After almost two decades of obscurity, McDonald’s Mulan Szechuan Sauce is experiencing a revival, thanks to an episode of Rick and Morty. However, questions of appropriation have thrown the problematic sauce’s revival into uncertainty.
In the Rick and Mortyseason three premiere on April 1, Dr. Rick Sanchez claims his “series arc” to be a quest to find the elusive McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce—and just like that, the sauce was flung into the middle of the pop-cultural mainstream. The internet went bonkers, with the official Rick and Morty Twitter posting “@McDonalds, you want to get in on this? Call me,” and McDonald’s responding in a way that suggested they were demonstrably down for a sauce remake. A petition was even started to “bring back the sauce,” and more than one Twitter user suggested pairing the sauce revival with the forthcoming Mulan live-action remake.
Amid all the buzz, one writer at the culture blog Inverse bravely decided to point out what many Rick and Morty fans had glossed over: The return of the Mulan Szechuan Sauce maybe isn't the best idea. In the article “McDonald's Shouldn't Bring Back Szechuan Sauce for the Mulan Remake,” writer Yasmin Tayag pointed out the contentious history behind the sauce. Originally paired with Disney's animated Mulan, a film which “collapsed millennia of complex Chinese history and culture into a flat, oversimplified pastiche,” the sauce simplified a complex culinary history into a single, westernized flavor. Tayag argues that a re-release of the sauce in collaboration with the forthcoming live-action film would be just as problematic as its original release, writing:
Rick and Morty
fans deserve to have their appetites for this now-mythical sauce sated, but not in relation to a live-action remake based on real Chinese folklore and culture. Asian-Americans already suffer from consistently one-dimensional portrayals in the media and only rarely get the opportunity to educate others about the differences between entire Asian nations, let alone nuances within an individual culture. Ultimately, what the Szechuan sauce effect does is flatten cultures that Western society deems too complex, too other to consider more carefully, and Asians have too often fallen victim to that judgment.
Many Rick and Morty fans took instant offense to this convincing argument. The show's co-creator Justin Roiland joked that McDonald's should bring the sauce back, but call it “high-problematic sauce.” A writer over at HeatStreet, William Hicks, decided he knew better than Tayag about what Asian-Americans do and do not need: “Really Yasmin? An additional sweet and sour sauce at McDonald's is the last thing Asian Americans need in this country?” (Hicks, by the way, is a white dude.)
You can watch the scenes from the episode that started this whole mess below, along with the original commercial for the Mulan Szechuan Sauce, which, if nothing else convinces you that a sauce revival would be a bad idea, this commercial probably should. “A taste of the East” ... Yikes.