The spread of popular culture

An entertaining piece in the NYT on the 4th (in the print edition that I get): “Iran Capitalizing on a Taste for America’s Biggest Brands” by Thomas Erdbrink:

Tehran— Despite the smiling clown, a symbol of the Great Satan’s love for meat, buns and fries, there were no angry mobs punching fists in the air, shouting “Death to America”; nor did the smell of burned American flags permeate this Tehran neighborhood.

It smelled of juicy burgers, flipped by a cheerful Iranian teenager named Jahan. His kitchen was crowned with a flashing logo that looked remarkably similar to the golden arches of McDonald’s, perhaps the best-known symbol of American fast-food imperialism.

The global chain’s other well-known trademark, the white-faced, ever-smiling clown with a red jacket, yellow pants and red oversize shoes, was also present on a large poster waving to lure customers.

No, McDonald’s has not opened in Tehran only weeks after a nuclear deal was reached that will ease international sanctions and possibly portend a change in Iranian revolutionary attitudes toward American companies.

This is Mash Donald’s, Iran’s homegrown version.

“We are trying to get as close as we can get to the McDonald’s experience,” said the owner, Hassan, who did not want his family name published out of fear of Iranian hard-liners and American trademark lawyers.  [not an easy spot to be in]

… Mash Donald’s and other knockoffs of American food culture are increasingly dominating the streets of major Iranian cities, symbols of the increasing disruption to the official revolutionary anti-American narrative that has more or less predominated since the 1979 overthrow of the shah and the siege of the American Embassy.

… No genuine American food chain has an outlet in Iran, mainly because of the government’s hostility and the sanctions that make such businesses impossible. Instead, American fast-food replicas have proliferated, with quirky changes in the names to give the owners some plausible deniability.

Besides Mash Donald’s, Tehran has a K.F.C. (Kabooki Fried Chicken) a Pizza Hut (Pizza Hat) and a Burger King (Burger House).

… On a Photoshopped poster outside showing a McDonald’s truck, an advertisement beckons: “Try our Mash Donald’s 1.5 foot long super sandwich.” Another poster reads: “Mash Donald’s Falafel sandwich!”? The falafel sandwich costs $2.10, the 1.5-foot-long sandwich about $3.75. [American McDonald’s could use a falafel sandwich]

Inside, Jahan and a co-worker, Karim, stood for hours amid the smell of old frying oil, making the Mash Donald’s version of the Big Mac.

Instead of calling it the Big Mash, however, the owner chose “Mash Donald’s baguette burger,” a hefty mix of meat, cheese and turkey ham (cost: about $3).

Interesting that a central part of the craze is for the visual trappings of American popular culture, with the food adapted for local tastes

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