Over the weekend, hundreds of angry protesters took to the streets of the country, demonstrating against the loss of one of our most American values: easy, unregulated access to condiments. When McDonald’s chose to release a limited edition of an old dipping sauce in response to fans of the TV show Rick and Morty, frustration quickly took hold when fans found out that quantities were extremely limited. But lost in the chaos of grown adults berating minimum wage workers, and police being used to disperse the masses is another question: Are we capable of loving anything unironically anymore?
Ironic love is a trend that started out innocent enough, with its origins dating to long before people feigned love for Chuck Norris when Conan O’Brien began repurposing old Walker, Texas Ranger clips for cheap laughs. And it’s carried on for years, to varying degrees of absurdity and prominence. From the time fans of Samuel L. Jackson hijacked a major Hollywood film to demand silly reshoots for Snakes on a Plane, to the long lines that appear whenever Taco Bell invents a new powder to dust on a taco shell, we have delighted in the opportunity to express undying love for things that we know are terrible.
Even movie franchise juggernauts like Fast and Furious were middling successes on the brink of irrelevance in the early 00s before a few producers got together and said, “You know what this needs? The Rock outrunning a submarine on a glacier in a sports car.” Hell, even the omnipresent Rick Roll gag from last decade (or last year, if you’re Famed Comedian™ Ted Cruz) and Rick Astley’s brief reemergence was rooted in the simple joke, “isn’t it great how much this sucks?” And so it carries on, from David Hasselhoff cameos in major blockbusters to an inexplicable reverence for mundane fast food offerings.
It’s a bizarre cultural relic, where identity is defined more by recognition of the terrible than an appreciation of the wonderful. But if this sounds like criticism, it’s worth noting that such an approach is also inherently more democratic, opening up discussions on pop culture to literally anyone capable of recognizing Tommy Wiseau as a bad filmmaker. It’s really only a development that becomes worrying when it shows up the way it did last weekend with Rick and Morty fans. If we’re so immersed in overselling our exuberance for a mediocre product, isn’t it inevitable that we’ll make asses of ourselves in the process? How else do you explain hundreds of people engaged in civil strife, pounding on counters and taking over restaurants because of a failed chance to cash in on half an ounce of high fructose corn syrup? Escapism and an appreciation for the absurd is fun, no doubt. But maybe if you’ve buried earnest love beneath so many layers of irony that you find the police yelling “Go home, they don’t have the sauce,” it’s time to step back just a tiny bit.