly unique Asian-inspired flavors and textures: a double beef burger on “graham” buns (???), with Chicago-style steakhouse sauce (whatever that is), fresh onion, cheddar cheese, and get this – an egg, AND, wait for it…
…Mashed potato sauce! Yummy. In fact, so oddly delicious (I’m told) that Inside the Actors’ Guild has invited a new word for it: scrumtrulescent.
There is also a crispy chicken sandwich – the “Diner Honey Mustard” – with, yes, you guessed it, honey mustard, in addition to bacon, cheddar, and lettuce. Now that seems more like it, I mean, more something like we would find on a diner menu. Although mustard of such sauciness may have been a wee-tad spicy for the conservatism of the McCarthy-era 50s. However, it wouldn’t be weirdly Japanese if they got even this one (and just one), just about right; both sandwiches are served with what they call “Classic Fries,” which, in the Far East interpretation, is presented as a build-your-own fries box, complete with processed cheese product to be squirted directly from a plastic packet, then topped with a sprinkling of “bacon-flavor topping.” We all should be smart enough to know that such a phrase only means artificial bacon flavoring infused into the most unappetizing parts of the pig…which I’m told doesn’t taste or feel like bacon bits at all. I can honestly say that in my nearly 48 years on the planet I never encountered such a concoction at a Micky-D’s! Anywhere in the world for that matter.
However clever McDonald’s in Japan has been with their vintage-themed décor, it still can’t quite bring one to consider either the establishment or their newfound food as anything close to an American 1950s diner. They have reproduced some classically delightful Americana posters and prints, and in some instances, have made clever use of space, color, and shape. For instance, turning the waste bin into a jukebox is a stroke of genius, as is covering their service counters with a loud, McDonald’s palette infused checkerboard pattern. They also offer an American Vintage tee-shirt, which I’m sure will sell “real good” (note the vintage grammar in the photo at left), as most things American do here in Okinawa where our western influence is at extreme.
In all fairness, I can’t say that I’ve tried these menu items. And my heart and arteries thank me for, daily. Oddly enough though, I do frequent McDonald’s here in Okinawa about 1,000 times more than I ever did back in the Motherland. Fountain sodas are hard to find in Okinawa, where everything is canned or bottled, and the Western-style breakfast they offer simply can’t be beat when pressed for time or confounded by a lack of orange juice at home…. The food franchises here are especially clean and well attired. The service, like most anywhere else in Japan, is friendly and impeccable, and amazingly fast compared to our standards of fast-food at home. All these things combined make a trip to the Golden Arches quite refreshing here in the Far East, so much so that I was the one to ask the wife to stop by in order to pay homage to this vintage campaign! That said, though, the true downfall of Japan isn’t going to come through scarce natural resources, a failing economy, or a slow cultural death brought on by over-indulgence on manga, anime, and coffee and comic overdoses. Rather, it’s going to be through good’old vintage health problems brought on by the “MegaMac!” My Gawd look at that monstrosity!
However, it gets even BETTER! This vintage campaign is actually a set of three battling bites of Americana: “1950s American Diner” now playing, “1970s Soul Food,” and “1980s Pop Culture Cuisine. If you think they have missed the mark on American 50s diner food and feel, wait until the “Soul Food” menu comes out at the end of the month. On tap will be the Huggy Bear “Hot & Groovy Chicken” and “Hot & Groovy Beef.” At least they’ve been uber-creative with their entrée names…. It remains to be seen if they will inadvertently offend those Americans who insist of being African as well. The overall campaign ends at the beginning of March when their 1980s Pop Culture Boy-George “American BBQ Chicken” and, you’ll never guess, the “American BBQ Beef” will have been served since the middle of February.
Stay tuned for those delicious developments. I can already smell the humor and fun!