The Atlantic

What McDonald’s Does Right

Americans have fewer and fewer spaces to gather. That’s where nuggets come in.
Source: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

The U.S. is riven by politics and race and religion and foreign policy and the economy. But one constant unites nearly all warring demographics: fast food, America’s highly imperfect, deep-fried North Star.

Sociologists refer to gathering spots outside of work and home as “third places.” Ray Oldenburg famously coined the term in his 1989 book The Great Good Place. To make quick bouillon of it, a successful third place has to be accessible and playful, a neutral territory that fosters conversation, a sense of communal ownership, and a constituency of regulars. Not only are third places essential for civil society and civic engagement, they’ve become rare in a country grappling with inequality and at a time when social encounters have gone heavily digital. That’s where fast food comes in.

Now, when I talk about fast food, I’m not talking; I’m talking about places that offer combo meals and have drive-thrus and suspect-looking ball pits. Most of all, I’m talking about places with true mass appeal that are neither too expensive nor exclusive for the American mainstream.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic24 min readPolitics
The 2020 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet
Jay Inslee didn’t get much traction as a candidate, but his pet issue, climate change, has become a major part of the Democratic campaign.
The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
How Britain Came to Accept a ‘No-Deal Brexit’
The debate over Britain leaving the European Union has polarized the country and normalized what was previously unthinkable.
The Atlantic9 min readPolitics
Abolishing the Filibuster Is Unavoidable for Democrats
Even if the party sweeps Congress and the White House in 2020, the Senate rule would let a faction of the reddest, whitest states stymie its agenda.