In the third season premiere of Rick and Morty, the character of Rick is shown to be obsessed with “that Mulan McNuggets sauce.” This was in reference to Szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce that was offered in McDonald’s happy meals to coincide with the release of Disney’s Mulan in June 1998. McDonald’s sought to capitalize on the free publicity by offering a limited edition of the sauce with containers branded for the event, but they severely underestimated the demand. In California, police were called when hundreds in line at one McDonald’s “became rowdy” when it was revealed that the location only had 20 packets of the sauce and some posters to give out. Some have claimed that they waited in line for hours for their children to receive the special sauce, but it is worth noting that Rick and Morty is rated TV-14 and every picture of crowds waiting in line shows a sea of 20-somethings, not parents with their children. Some went so far as to dress up as characters and then subsequently called for a boycott when they did not receive any sauce.
If McDonald’s had been aware that Szechuan teriyaki dipping sauce was so desirable, surely they would have kept it after 1998? That is simple supply and demand, and there is clearly a demand. Or is there? Are all of these 20-somethings having fond memories of that delicious sauce they once had while playing with Mulan toys? As it happens, no, that is exceedingly unlikely since a typical adult can only recall memories back to perhaps age 6 or 7, and it does not seem likely that McDonald’s dipping sauce they had once or twice would make that list. If we recall that Mulan came out in 1998, then a person has to be at least 25 years old, and likely a few years older, to have any genuine memory and independent desire for the sauce. For example, back in the 90’s, Pizza Hut had a spicy “smokehouse pizza” that had smoked sausage, bacon, and ham. I freely admit to still missing that pizza to this day, but I am not 20 or dressed as a cartoon.
Why is this important? Well, this whole situation speaks to how utterly mindless many young people are today. A cartoon character referenced something that none of them had ever had before, or at least that they could remember, and they have lost their minds trying to acquire it for no other reason than Rick referenced it. People are trying to sell single packets for $50, $75, and even $5,000 on eBay. This is mindless consumerism at its worst… so surreal, silly, and terrifying in how blatantly insane the whole situation is. A cartoon character referenced promotional McDonald’s dipping sauce from 19 years ago, and adults—people allowed to vote for President of the United States—scrambled to acquire it and then cried (or worse) when they couldn’t. If “Rick” told them how to vote, would they listen? If he told them to buy a certain brand of clothing, would that brand see sales increase? How far could this be pushed? What is stopping the creators of the show from at least testing the limits of their fans’ susceptibility to control?
In a sense, this speaks to one of the themes in Rick and Morty that many fans seem to entirely overlook. Yes, Rick is an atheist, a scientist, and can do virtually anything he wants through the power of his own intellect, but his life is also quite meaningless… and he knows it. His motto in the first season, “wubba lubba dub dub,” which translates from an alien language to mean, “I am in great pain, please help me,” speaks to this fact. If he has a reason to be happy or makes a joke, his catchphrase is there… a vocal yet meaningless cry for help since his family does not speak the alien language. Based on how easily Rick’s fans were turned into a mindless mob over nugget sauce, it seems that their own lives are also lacking in meaning, and this display was their collective “wubba lubba dub dub.” Unlike their beloved Rick, however, they do not seem to be aware of how empty they must be for the void to be occupied by something so vapid. How much more trivial and meaningless can you get than McDonald’s dipping sauce?