A People’s History of the McGangBang

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McDonald’s is a bad company that gives us good feelings. This is why, after watching Super Size Me, many of us wanted to immediately go out and buy McDonald’s (which I actually did, at the McDonald’s inside the 24-hour Wal-Mart in Phoenix). When you film yourself eating McDonald’s for a month — as opposed to tackling McDonald’s contributing to mass deforestation, anti-union crackdowns, legal harassment of critics, promotion of binary gender roles in kids — you impose, or maybe embed, an emotional investment in the viewer to want to hold McDonald’s accountable, but not actually see any harm come to them.

The best comparison I can think of when thinking of McDonald’s relationship to working class Americans is graft-versus-host-disease. It’s when someone receives a transplant of living tissue (like bone marrow) and the transplanted tissue kills you with it’s immune system. A doctor I met at a party told me it was “probably one of the most fucked up ways to die”. Then we argued about whether Bernie would have won.

Imagine your life without McDonald’s. What gaps remain? What life experiences are swallowed? If you don’t do this exercise now, at least do it before you intend to engage with someone about politics or economics. Because inevitably, a capitalist will try to incite shame or guilt in you for having eaten from the poisoned tree of capital. You will need to know what exactly that fucking tree has taken from you, in what intimate parts of you that tree has put its greasy roots.

Because if you’re note prepared, you’ll end up like Wiley Brooks. He was the founder of the American wing of the Breatharian movement — murdering liars who try to convince people to give up food and live solely on water and air. He got caught coming out of a 7-11 with a soda, a hot dog, and a twinkie.

It forced him change his whole ideology. First it was “well, I’m on a junk planet, so I have to eat junk food to balance it out from time to time”, and then he went full “McDonald’s Double Cheeseburgers and Diet Coke are 5-dimensional foods made of light and cosmic reverberations.”

Don’t be like Wiley Brooks: first, don’t prey on people’s fear of death to trick them into starving themselves to death, and don’t get caught in a politically compromising position (as eating or buying anything under capitalism can be interpreted) unprepared and have to compromise your ideology.

For many of us, the local McDonald’s (or whatever fast food joint you prefer) replaced the community rec centers or YMCAs or after school programs that our parents or grandparents would’ve had. That programming is deep and cyclical.

Critiquing it forces us to engage with it, and engaging it triggers a retinue of difficult to unlearn emotional and physiological responses. When I see a headline about some McDonald’s related news item, I immediately think about the dysphoria a boy’s happy meal triggered in me, the joy of being allowed to order a “Big Mac” because I was a “big kid”, and that period of time in our family’s life where we were living on one income and so “takeout” meant Dad would just buy a big bag of .59 cent cheeseburgers and we’d divvy them up at the table.

It’s in this context I’d like to discuss the McGangBang. 

It’s when you take a McDouble, separate it into halves by peeling apart the patties, and insert a McChicken in the middle. The name dates back to at least as early as 2006 and it’s “canonicity” as a recognized secret menu item by McDonald’s managers is hotly debated. It’s really the estranged uncle of the whole “secret menu/menu hack” craze. This was before every blog had a listicle of Starbucks’ “drink hacks”—though the BBC has this fun article on Starbucks’ “secret coffee”.

You’ve got your “poor man’s Big Mac”, a McDouble with secret sauce, which lets you indulge on a budget, and you’ve got your Mc10:35, a McDouble combined with an Egg McMuffin, which lets you enjoy otherwise disparate elements (at least before McDonald’s started serving breakfast all day). Even making a soda float has a sort of utility to it.

The McGangBang is none of these. They’re both value menu items (the McDouble replaced the Double Cheeseburger as a dollar menu item in 2008) and are often featured together in combo meals—right now you can get one of each for $2.50.

There’s no advantage to putting them together. In fact, you could even argue it’s disadvantageous, since as a lot of poor folks who’ve lived off fast food can attest, sometimes dragging your meal out is the only luxury you can afford, and eating all your food at once means you don’t feel full so now you’ve spent all your money and still feel hungry.

The McGangBang isn’t a “hack” in the way that using a toilet paper tube to store your many electronic device cords is a hack. It’s a hack in the way that getting your Kindle to run Linux is a hack—an exercise in imposing will and individuality onto a system.

See: McDonald’s food isn’t meant to be complex. Or subtle. Or varied. They used to fry their chicken nuggets in beef tallow; now they just add beef flavoring to achieve that same uniform taste without any margin of variance. The essence of McDonald’s is for each item of food to to have a singular flavor profile; the flavor of an actual chicken patty is mild, even faint. The tastes we associate with the McChicken is the overhwelming mayo sauce that’s put on it. And unless you’ve ever tried a McGangBang or a Land, Air, and Sea, you might not ever realize it.

But when you put a McChicken between two beef patties and cheese, you can actually appreciate the texture and flavor of the chicken patty—the savory beef, cheese, and frankly, having all that extra bread helps diminish the presence of the mayo.

Eating something arranged to bring out a myriad of tastes and sensations, prioritizing “the experience” over “balanced” or “full”—

that’s literally what fine dining is. Or was, until everyone got way into food trucks and ruined the medium by flooding our streets with prized assholes peddling $10 poutine tacos. In any case, it’s what people with money do.

The McGangBang is a cousin of hot cheetos with ice cream and pinoy spaghetti—on the other side of the family tree you’d have beef wellington, duck l’orange, or a gazpacho with hot peppers. The premise is the same; it’s just a matter of audience.  The former are junk food frankensteins that mimic and rejoice in defiance of the “grander tier” of culinary indulgence that is often denied to them.

Even the name indicates a bite-back. Kink costs money. Good restraints and chastity belts and violet wands aren’t cheap. A gangbang requires less overhead. I am well aware this analysis is unintentional on the part of whoever named it, who probably named it because it’s a messy pile and thought “huh huh, that chicken is getting gangbanged”.

Though the question of how something like this gets named, and how the name is passed around, does introduce an intriguing element of back-channel subculture, since this isn’t something you can order by name. I’m sorry: I refuse to  believe that anyone has ever said “gangbang” to a McDonald’s employee’s face and been replied with “Oh yes, understood!” The McDonald’s in my neighborhood won’t even let me put special sauce on my fries.

It’s not like other “hacks” haven’t been incorporated into menus. KFC’s famous bowl is most definitely the result of observing customer behavior. Or any of KFC and Taco Bell’s numerous ploys to use fried chicken as a bread or wrap.

The McGangBang is a perfect hack, too weird and too brash to be incorporated into the McDonald’s canon. It’s a three layers of spite between four pieces of bread.

For all you steampunk fans out there: the equivalent of what I’m suggesting is if someone made a crude, working-class mock up of Professor Whizzlewhirl’s famous cornish game hen sandwich, gave it a crass cockney nickname so uncouth that Whizzlewhirl’s associates cannot reach a consensus on whether it should ever be acknowledged.

The “ethics” of capitalism are based on a faulty assumption of rational actors. We chose to work a job that underpays, and doesn’t offer benefits. We chose to live in a neighborhood with two McDonald’s and no local produce markets. Nothing compelled us then or now, sitting in the drive-thru, with only two hours left before we have to go back to sleep to go back to work, too tired to cook and too poor to go to the store and use our $5 on equally processed food that we’d be just as chastised for eating instead.

This is the system we were brought up in, caged in by the roots of this colossal shit tree.

I choose to think of the McGangBang as a seed of discontent, a marvel of gallows creativity.

It’s a sign: we know we deserve better.

Author: Jetta Rae

Founder of Fry Havoc. Can be found on twitter at @jetta_rae

1 Comment

  1. Marty says: Reply

    Holy crap. That was so well written. Mad props.

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