Update, Oct. 9, 2017: After the uproar described below, McDonald’s announced that it would bring back Szechuan sauce.
On Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017—a date which will live in infamy—fans of animated television program Rick and Morty were suddenly and deliberately denied the limited-edition sample packets of Szechuan Buttermilk Crispy Tender dipping sauce McDonald’s had promised them. The sauce, originally produced in the summer of 1998 as part of a promotion for Disney’s Mulan, features heavily in the show’s most recent season, in which it was revealed that McDonald’s heady mixture of Asian-influenced spices and high fructose corn syrup served as a combination madeleine and holy grail for mad scientist Rick:
Sensing a promotional opportunity, McDonald’s shipped series co-creator Justin Roiland a bottle of the stuff back in July, yielding a wave of positive press and at least one commemorative poem. And since engaging the show’s creators seemed to work for the fast food giant, it made the classic rookie mistake of trying to engage the show’s fans.
Never try to engage the fans. Rick and Morty’s fanbase is so famously toxic that the show’s other co-creator, Community’s Dan Harmon, called their behavior “disgusting” just a few weeks ago, when they were harassing the show’s female writers online. Harmon hired a gender-balanced writers’ room for the new season, much to sexist Rick and Morty fans’ dismay, and he didn’t mince words about them:
These knobs, that want to protect the content they think they own—and somehow combine that with their need to be proud of something they have, which is often only their race or gender.
Their race, their gender, and now, their indignation at the McDonald’s corporation for failing to provide the correct condiment for their maltodextrin and xanthan gum–coated chicken chunks. To promote its new “Buttermilk Crispy Tenders,” McDonald’s offered what it described as a “really, really limited” supply of Szechuan sauce at an even more limited number of McDonald’s locations on Saturday. (It’s not exactly the same sauce—in 1998 the ingredient list began with high fructose corn syrup and water; to account for the more sophisticated palates of today’s Rick and Morty fans, it now uses water and cane sugar.) Some locations were reportedly allocated as few as 20 packets of the precious chicken goop, enraging Rick and Morty fans who believed they were entitled to the opportunity to demonstrate their love of a television program by purchasing a tangentially related processed food item from an unrelated corporation. Who could have predicted this would turn out badly? Here’s some footage from a McDonald’s in Los Angeles, where the police were called:
Not since the tragic 2015 decimation of the Funko Pops had so many people been so furious about missing their chance to spend money on a product that is essentially an advertisement for another product. So after a day filled with long lines, angry tweets, and all too little of the burgundy-tinted poultry ooze Rick and Morty fans had been told to crave, McDonald’s offered an apology:
Not surprisingly, this tweet immediately got ratioed, and the responses do little to support the restaurant’s claim that Rick and Morty has “the best fans in the multiverse.” A few, perhaps sensing that “I am angry at the cartoon fast food chicken sauce” was an unbecoming emotion for adults to express, told harrowing tales of heartbroken children instead:
You have to be a very dedicated Rick and Morty fan to project your feelings of sorrow and anger onto an underaged sidekick—wubba-lubba-dub-dub!—but even casual viewers had sad stories to tell:
Some fans believed that McDonald’s employees were to blame, spinning conspiracy theories about after-market sales of the theoretically beloved nugget gunk without questioning what the very existence of an after-market for limited edition mass-produced chicken dipping sauces might say about them:
A few were even motivated to take action, threatening the restaurant with a boycott:
But no one took the woefully inadequate supplies of sugary bird sludge more seriously than the Reddit user who outlined his detailed theory of McDonald’s legal liability for not manufacturing enough soy-sauce-scented-slime to suit the show’s supporters.
It’s beginning to seem like building a culture, an economy, and a society based on tolerating and amplifying the worst impulses of a bunch of jerks for profit can have undesirable secondary effects.