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When David met Ronald by Prof. Giuseppe Faustini

When David met Ronald

by Giuseppe Faustini

It happened one sunny afternoon outside the most prized museum in Florence and perhaps the world, La Galleria dell’Accademia, where since 1873 Michelangelo’s statue of a beautiful, serene David has dominated its domed courtyard. Known for its art par excellence, Florence is also a city of merchants, bankers, and high fashion. It is the land of Ghiberti (Doors of Paradise) and Botticelli (Birth of Venus), of Dante (Divine Comedy) and Machiavelli (The Prince), and many other great artists and thinkers of the High Middle Ages and Renaissance. In this city shaped by the Medici family of dukes, popes, and patrons of the arts, I experienced a sudden culture clash, an irreconcilable juxtaposition of Renaissance grandeur and modern marketing.

Just a block from the museum (a stone’s throw from David—he whose slingshot slew Goliath),
I came upon a garish, larger-than-life statue of a clown: red-headed Ronald McDonald. In front of that most global of fast-food eateries stood this gawky, ungraceful spokesperson for American consumerism.

I was wonderstruck at the proximity of the two statues and at the surreal, even belligerent, contrast they represented. I confess that, for a moment, I envisioned David unleashing his slingshot (I swear to you, o reader) directly at Ronald’s protruding red nose. No, not in senseless violence, but rather in a willful and fitting act of aesthetic superiority. I must confess also that in my right hand I was holding the latest scholarly article on Michelangelo while in my left hand I clutched the last morsel of a McDonald’s burger and a few remaining salty fries. My mind was in the glory days of the Renaissance, while my body was wreathed in the aromas of fried meat and potatoes. As an Italian I felt swollen with pride, yet as a consumer I felt I’d transgressed by contributing to Ronald’s profit margin.

I wondered if Ronald’s statue might be proof for Dante’s tale of the Old Man of Crete as a myth of humankind’s degeneration, and I was reminded of the poem “Meditatio,” by Ezra Pound, in which he compares dogs and men and questions whether man is the superior being. For me, Michelangelo’s statue symbolizes human perfection and superiority; the clownish Ronald simply represents the unpleasant face of American entrepreneurship.

I wondered if Ronald ever visited the athletically built David to chat about his dietary habits, or did David step down from his pedestal and stroll over to reprimand the American buffoon? I imagined them conversing (in Italian, of course), David boasting that he enriches the artistic and spiritual side of mankind, and Ronald taking pride in nourishing millions. Of course David would quickly retort that Ronald was contributing to the “supersize” mentality and the corpulence of America. Their interaction began to seem more like Goofy meets Superman.

Every day thousands of tourists line up along Via Ricasoli to see Michelangelo’s David—a celebration of classical beauty created by genius and funded by the early pioneers of capitalism. Then a block away they are greeted by McDonald’s Ronald—a celebration of kitsch created by machinery and funded by worldwide capitalists at the height of their power. David and Ronald are today’s Florentine odd couple.

Giuseppe Faustini is a professor of Italian at Skidmore.