The drive-thru Dorothy Parker
Or, the woman who perfected fast-food Twitter
|Benjamin Errett||Sep 10|| 10||1|
Fast-food Twitter, like fast food itself, is great until you learn how it’s made.
The tweets are famously silly, premised on the idea that a product whose target market is teenage boys has free rein to be a little more gonzo than, say, JC Penney. The major chains will start beefs about each others’ products, call out other brands on spelling mistakes, and generally act like they’re hanging out in a parking lot after dark.
The origins of this genre are wrapped in corporate bafflegab and brand identity politics, which is exactly not how the burger places tweet. You try to find out why Wendy’s likes to roast its customers and you end up hearing that “the team here doesn’t have delineation between hard silos” and then you wonder: Did I just get roasted?
Which is why I want to give all the credit for fast-food Twitter to Amy Brown. Furthermore, I hereby declare her the Dorothy Parker of fast-food Twitter. And I say that knowing full well (as per GWQ No 29) that “if you didn’t know Dorothy Parker, whatever you think she was like, she wasn’t. Even if you did know her, whatever you thought she was like, she probably wasn’t.”
By her own telling, Amy Brown was always extremely online. “The hours I spent in front of my computer as a teenager became my professional training,” and that launched her into a job as a social media manager for Wendy’s. She spent most of her four-and-a-half years at the company “doing things that nobody outside the company noticed,” including managing endless rude public complaints on Twitter. She documented her struggle with depression in a series of eloquent Medium essays, the last one of which explains how getting through the day represents victory:
You want me to tell you there’s a happy ending here — that you spend Christmas climbing a mountain or you get your dream job or you do something spectacular at the end of 2016 that ties this story into a neat little bow and puts you on an upward trajectory.
She ends the piece by saying that just returning to work was enough. But she did do something spectacular — or at least Twitter-spectacular — a few weeks later. She was covering for one of her team members over the holiday break when she had this exchange:
It briefly became international news, providing what Mashable called “an unexpected beacon of light in 2017.” It’s particularly Parker-esque that this quick-witted reply came during a very difficult part of Brown’s life. It launched a whole sub-genre of fast-food twitter wherein the big brands would tease their customers. It made Brown a star, though she soon realized the star was not her but a persona she calls “Wendy’s Social Media Girl” — again, just as Parker’s quips were romanticized while the actual person was forgotten.
And so this story of fast-food Twitter is just the spicy-chicken flavoured version of the classic Internet story: A woman used to being harassed does something clever, various trolls make her life miserable, everyone copies the clever thing until it’s routine, and eventually a man takes credit for launching it in the first place.
Brown left Wendy’s later in 2017. She’s still online if not extremely so, and she tweets regularly. She’s currently living through the apocalyptic skies of San Francisco. As per that line about Parker, whatever I think she’s like, she probably isn’t, so here’s her ending:
Quick quip; lightning
“Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger.”
— Abbie Hoffman, maybe.
Link link, nudge nudge
“Liz Smith (the columnist) has told,
A story grim and dark,
About a girl named Parker who,
Can’t find a place to park.”
— Joseph McLellan, as quoted in this excellent New Yorker piece by Laurie Gwen Shapiro detailing the long saga of Dorothy Parker’s ashes, which were re-buried last month in Woodlawn Cemetery. Lesson within: Make sure the executor of your will gets something, as they could really mess up your afterlife.
“Drain the blood, cure and slice the flesh, season and fry the potatoes, feed them the sugar water. Be born. Toil. Die. Arby's. We sell food.”
— Brendan Kelly, as quoted in this story of how Arby’s killed Nihilist Arby’s with kindness. It makes nihilism seem more attractive than roast beef.
“There is nothing at McDonald’s that makes it necessary to have teeth.”
— Vance Bourjaily, as quoted in The Hamburger: An American Lyric, an entertaining cultural history. Does he mean you don’t need to chew or it’s not worth chewing?
That was GWQ No. 63. Once the guy at Wendy’s told me I could save time by ordering a Big Bacon Classic by just saying No. 4. I launched my writing career in the many hours saved by that handy tip. A lot of people dip their fries in their Frosty, and the endmatter of a newsletter is not the place to judge. Kanye West once wrote a poem about McDonald’s for Frank Ocean’s zine. I mentioned Kanye (but not that poem) in my book called Elements of Wit: Mastering The Art of Being Interesting. Please supersize the ♥️ below.