The third season of Rick and Morty began with a convoluted story in which series villain Rick breaks out of prison before breaking up his daughter’s marriage. There’s also a huge battle that includes many Ricks from other dimensions as the story folds back over itself and past seasons, and the whole thing ends with a wonderfully nonsensical speech about how this all happened so Rick can get more of a promotional dipping sauce from McDonald’s.
The joke, which plays with the show’s theme that Rick is empty, alone and despondent despite having everything he could ever ask for, is that all that work was done for a silly, arbitrary reason. There is no plan, and there is no meaning. It may as well be a dipping sauce.
This flew right over the heads of some of the show’s biggest fans, and McDonald’s stepped right up to take advantage of this fact.
McDonald’s is playing a dangerous game
McDonald’s is struggling. It’s an older brand that has become synonymous with low quality and disposable culture. Sales are down, and the new CEO needs to get them back up. So why not turn to the internet?
What started as a silly joke about Rick’s hollow soul became a marketing opportunity, and the best part was that McDonald’s didn’t have to pay Adult Swim anything to cash in. The promotion was never officially tied into Rick and Morty in any way, although McDonald’s did everything it could within the bounds of the law to connect the two brands.
“Look at that art, look at the font,” Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon told Polygon. “Look I’m not being sarcastic when I talk about this. If anyone from McDonald’s is reading this, I don’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing and clearly neither does their legal department.”
But of course the fans revolted. McDonald’s either underestimated demand for the sauce or tried to manufacture scarcity of an old product that was already meant to be promotional — the sauce was originally supposed to tie into the Disney film Mulan — and ugly scenes broke out as fans waited in line for hours only to be told that their location was out of the sauce.
Cops are at Wellington McDonalds where tons of angry people lined up for hrs for Rick and Morty Szechuan sauce only to learn they had none pic.twitter.com/3T272osid4— Lulu Ramadan (@luluramadan) October 7, 2017
This is a weird situation for everyone, because Adult Swim had nothing to do with the promotion, nor did anyone from the show itself get a heads up about how McDonald’s would try to take advantage of the joke. McDonald’s, for its part, didn’t seem to understand what it was tapping into when it leaned into this gag.
No one was prepared for the enthusiasm of Rick and Morty fans, who are already getting an online reputation for, believe it or not, narcissism and toxicity. And they took that toxicity out on McDonald’s employees, who had little idea of how bad their day was going to get.
Here at the San Jose Mcdonalds. This is our reaction to the shortage of #szechuansauce #giveusthesauce #rickandmorty pic.twitter.com/sIGaUZKDKj— Kevin Alberi (@Chauncey_Boy) October 7, 2017
Rick and Morty superfans, the ones who are giving the rest of us a bad reputation, like to “joke” about how you have to be smart to understand the show while proving over and over again that they don’t understand the show. Rick wasn’t saying the sauce was important, he was saying that nothing is important. Why not destroy a family over a sauce? Why do or don’t do anything?
The fans responded by giving the subject of that joke an absurd amount of importance in their lives. They felt real anger over not getting their sauce, and they don’t mind taking it out on McDonald’s. If you don’t believe me, spend a few minutes look at the responses to this tweet:
You spoke. We’ve listened. Lots more #SzechuanSauce and locations. Details soon. And that’s the wayyy the news goes! pic.twitter.com/ooIrbZBsOw— McDonald's (@McDonalds) October 8, 2017
It’s funny because McDonald’s is attempting to reference how Rick talks without paying the creators of Rick anything while making both brands look bad while also highlighting how quickly online fandom can turn into angry mobs in real life. OK, maybe this isn’t funny at all. Maybe the whole situation is sick, and you’re right to feel a little sick when you read about it.
Because the fans don’t understand any level of what’s going on. If they understood Rick, they wouldn’t care about the sauce because no one in the show really cares about the sauce. It was never referenced in the show again. Dan Harmon himself explained to us that the line was put there just to rip on co-creator Justin Roiland’s love for the sauce. If they understood Morty, they would be kinder to the McDonald’s workers who didn’t ask for any of this.
And if they understood the point of the show so far — that living only for yourself is destructive and selfish no matter how smart you are — they would be ashamed at how they’re acting.
After years of pop culture entrenching the notion that smart people are assholes, people act like assholes to appear smart. pic.twitter.com/d9ucm2nYHe— Spooky Boogie (@CaseyExplosion) October 4, 2017
But these Rick and Morty fans don’t understand anything about this situation. Not the way commercialism stepped in to cash in on nihilism, nor the irony of how they’ve given something intense meaning and value after being told by a fictional character that it had meaning as a way of illustrating that nothing has meaning.
They’ve turned into Fight Club fans who start their own fight clubs, not understanding that the point of the movie is how easily white male anger is co-opted for violence and mindless support of empty and hateful causes.
And they’ve done this due to their love of a show they think makes them look smart or that they feel justifies their loneliness. Maybe they’re not alone because they’re so intelligent, maybe the problem is that they’re the kind of people who would get mad at a fast food place for not having enough sauce. The problems in their life most likely begin and end at that fact.