How does Schlosser explore irony in Chapter 4 of Fast Food Nation, titled "Success," through his focus on Dave Feamster's Little Caesars' franchise and the concluding spokespeople (especially...

How does Schlosser explore irony in Chapter 4 of Fast Food Nation, titled "Success," through his focus on Dave Feamster's Little Caesars' franchise and the concluding spokespeople (especially Reeve) at the sales seminar?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World is a carefully researched examination of the fast food industry from its birth in Southern California during the late-1930s to the present. Schlosser’s book was not intended to praise the founding and growth of this industry, and it does not. While the author is balanced in his description of the individuals and companies that comprise this massive industry, the point of his study is to assess the effects of the fast food industry on the economy, culture, and health of the societies in which McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Little Caesars, Subway, and many others have profited. His conclusion is decidedly negative.

Chapter 4 of Fast Food Nation is titled “Success.” Schlosser adopted this chapter title from the name of a large conference to which one of his subjects, Dave Feamster, takes some of his employees. “Success” is a motivational production featuring famous people from politics, sports and business who rally masses of attendees to feel better about themselves and adopt a more positive attitude towards their endeavors. Feamster, a generous and modest former professional hockey player, has wagered his future on the Little Caesars franchises he has gone into debt to purchase in the city of Pueblo, Colorado. This chapter also provided background into the mechanics and risks associated with the franchise business. While Feamster’s debt was very modest in comparison to today’s franchise fees—in effect, the cost to businesspeople of building and operating a fast food restaurant under the corporate umbrella of McDonalds, Little Caesars, and the rest—those fees have increased exponentially over the years. Consequently, the ability of individuals to purchase franchises has left most out of the competition, which is ironic given the vision of the industry's founders.

Feamster lives modestly and treats his employees well. He and his family survive, but they are far from wealthy and, for all his hard work in building his business, his future is increasingly threatened by the encroachment of franchises from Papa Johns, which is a newer entrant into the market in Pueblo.

The irony in Chapter 4 of Fast Food Nation, then, can be found in the precarious nature of the franchisee’s existence against the backdrop of an enormously profitable industry. Whether Dave Feamster is representative of franchise licensees overall is not addressed. Suffice to say that the financial burden of buying a franchise from the large fast food companies depresses the quality of life of all those involved, from the heavily-indebted business owner to the consumer whose health is ultimately jeopardized by excessive consumption of fast food to the taxpayer whose premiums are increased to compensate for the vast number of low-income consumers of foods high in fats and cholesterol who develop diabetes and other obesity-related ailments.

The most significant irony in this chapter, however, involves the appearance at the “Success” convention of the late actor Christopher Reeve. Reeve had been paralyzed in a horse riding accident and was now confined to a wheelchair and could only breathe with the aid of machines. Reeve’s appearance at the convention is ironic because his brief remarks deviate substantially both intellectually and emotionally from all that preceded his appearance and all that followed. The focus of Reeve’s comments was the imperative of maintaining the proper priorities in life and not sacrificing what is seriously important—family and friends—to the all-consuming pursuit of material wealth. Schlosser concludes Chapter 4 with the following passage:

“Men and women up and down the aisles wipe away tears, touched not only by what this famous man has been through but also by a sudden awareness of something hollow about their own lives, something gnawing and unfulfilled.

“Moments after Reeve is wheeled off the stage, Jack Groppel, the next speaker, walks up to the microphone and starts his pitch, ‘Tell me friends, in your lifetime, have you ever been on a diet?’”

Christopher Reeve, in his brief remarks, touched the hearts of those in attendance, but he represented a minor deviation from the convention’s theme of financial success.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title of Chapter 4, "Success," is ironic, as fast-food franchisees are less and less successful. While people who owned early McDonald's franchises were often successful, current-day franchisees are struggling, including people like Dave Feamster. For example, Schlosser cites a professor who has shown that about 38% of franchise businesses fail after four to five years, compared to about 6% of independent businesses. Feamster, a former NHL player, works hard and makes a respectable living as the owner of Little Caesars' franchises. However, other franchisees struggle, in part because fast food chains put competing restaurants close to each other to get a larger slice of the market. The people who work at fast food restaurants really struggle to get by because they earn so little. At the end of the chapter, the author quotes Christopher Reeve, who gives a motivational speech at the sales seminar. He reminds his audience that there is more to life than money--which is ironic because the entire franchise industry and its employees are focused mainly on money. 

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