Why Eeva Legoed the kidnapping of Ronald McDonald

#followtheteachers blog post No.5

Getting our hands dirty: making and presenting of subvertisements inspire creative brainstorming, make serious issues more approachable and levels down hierarchies in class.

In February and March I wrote blog posts about the creative global education that we’re doing in Finland. In the ‘Closing the Gap’ project, I have run dozens of workshops similar to my description here. Here are photos of two of them: my workshop on electronics and subvertisements at a French-Finnish school (organised by the NGO Eetti), and my lecture and workshop on commodity geographies and culture jamming for international geography students at the Interactions in Urban Space seminar (organised by the European Geography Association, EGEA).

Vastamainospaja Helsingin Ranskalais-suomalaisen koulun iltakoulussa

Making subvertisements at the Eetti workshop.

Results of the EGEA workshop (click for more)

Also the Finnish blog has kept me busy. I have introduced for example global education, advice and slides for new school visitors as well as ‘follow the thing’ research and my Masters thesis! A recent blog post introduces something peculiarly brilliant (I think!): political and artistic Legoing. In the IdeaZone at last month’s Geographical Association conference in the UK (Storify here), I decided to Lego a scene of a culture jamming intervention.

May I introduce ‘Kidnapping Ronald McDonald’ by a Finnish artist Jani Leinonen.

In 2011 a group called Food Liberation Army (FLA) stole the statue of beloved Ronald from a McDonald’s restaurant in Ruoholahti, Helsinki, by pretending to be maintenance. Soon a kidnapping video went viral online (above!), showing the hooded Ronald, kidnappers in black and yellow Arabic-looking text in the background. For returning Ronald, FLA had demands for McDonald’s: they wanted more transparency in commodity chains and responsibility for health problems.

McDonald’s refusal “to negotiate with terrorists” led to Ronald getting decapitated with a guillotine. Photos of the videos of drama as it unfolded can be seen here on Jani’s blog, here in a wonderful story in the UK’s Daily Mail and this serious piece on FoxTV News.

While the police and international media started their hunt, citizens were guessing about the makers and the message of the video. Is this Islamic terrorism against Western brands and society? Is this vandalism of food activists or parody by performative artists? Are the claims about corporate responsibility justifiable or is this actually a guerrilla marketing campaign of McDonald’s itself? In a house search 2 weeks later on, the police arrested Leinonen for a day and confiscated a great amount of his sketches, clothes, art etc. It was revealed that the kidnapping was a culture jamming invention. The Arabic-looking text was actually “I’m loving it” backwards and the decapitated statue was a copy made from the original. Funnily, however, Leinonen got fined 2000 euros for forgery and betrayal (copying Ronald and leaving a fraud maintenance note). Outside the court, Leinonen’s friends wore McDonald Finland bikers’ jackets and the after-party was naturally in the Ruoholahti McDonald’s.

In this tragicomic story, the seriousness of playing with brands became clear through the surprisingly large media cover, police hunt and terrorism debate. McDonald’s has built a powerful brand in our everyday culture and hence provocative jamming with its policies and brand is fruitful. Creative approaches from billboard liberation to parody videos can generate a lot of discussion amongst consumers. Leinonen’s work impressed me and I wanted to work with these thoughts through Legoing the kidnapping and decapitating of Ronald.In the IdeaZone, Legoing fascinated not only me but many visitors. After recreating several scenes from followthethings.com, these two kidnap scenes excitingly brought ‘follow the things’, culture jamming and my ‘closing the gap’ project together. The next day it also worked as an amusing way to explain culture jamming and Legoing at my lecture at the EGEA seminar.

 

Eeva Kemppainen | Helsinki | 15 May 2014

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