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This week, the internet leaned into one of my favorite genres of memes: absurdist dark memes. People created what were essentially short horror films and posted them on TikTok. They all start the same way: one person or a group of people poses with the McDonald’s Grimace shake and starts drinking it. Then it cuts to later that day or night, usually in a found footage perspective. That’s when it becomes a horror film: purple goo everywhere, people who consumed the shake looking like they are dead or dying.
I became obsessed with the videos. Not only are they creative, but the dark humor is reminiscent of meme culture from a few years ago. It reminded me of Tide Pod memes and other “forbidden” food memes. But the Tide Pod “challenge” took off following news reports of people actually ingesting the laundry pods—which are toxic. (Once again: don’t eat Tide Pods!) Luckily, most of the people making Tide Pod memes were joking about them looking delicious. And it even led to recipes for edible snacks that resemble the colorful swirl of Tide Pods.
This time, everyone is joking about a food that is actually edible. The Grimace shakes are made with vanilla ice cream and a special syrup that tastes like boysenberry. How do I know that? Well, I actually drank (part of) one this week. After watching all the Grimace TikTok videos, my fiancé wanted to try one and looked up the nearest McDonald’s. Our first trip was unsuccessful: after pulling into the drive-thru, the worker informed us the shakes were not currently available. The staff apparently turned off the shake machine. (On a 100-degree-day, I don’t blame them.) We tried again the next day. This time, we prepared: I looked on the app to see if it was available at a certain location.
We easily acquired the shake and drove off. We split a medium shake, although I limited my sips because I can’t digest dairy properly. I expected a stomach ache or at least the mildly ill feeling you get after consuming too much sugar. But I felt OK. My fiancé finished the shake before we got home.
Why it matters
A lot of people didn’t even know who Grimace was before the shake went viral. The fuzzy purple creature was apparently born on June 12, and the fast-food chain wanted to mark this occasion with purple drinks and a birthday meal. A lot of companies offer gimmicks and promotions tied to their products, but this one really stuck.
As brands continue to market new products—just look at what’s going on with the Barbie movie—companies will inevitably try to create the next Grimace shake. But you can’t plan for a product to go viral. Usually, it’s an accident. The memes were effective, though. They led to me, a person who rarely eats fast food, trying out the sugary shake.
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