Once upon a time, you could measure our nation’s wellbeing by the state of our fast food. Our borders are safe, our jobs are secure, and our jolly, paunchy president is getting his pipes cleaned on the reg? Well then, happy beneficiary of a society boldly marching toward millennial renaissance—treat your sophisticated palate to an Arch Deluxe, the burger made to satisfy the sophisticated tastes of adults with both checking and savings accounts! Have you awoken to a red dawn of nagging dread, economic uncertainty, and a crisis in faith—not only in your leadership, but in the basic decency of your fellow man, a systematic societal breakdown that has you mentally prepping for a doomsday scenario where you’re forced to subsist on a diet of water leaking from broken air conditioners and lawn-clipping stew? Well, my negative friend: Pepare for the inexorable march of apocalypse by self-flagellating daily with a Salad Shaker! Unsure whether health care reform is a matter of universal urgency, or simply a smokescreen for the installation of roving federal death camps euthanizing anyone with the sniffles? Have a KFC Double Down, and let’s see how you vote tomorrow.
In short, fast food is a normally reliable bellwether of the public mood: When we’re content, we treat ourselves; when we’re stumbling and uncertain, it’s punishin’ time. And judging by McDonald’s Mac Snack Wrap—introduced this past spring, but only now slowly oozing its way south toward Buzzkills country—we’ve apparently, finally, totally just given the fuck up.
No more subtext; no more pretending. McDonald’s is looking us collectively square in the eye and saying, “This is a healthy version of the Big Mac.” And here we are, gazing back at them dejectedly, barely muttering, “OK, sure, fine, whatever” as flies crawl across our slackened cheeks, sucking up the saline left by our long-dried tears. “Did you hear us?” McDonald’s says, snapping its fingers in our line of sight, briefly startling the flies, who circle angrily before reappointing themselves. “We said it’s a ‘wrap’—just, uh, like all those awesome, weight-reducing, sandwich alternatives everyone was championing back during the Atkins craze. And we’re also calling it a ‘snack,’ which means we’re pitching this as a perfectly acceptable thing to eat between meals, and as an addition to your normal daily caloric intake, which we don’t believe to be at cross purposes at all.” Taking only the shallowest of breaths, our pupils randomly dilating and contracting and no longer responsive to external stimuli, we take a wheezing hit of oxygen and—like the death rattle of an invalid who shat out his lower organs months ago—we exhale a raspy, “Sounds good. What’s in it?”
“Well, it’s basically a wrap version of our popular Big Mac sandwich,” McDonald’s says, its brow briefly furrowing, a confusing combination of pity and disgust roiling deep within as a long strand of drool pitches, fountain-like, over our cracked lower lip and then begins pooling on our thigh, upon which a bold fly dives right in and starts doing his best “Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita” to the amusement of the rest of his swarm. “So, uh, you know… That means it has two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions”—McDonald’s pauses, noticing we’re unconsciously, soundlessly mouthing along to the familiar jingle, jaws moving fruitlessly, like a calf suckling on the dried and dusty udder of its mother cow who died days earlier from dehydration—“but, we’ve replaced the sesame seed bun with—get this—a flour tortilla! Which makes it a wrap, see?”
McDonald’s smiles broadly, gamely, but it quickly becomes a plastic grimace, and not the fun, purple, pansexual kind. “Mmmmm,” we say flatly, drawing out the last syllable in a parody of the pleasure we’ve long since lost the ability to feel. “Mmmmm,” we moan, signifying both happiness and torment simultaneously, unable to tell the difference anymore. “Um, yeah,” says McDonald’s, visibly uncomfortable. “And when you unwrap it, it looks like this!”
Image via EatMeDaily.com
There is a pregnant pause. Anticipating a struggle, McDonald’s stares back at our glassy, noncommittal expression expectantly, ever more pitch lines at the ready: “It’s a great way to eat a Big Mac on the go!” “At just $1.49, it’s a delicious anytime treat!” “It’s sort of like a Big Mac Burrito, except we test-marketed that name and it caused people to spontaneously retch all over our two-way mirrors, so we went with this!” But there’s nothing in our faces except browbeaten assent, a weary acceptance that this is what we’ve been reduced to: seeing our decades-old hamburgers mushed up into tortillas, special sauce and all, and regurgitated back at us as the “food of today” with a faddish name, with no attempt whatsoever to justify the shameful injustices visited upon two harmless cuisines in the name of intellectual laziness, and the whole thing indifferently marketed with nothing but clear contempt for the consumer. There is a long, palpably thick silence. Even the flies seem to momentarily cease their humming, sensing the rising tension.
“Mmmmaargh,” we finally mumble in response—an inarticulate string of phlegmatic vowel sounds by which we mean, “Hey, yeah, why stop there? Why not Chicken McNugget Shamrock Shakes? Why not the Filet O’ Fish McGriddle With Gravy? Why not a big ol' sack of lumpy meat ovoids and potato polygons, scooped up and served moldering in a sack of fried chicken scrapings covered in Sweet ’N’ Sour sauce? Why not take whatever fucking odds and ends you’ve been glumly pushing around the deep fryer for the last half-century or so, cram them together into one fist-sized ball, and punch us in the gut with it? What are you waiting for, McDonald’s? Don’t you know we’ll buy it anyway? Don’t you know we long ago lost the ability to feel anything other than the enervating ennui of a life lived in the unsatisfying pursuit of shallow instant gratification? What are you waiting for, huh?! Huh, McDonald’s? Why don’t you do it! Do it!”
But what it actually sounds like is, “Sure, I’ll try anything once,” and it comes out in a gossamer whisper that’s lighter even than the fart of the fly that’s currently checking out our molars. Near the saliva crystallizing on our pants, our hands unconsciously curl and flex into a “burrito” shape. We’re primed. We give. And McDonald’s slowly puts its hands on its knees and exhales deeply, visibly inscrutable but internally rattled, because it knows a dying animal when it sees one. And in a way, it’s a little sad, because it knows those just aren’t as much fun to kick.