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The alignment chart, borrowed from the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, is a common way of classifying different characters or situations along axes of good and evil, law and chaos. Many variations of the traditional 3-by-3 chart have floated through the meme world over the years, but perhaps the best and weirdest is the new McDonald’s Alignment Chart meme.
The chart is a pyramid based on a standup bit by comedian John Mulaney, about how his dad trolled him with false promises of McDonald’s meal. He pulled the vanload of kids into the restaurant’s drive-thru, then only ordered black coffee. For himself.
Here’s the relevant clip from Mulaney’s The Comeback Kid :
The joke was transformed into an alignment chart by Tumblr user Shattered Earth, who wrote:
“TIRED: Categorizing characters as top or bottom
WIRED: Categorizing characters as “We have food at home” “Orders single black coffee” or “Mcdonalds! Mcdonalds! mcdonalds!”
In other words: what kind of parent would this character be? The practical, stingy one? The indulgent one who wants McDonald’s as much as the kids? Or John Mulaney’s trolling-ass dad? Characters can also be combinations of the three aspects, falling anywhere on the pyramid.
The original example used characters from Blizzard’s Overwatch game franchise:
The meme has propagated through Tumblr and games Twitter in the first few days of 2018, sorting characters from Nier Automata, Persona 5, and other games of the moment.
this cannot continue pic.twitter.com/40j5nnFlgO— czub (@mczub) January 3, 2018
well. here's this pic.twitter.com/4MERK3iiHg— im hazel (@poshmaven) January 3, 2018
useful alignment chart pic.twitter.com/fM2ezTQkA1— Salmiakki (@sssalmiakki) January 3, 2018
On Reddit’s Sailor Moon forum, someone applied to the characters from that anime:
On r/memeeconomy, where meme traders gather to discuss which memes are hot and which are disappearing, someone asked if the McDonald’s alignment character was worth investing in.
This is noteworthy because Tumblr-originated memes rarely make the jump to Reddit, for reasons of conflicting taste. Both Redditors and Tumblr users love video games, though, so someone apparently thought the Overwatch version of the chart could make the jump.
Apparently, the original Mulaney bit was too obscure and the meme was too confusing for Reddit memers. Even commenters who claimed to play Overwatch were left scratching their heads.
On Twitter and Tumblr, though, people have really embraced the meme. The McDonald’s Alignment Chart is a hit:
It’s surprising how well it works to graph the characters from any entertainment franchise. There have even been heated debates about where someone belongs on the graph.
Because “Orders a single black coffee” is so much more subtle and complex than “chaotic evil.”
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.