Spaceman's Pancakes

Subscribing to the Cosmic Snowball Theory: A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won't matter if I write this blog

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The Re-Animated Podcast: Episode 3- Return to Oz

What if the merry old land of Oz we all came to love from the 1939 Judy Garland-classic was less merry and more of a horrific post-apocalyptic dreamscape? Well, then you’d be watching the 1985 Disney film Return to Oz. 

It’s bleak. It’s terrifying. It has the structure of an actual nightmare. And it co-stars a chicken. Yet, we watched it as children and we loved it (maybe?). Now we have watched it again as adults and tried- unsuccessfully- to wrap our heads around it. Even as adults it is incredibly scary, but as ridiculous it may be, we could not look away.

Enjoy the third episode of the Re-Animated Podcast as we break down Return to Oz. 

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Are McDonald’s Recent “Fails” a Strategy?

Bob Dylan sings, “She knows there’s no success like failure/ and that failure’s no success at all” in his song She Belongs To Me.  It’s one of those great Dylan lines that is both totally captivating and essentially meaningless. But, while it is more of a clever construction than an actual insight, it has the tendency to reverberate in an interesting way in the modern culture of the internet and social media, where getting people’s attention takes either a massive dedication to quality content and breathtaking consistency or a single instance of hilarious ineptitude. #Fail is often the most successful thing there is these days.

That is why the recent failings of McDonald’s marketers are fascinating to me. The most recent one was the Black Friday twitter fail. If you missed it, McDonald’s Twitter account was set to make some deal offer for the biggest day of the year and the poor person in their social media department hit send before… oh, you know… adding whatever deal was planned, resulting in- “Black Friday **** Need copy and link****” going out to the world. Predictably, people jumped online to mock the ubiquitous fast-food restaurant and slap together sarcastic memes. But buried in the L.A. Times article linked to above is the casual observation that-

“Some social and community managers even expressed their empathy for the situation, which although embarrassing proved to be an excellent source of social traffic”

That simple mistake drove traffic for one of the largest companies in the world. And beyond that, it is not embarrassing in any way that is actually costly to the McDonald’s brand. No one tampered with the food or did anything else that would injure the company in a real and substantial way. It is the kind of innocent mistake that is easy to sympathize with and somehow actually reminds us that a restaurant chain is so mammoth that it feeds one-percent of the earth’s population every day is made up of actual people, some of them just as bad using twitter as we are.

The net results of this fail are:

  • A social media traffic surge
  • The brand being talked about on the biggest shopping day of the year
  • A sympathetic, humanizing moment for a corporate behemoth

No Success like failure.

If the Black Friday tweet was intentional (I doubt that it was) it was social media genius of the highest order.  Though this instance was probably unintentional, I am willing to bet that somewhere out there, a sharp-minded social media manager is looking for an opportunity to fake a fail like this one for the attention it will bring.

If that sounds paranoid, just hang on a minute because the Black Friday tweet is only the tip of my McDonald’s social-media-conspiracy-iceberg. The real stroke of possibly-evil genius was the companies “mishandling” of the Rick and Morty promotion.

First, a quick recap of the incident. The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim show Rick and Morty, a dark comedy about evil super-genius Rick, revealed in the third-season premiere that Rick was doing all his evil deeds to acquire the Szechuan sauce McDonald’s had released as part of a Mulan promo back in late 1990’s when that film was in theaters.  McDonalds, a company never known for being hip and which has a complicated relationship with today’s younger costumers, saw a chance to look cool and edgy. They set-up a limited re-release of the sauce to satisfy the demand of the rabid fans of this cult TV show and offered the product at select stores on October 7. The “limited” release turned out to be far too limited for the shows fans and they raged against the company online until the company was forced to apologize and promise more of the now-deified sauce.

As Claire McNear’s article for The Ringer that I linked to above points out, nobody came out looking great here. It is really hard to imagine that this was an engineered move to attract attention because mega-brands don’t take risks as a rule and intentionally infuriating a group of people to get people talking about your brand is an enormous risk.


We, as a culture, are talking about a McNugget sauce from an ad campaign for a bad Disney movie that came out around twenty years ago. The story got covered by CNN, The New York Times, The Ringer, Gizmodo, everyone. It was big news. Rick and Morty is a very popular cable comedy, one of the most popular, in fact. But what counts as the audience for one of the most popular shows on television? Between three and four million viewers a night. McDonalds feed around 70 million a day, everyday. Among viewers, the subsection of die-hard fans- the ones who waited in line for Szechuan sauce- is a small percentage. Even if that percentage is as high as thirty percent of the total audience, that is still just a million people. Alienating a million people is probably not something any brand wants to do, but would it be worth the risk if it attracted a million other people who didn’t care at all about the product before?

After all, die-hard fans die hard. They might be mad that they didn’t get Szechuan sauce, but they are going to just stop wanting it. They are coming for the sauce regardless. The whole problem was there no being enough of it, after all.  From the evil-social-media-marketing-conspiracy perspective, the beauty of this “fail” is that I now want it (well, a little anyway). I have never watched Rick and Morty and I rarely eat McDonald’s, buying it only in desperation (or inebriation, maybe). Yet, because the fine folks at McDonald’s created this sensation and then failed massively in delivering it, I am now interested in two things that were not even previously on my radar. I am certain I am not the only one. A brand like McDonald’s could spend millions on ads and social strategies and never reach me in any meaningful way. I know what McDonald’s is. I have known McDonald’s as long as I have been alive. Their ubiquity is their biggest liability. They are just part of the landscape. They are as easily ignored as telephone poles. I might eat their food occasionally but I do not care about them at all. Or I didn’t care about them at all until they let down thousands of fans of a TV show I have never seen. That may not be success, but sometimes, as the man says, there is no success like failure.

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Poem of the Day #22- 9/12/17

Alone on the concrete
As the dawn begins
The echo of the ball against the pavement
Is the only sound
My head rises
As I cross the chipped paint arch
And press the ball harder
Down into the ground
Faster- Double time-
Two fast steps and I pull
Up from the cement
I rise-
     Feet pressing up
          Knees extending
               Arms gliding up
Until I am free of gravity
As the ball floats to the hoop
The world is silent
          The day in its rising arch
               And Fall
The rattle of hoop and backboard break the spell
And now it is time to work

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Introducing The Re-Animated Podcast

In the house I grew up in, there was a closet that held our movie library. This was no glorious collection of 35mm prints or pristine laserdiscs and this was long before DVD, in time when blue-ray could only have possibly been a reference to a species of fish. This closet held VHS tapes.

Even by the low standards of that humble medium, these were low-quality. Some strict, unspoken edict in our house demanded that every tape be filled to the eight-hour long-play maximum and each one was. Actual store bought VHS movies were the exception. This collection was built on dubs. Movies and tv shows were taped one after the other until the run-time was maxed.  No thought was given to the order of the contents or their connection to each other. I recall that The Empire Strikes Back was second a tape that contained some lesser works that have been forgot, leaving only the bitter memory of having to fast-forward through something else to get to the best of the Star Wars films.

But for all the poor quality and Empire-access issues, that closet of VHS tapes was a defining force in my life and in the life of my younger brother, Mike. It was the 1980’s and this technology was revolutionary. For the first time ever, the average person could play a movie in their home. And the average parent could put one on for their kids to get them to stop beating each other for a solid ninety minutes. For those kids, it shaped their lives.

We were those kids and now we are adults.

So we are going back. Opening that closet back up and looking inside at the films that passed our rainy days and bored childhood nights.

Every month, Mike and I are looking back at one iconic film- iconic for us, that is- watching it and reflecting on it.

In Episode 1, we look at the 1982 Rankin/Bass animated film The Last Unicorn. If you too were entranced, engrossed and traumatized by this film as a kid or if you just want to hear me destroy a tiny bit of Mike’s childhood, watch with us and enjoy Re-Animated: Episode 1- The Last Unicorn.