McDonalds Warns Thai Protesters: Quit Politicizing Our Golden Arches

As the political crisis in Thailand widens, Thai protesters have taken the McDonalds golden arches — the fast-food giant's iconic icon — and turning it into a anti-coup political symbol. This was sparked by necessity, at first, thanks to the need for a sizable meeting place for those opposed to the Royal Thai Army's takeover back on May 22; a large Bangkok McDonalds (called McThai over there) turned out to serve the purpose well. But McDonalds is not a politically-active company, so now the shoe is on the other foot — Mickey D's are suffering a little heartburn over the Thai protesters' adopted logo.

The next step, for some protesters, was to incorporate the McDonalds arches into anti-coup signs and images, and that's what seized the company's attention. Some signs bearing the word "Democracy" were edited to replace the "M" with the arches. For the record, McDonalds is officially trying to maintain neutrality in the midst of the tumultuous political environment in Thailand.

Now McDonald's has ordered the protesters to refrain from further infringement of their globally-recognized logo. It's not clear whether the protesters will comply, but they're getting the full, vaguely threatening treatment from McDonalds, who warn "appropriate action" will be taken otherwise.

It's a curious balancing act for McDonalds, owing to the political neutrality they're trying to protect in the midst of the Royal Thai Army's takeover. Surely, issuing legal threats to protesters is going to seem divisive, or at least less neutral than they'd like.

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Sometimes the simplest path is to allow a protest's adoption of icons, phrases or messages. (Though it doesn't hurt if the messages are better politically aligned than "Say no to military coups — and eat this hamburger!") A prime example of this was when Sylvester Stallone's John Rambo, the fourth film in the hyper-violent Rambo series set amid the Burmese civil war, became a hot anti-government property six years ago after the state's military regime banned it from distribution.

The movie, which showed the musclebound Stallone slaying countless, viciously-represented Burmese soldiers, inspired much of the Burmese public with the lead character's quote: "Live for nothing, die for something." Stallone himself embraced the idea, telling Reuters: "They've actually used some of the film's quotes as rallying points. That, to me, is one of the proudest moments I've ever had in film."

Apparently, McDonalds isn't quite as sanguine about being dragged into the fray of Thailand's upheaval, but they'll probably still enjoy any sales boost they might get out of it. Although to be fair, the Thai public, whether for or against military rule, doesn't even need to show up in person to buy their greasy food — did you know that McThai delivers?