Something absurd has happened in our society. While that’s nothing out of the ordinary in this day and age, something truly absurd happened this past weekend, and it’s a story that I’ve been following for some time now. On Saturday, October 7, 2017, legions of young people across the nation rallied at their local McDonald’s fast food restaurant, all in the name of a television show that they loved and a McNugget sauce that most of them had never heard about before last April.
The story begins in the summer of 1998. McDonald’s was doing promotional Happy Meals for the now-classic Disney film Mulan. Mulan tells the story of a brave girl who poses as a man and joins the Chinese military to help defend her country from a Hun invasion. The McDonald’s fast food chain released a special promotional szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce for their famed Chicken McNuggets. This “Szechuan Sauce” was removed from the menu once the promotion was complete, locked away forever in the McDonald’s vault with the McSalad Shaker and the McHot Dog.
This article would end here, were it not for an April Fool’s Day prank executed nearly two decades later. On the eve of April 1, 2017, people turned on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, expecting to watch the usual reruns of Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers only to be greeted instead by the season premiere of the fabled Rick and Morty season 3. Rick and Morty is a surprisingly deep science-fiction comedy series that launched on Adult Swim in late 2013. The show covers a wide variety of themes, including absurdism, nihilism, domestic life, existential horror and the occasional fart joke. The show is notorious for having long periods between seasons, making the surprise premiere of the third season a big deal.
As the episode played out, the character of Rick Sanchez, an alcoholic mad scientist, mentioned several times his love for the promotional Szechuan Sauce that hadn’t been seen since 1998. He even went so far as to say that the sauce was his sole motivation for going on his adventures throughout the multiverse with his grandson Morty. The whole point of the sauce being his motivation ties into one of the themes of the show. Rick constantly mentions that life is meaningless, therefore his motivation, a promotional item that no one had thought about in twenty years, is without meaning as well. It’s ultimately a pretty funny bit of absurdist humor. However, that humor would soon transfer over to the real world.
As with shows like Star Trek, The Walking Dead and Grey’s Anatomy, Rick and Morty has a very large and passionate fandom. I was even present at the Alamo Draft House theater in El Paso when “The Rickmobile” came to town as part of the Rick and Morty Don’t Even Trip Road Trip tour and stood in a line that wound all the way around the building and out into the street. However, sometimes fandoms tend to be… there’s no other word for it… “sheep-like.” If the show’s creators suggest that we stand in line all day to get exclusive merchandise from a truck, we stand in line all day to get exclusive merchandise from a truck. So once Rick himself stated that “he had to have that sauce,” naturally fans of the show declared that they had to have it too.
Soon, campaigns on Twitter and Facebook cropped up, calling for the return of the promotional szechuan dipping sauce that Rick Sanchez had loved so dearly. The interesting things to note about this is that many of the fans lobbying for the sauce probably weren’t old enough to remember the original promotion, and that Chinese szechuan teriyaki sauce can be found in most grocery stores.
After several long months, McDonald’s somewhat half-heartedly gave into consumer demands. On October 7, 2017, limited supplies of szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce would be made available for one day only. The fan’s prayers had seemingly been answered and on Saturday, many of them flocked to McDonald’s to try the now legendary dipping sauce. Unfortunately, most only found disappointment.
In New Mexico, the McDonald’s restaurants in Deming and Silver City were not included in the promotion, with Silver City only carrying promotional posters instead. In fact the closest restaurant in New Mexico that had it was all the way in Albuquerque. At some locations, the limited supplies of the sauce quickly ran out, while at others, employees were said to be completely unaware that a promotion was even taking place. According to The Guardian, one location had to call the police due to outraged fans chanting “we want sauce! We want sauce!” Finally, somewhere in the United States, Rick and Morty creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland were presumably laughing hysterically at what their show had spawned.
The McDonald’s szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce, a long forgotten promotional item dating back to when Bill Clinton was in office, was meant to be a meaningless, throw-away joke. The joke that Rick’s motivation spawns from something ultimately so silly, so meaningless, is meant to illustrate the character’s philosophy that life itself is meaningless. Yet, fans of the show didn’t see it that way. They rallied and fought to taste just a bit of that sauce that even a nihilistic monster like Rick Sanchez couldn’t help but love, and… there was at least an attempt to reward them for it.
However, literally as I was writing this, McDonald’s has announced that, in response to the backlash it faced yesterday, it will be bringing back szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce full-time to every location across the nation starting this winter, truly rewarding the fans for their efforts. All in all, a positive end to a fun and absurd story that our society has been sorely lacking these days, one that illustrates the power of a group of people that are passionate about something they love. Now if we could only unite against some of the other pressing concerns this year…
And that’s the wayyyy the news goes!
“‘We want sauce’: police called over McDonald’s Rick and Morty promotion” Livesy, A. (2017) The Guardian.