The McDonaldization of Macbeth: Shakespeare and Pop Culture in Scotland, PA

By Hoefer, Anthony D., Jr. | Literature/Film Quarterly, April 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The McDonaldization of Macbeth: Shakespeare and Pop Culture in Scotland, PA


Hoefer, Anthony D., Jr., Literature/Film Quarterly


"The best response I get is from the people who I was writing it for, the kids who are reading the Cliffs Notes and out getting stoned."

Billy Morrissette, director, Scotland, PA

"We're not bad people-just under-achievers who have to make up for lost time."

-Pat McBeth, Scotland, PA

According to the early eighteenth-century poet and essayist James Beattie, "laughter arises from the view of two or more inconsistent, unsuitable, or incongruous parts or circumstances, considered as united in one complex assemblage" (qtd. in Oring 2). This perhaps offers a starting point from which an exploration of the independent film, Scotland, PA (2000), can begin. In his first film, director Billy Morrissette takes on a daunting task: the transformation of Macbeth-one of Shakespeare's bloodiest, most macabre works-into a comedy. Shifting the action of the play from medieval Scotland to a small-town, Pennsylvania, drive-in burger joint in 1975, Morrissette mines humor from the juxtaposition of two disparate sets of cultural and chronological contexts. The result is a parody of the original work and a satire of modern consumer culture and class aspirations. For the film to succeed as either or both, the audience must recognize both contexts: the opening sequence-a clip from the 1970s detective show "McCloud"-assumes the audience's familiarity with both this show and the recurrence of the prefixes "Mc" and "Mac" in the surnames of the play's characters; the choice of the song "Bad Company" by Bad Company in an early scene is only amusing if the audience recognizes it and knows enough about the play to understand the implicit reference to the underhanded machinations of Macbeth and his wife. This central conceit-the film's references to both Shakespeare's story and the fast food, garish fashion, and testosterone-driven rock of the mid-1970s-is predicated upon the traditional distinction between high and low culture, and yet, the use of both contexts ultimately subverts such distinctions and invites a revision of the commonplace understanding of Shakespeare's place in our culture: Macbeth, the film suggests, is no less common a cultural experience than popular music, regrettable hair styles, and bad jobs in food service.

The relationship between parody and satire in Scotland, PA is not one of simple complement, but rather, one of simultaneity. Any given contextual reference in the film necessarily draws from Macbeth and elements of popular culture, parodying the first and satirizing the second. The examples mentioned above-"McCloud" and Bad Company-illustrate as much, but this model functions more broadly, as well. In the film, Lord and Lady Macbeth become Mac and Pat McBeth (James LeGros and Maura Tierney), a somewhat tacky couple trapped in dead-end jobs in a local McDonald's-style fast food restaurant, Duncan's. Their plot to murder their boss (James Rebhorn) and usurp ownership recontexualizes Macbeth's assassination of Duncan and assumption of the Scottish throne: Mac McBeth does not wish to be King of Scotland, just the burger king of his town. The Macbeths' plot to achieve absolute monarchical authority is absurdly reduced to the McBeths' desperate bourgeois ambitions.

The film's plot offers few surprises-it is Macbeth, after all; the fun, however, emerges from the discovery of the forms the film's analogues have assumed. Prompted by the chemically-enduced prophesying offered by three stoners (Amy Smart, Timothy "Speed" Levitch. and Andy Dick), Mac McBeth decides to heed his wife's nagging: together, he and Pat kill Duncan and convince his two sons, Malcolm (Tom Guiry) and Donald (Geoff Dunsworth) to sell the restaurant to them for a meager sum. Their machinations, however, are threatened by the snooping representative of the state police, Lt. Ernie McDuff (Christopher Walken); the plot is further complicated when their paranoia drives Mac to murder his friend and fry cook, Anthony "Banko" Banconi (Kevin Corrigan).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The McDonaldization of Macbeth: Shakespeare and Pop Culture in Scotland, PA
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.