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Christopher ParkerJune 27, 2023
Grimace and all of his friends celebrating his birthday with a Grimace Shake, center (Screenshot taken from YouTube)

The Grimace Shake gives me hope for humanity.

Before studying journalism, I had never touched Twitter. I had no interest. I didn’t really understand the appeal of the microblog (in part because I didn’t understand how much modern political news was taking place there). If you aren’t chronically online, maybe you feel as I did: that Twitter is an objectively bad entity that distorts reality by amplifying the most controversial voices.

I joined Twitter reluctantly, in the fall of 2019, as part of my journalism curriculum. And for a while, I only used it as a professional tool. I followed politicians and news sites. I dutifully tweeted out my articles. That was all.

But over time, other tweets began to infiltrate the fortress I had so carefully built. A friend would send me a meme, or I would go scrolling through the Explore page for story ideas, and the algorithm would start to work its dark magic. It fed me more of what I liked and shot me down a rabbit hole into the more traditional experience of Twitter.

Film Twitter is one of the most vicious and unforgiving places I’ve visited in my life. And I’m from New York.

Much of what I found was not good. If you’re not on Twitter, everything you might hear about the preponderance of personal attacks, the moral posturing, the misinformation or misrepresentation of facts by fake experts—it’s all true. And it permeates far beyond the world of news and politics; Film Twitter, for example, is one of the most vicious and unforgiving places I’ve visited in my life. And I’m from New York.

Given that I never participate in the discussions, I feel like a spectator in the Roman colosseum when I scroll on Twitter. I watch with horror as people tear each other apart, with admiration as my friends wade into the fray to defend viewpoints that I also hold—and, I’m ashamed to admit, with visceral, vengeful joy as someone I dislike gets dunked on.

Twitter has done its best to make me cynical. But every once in a while, there is a Grimace Shake moment.

Allow me to explain: As a promotional stunt earlier this month, McDonald’s planned a birthday celebration for what can only be described as a fuzzy purple Dorito with arms and legs. Grimace began as a core member of the M.C.U. (McDonald’s Commercial Universe). Initially a henchman for the Hamburglar, he was eventually rebranded as a benevolent, if bumbling, member of the Ronald McDonald gang.

Twitter has done its best to make me cynical. But every once in a while, there is a Grimace Shake moment.

At the start of June, McDonald’s took to Twitter to announce that Grimace would be getting a birthday celebration this year. Memes and ads promoted a Grimace-themed meal, complete with a mauve milkshake and a Twitter takeover to honor the birthday boy.

If that all sounds sort of dumb to you, you’re not alone. These days, global brands like McDonald’s tend to lean into the weird and informal world of social media. They tweet with purposefully bad grammar; they comment on whatever’s trending; they pick fights with individuals.

The early days of this were pretty funny. The recent days are not. A quirky, edgy social media presence has become a norm, not a novelty, and the flagrant profiteering behind it flies in face of Twitter’s sarcastic and cynical ethos.

Ergo: McDonald’s tweets, “are u gonna let me order a Filet-O-Fish or are u gonna be weird about it.” My reply: “Silence, brand.”

So when the Grimace birthday celebration launched, I rolled my eyes and scrolled away. I’m not about to allow one of the world’s worst polluters and wage thieves to suck me in. But then, something began to happen. Twitter took back the Grimace Shake: People riffed off of each other’s memes. They made jokes about the flavor or the experience of buying a Grimace Shake. There was really no vantage point from which to troll, no angle for being combative or divisive. It was just an army of people refusing to take themselves too seriously in a space specifically designed for people who take themselves too seriously. It was glorious (unlike the shake, which I tried and shared with America coworkers. It was…fine.)

It was just an army of people refusing to take themselves too seriously in a space specifically designed for people who take themselves too seriously.

I’ve seen this kind of lighthearted camaraderie before—for example, when the container ship “Ever Given” got stuck for six days in the Suez Canal. But there’s something poetic in particular about a multimillion dollar brand campaign, meant to extract consumer dollars for an S&P 500 company, that unintentionally creates unity. The Grimace Shake crossed oceans and language barriers to connect people in the most juvenile way. In a place usually brimming with conflict and primed for schadenfreude, I couldn’t help but heave a sigh of relief at the sense of peace.

I would be thrilled if Twitter disappeared tomorrow. The algorithmic design of social media websites rewards blind loyalty, punishes nonconformity and (as we’ve seen) leaves the entire world vulnerable to conspiracy theories and lies. I hate to think that I’m exposing myself to all that willingly by being on Twitter. Unfortunately, those of us in the business of information do not have the luxury to wash our hands of the website.

 

Maybe, though, that’s a good thing. The Grimace Shake phenomenon has affirmed my hope that most humans fundamentally seek connection, not division. We don’t want to be unkind. Our frequent urges to put each other down are just a response to fear of rejection, in the hopes of gaining acceptance. Twitter and other social media platforms take that fear to new heights because you can face rejection on hitherto unimaginable levels.

When we remove the presupposition that someone must lose in order for us to win, when we let the childish goofiness of the Grimace Shake unite us instead of letting the latest Wes Anderson movie drive us to bloodlust, we can actually all enjoy each other’s company. 

So I thank you for shining a light in the darkness, Grimace. Say hi to your family over in Ireland for me.

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