So, the Szechuan sauce thing. The McDonald’s Mulan merchandise meltdown. The kooky cartoon calamity. The dramatic dweeb disturbance that has brought a $100 billion corporation to its knees and made the creator of a cartoon beg viewers to be nice to their neighborhood McFlurry mixers. What in the world happened? Why is everyone mad at McDonald’s? Wait, sorry—why is everyone mad at everyone who is mad at McDonald’s? Why is McDonald’s apologizing? Why are we talking about chicken nugget dipping sauces?
It all began innocently enough. In April, Rick and Morty, the deliriously creative and frenetically dark comedy on Adult Swim, kicked off its third season. The premiere revealed that Rick, the show’s alcoholic supergenius inventor, is motivated not by the promise of world domination or scientific inquiry or getting laid and/or drunk and/or revenge or any of the other goals that usually motivate supergeniuses. Instead, all Rick really wants is to enjoy a limited-edition Szechuan dipping sauce that McDonald’s distributed in the late 1990s to promote the then-just-released Mulan. It’s a funny joke: Thing No One Remembers Or Cares About is in fact a Thing Of Great Importance to the main character of a cartoon. Ha ha, very good, let’s move on.
Except that fans of Rick and Morty are, as a rule, not capable of moving on. Over the past couple of years, a certain noisy pocket of Rick and Morty fandom has calcified into a virulent and oft-toxic band of misfitry. Fans yell on forums about how their enjoyment of a bleak sci-fi cartoon is evidence of their superior IQs; they get tattoos of not-particularly-inside jokes; they rage against the show’s addition of female writers. This group of fans has in turn been roundly criticized by series cocreators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon: “I loathe these people,” Harmon told Entertainment Weekly last month.
Please God, I don't ask for much, please let us gain enough cultural influence to force McDonald's into bringing back that fucking sauce.— Rick (((and Morty))) (@RickandMorty) April 2, 2017
These fans began to fixate on McDonald’s Szechuan sauce. Why wouldn’t McDonald’s give the people what they wanted? Didn’t the franchise want the undying loyalty of Rick and Morty superfans? The calls continued unabated until this month, when McDonald’s announced that it would give fans what they so desired, bringing back Szechuan sauce for a “one-time only, limited-edition, run” in “select restaurants” on October 7.
To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty. The humor is extremely subtle, and without a solid grasp of theore pic.twitter.com/sy9VmJCdTG— 665.5 zant (@maniadrone) October 9, 2017
It would be an understatement to say that the event was a disaster. Fans staked out locations, lining up by the dozen for a taste of the saintly syrup. But many of said fans discovered that the sauce was already sold out, yet instead of merely going home empty-handed and continuing their (I assume) previously content and bebasemented lives, they raged. When McDonald’s thanked “the best fans in the multiverse” and apologized that not everyone was able to try the “super-limited” sauce, fans pounced. They accused the franchise of lying about availability and employees of hoarding the sauce for themselves. Fans attempted to organize a boycott. “Calling [it] ‘super limited’ is like calling hurricane Maria an afternoon shower,” wrote one man. “Quanitities [sic] should have been listed.”
Look at "New York City" on their Szechuan finder. 12 places in NYC alone (STILL) have it (how?!?!), + in Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island. Sad.. pic.twitter.com/a43SwHk3jY— Greg Etopio (@topes0521) October 7, 2017
On Monday morning, after a weekend of unleashed nerd rage, McDonald’s finally caved. “We’re gonna make this right,” a statement announced before imploring the same fans who spent their Saturdays harassing staffers and social media managers to “stay tuned.”
It is unfair to blame everything that happened on Rick and Morty’s fans, dreadful and self-righteously misguided as they might be. This whole thing happened because McDonald’s, like so many brands before it, tried to be cuddly and hip and mask its nugget-hawking as nothing more than a desire to be friends with people on the internet.
This whole thing was always stupid; the reason we are talking about it at all is because the joke was that it was stupid all along. Then a brand decided to clamber into the internet’s fun and games in search of sales and/or viral success, and now instead is begging the forgiveness of a rabid club of neckbeards. Here we are; this is what we get in 2017. As McDonald’s put it back in the more innocent month of April, McNugga Lubba Dub Dub.