This is not really a review of the Wendy's Pulled Pork Cheese Fries; in order for it to function as a review, I would have to go to a Wendy's location and say, aloud, to a Wendy's employee, "I will have the Pulled Pork Cheese Fries," and I can't even rehearse that without my hands literally punching me in the face of their own accord.
Generally speaking, the promotional depiction of a foodstuff is meant to present it in the most appealing possible way; this is why, in advertisements for, say, McDonald's, the Big Mac looks like a robust, fresh, colorful paragon of burger, and not like a dismal sauce-soaked bun stack with a few meat chips and grey lettuce flakes stashed furtively inside it among the fistfuls of pickle slices and onion gravel. Establishments go to great lengths to produce these idealized depictions of their foods. They hire food stylists, for chrissakes, whose sole job is to produce the tastiest-looking representation of, say, the Bac 'n' Cheddar Waffullicious Waffle, even if that production involves plastic food and hairspray and personal lubricant. It's important. It's what makes people want to go out and buy some garbage food, against their better judgment—better judgment being, after all, anathema to the crud-food industry.
Given the amount of effort and artifice that goes into these representations—given that the ad agencies and food stylists involved in their creation can do pretty much anything they need to do in order to render the food delicious-looking—it's always a bit ominous when you see one of them that still looks gross and unappetizing. TGI Fridays, for example, has always struggled with this:
They've never come close to figuring out how to make the brown slime they pour over all their food look like anything other than corn syrup with powdered bouillon stirred into it; maybe that's not the entire reason they're selling off their restaurants like Sega Dreamcast games at a yard sale, but it's certainly not helping, either.
You can always pretty safely assume at least a 25-percent attractiveness gap between how a food looks in the ads and how it will look when a pimply teen delivers it to you in the chain eatery of your choice. So when it looks like ragged, inedible shit in its most idealized representation, you're right to expect that when you get to the restaurant, the sight of it will cause you, unthinkingly, to make the sign of the cross on yourself.
With that in mind, scroll on back up to the top and take a gander at what Wendy's (and its various advertisement-producing partnerships) came up with when tasked with promoting the company's new pulled-pork poo-tine. Who wants that sad heap of ugly food? Hi, I'll take the french fries with Fancy Feast and red onions, please, and can you have Big Bird blow his nose on it before you bring it out? It looks like something your middle-aged bachelor uncle whips up for the July 4th potluck, and everybody kind of smiles sadly and goes "It's good that he's trying to develop some hobbies since he got out." If that rendition of Wendy's Pulled Pork Cheese Fries is 25-percent better-looking than the real thing, holy cow, what does the real thing look like?
As it turns out, it looks like this:
That is not something you eat! That is something you douse with gasoline and set ablaze, so that it does not infect anyone. That is something that, when the aforementioned uncle presents it at the potluck, provokes meaningful eye-contact and nods of acknowledgement: Oh man, he's off the wagon again. That is food that makes you say "Woof," and not just because of the possibility that some of its contents once said "Woof," too.
Condemning the Wendy's Pulled Pork Cheese Fries because they're not particularly good-looking is probably a bit unfair: Presentation is a part of what makes good food good (and not a small part), but it's still just a component part. Taste, certainly, is a more important part, and whether the food nourishes you and makes you feel good (or, conversely, causes you to expel your organs) is pretty crucial, too—but those are the things you learn about a food after you've been enticed to consume it. And why would anyone consume these things? What desire drives someone into an otherwise perfectly not-terrible fast-food burger joint in pursuit of a square tray of fries with the disemboweled innards of a pulled-pork sandwich dumped across them?
The answer, I suspect, is a kind of glazed, bored curiosity, contained and directed by the dearth of worth-a-shit eating options near the sorts of sad office parks and off-ramp business strips where Wendy's (along with its fast-food and casual dining brethren) sells so much of its food. By the 6,371st time you've hoofed across the tarmac to Wendy's with Dave and Ted and Dwayne, looking to grab some lunch and get back in time for the 1:15 conference call, shit, man, it's pretty tough to get excited about yet another double-cheeseburger and fries. And you go, Hey, maybe I'll try the new pulled-pork thingy today. Maybe it'll make me feel a little less bad about never following through on my plans to take a road-trip to Canada and have some real poutine!
Because even if it's terrible—even if you know it's going to be pretty terrible and then it's even worse than that—hell, at least it will make today different from yesterday, and life perhaps slightly less like a cruel Purgatory in which the only thing that ever changes is how old and sad it makes you feel.
And if there's a way to appreciate Wendy's for offering this variety to the trudging cubicle-dwellers of the world, there's also something depressing and horrifying about how neatly this minor, bizarre, slapdash ameliorative to the humdrum boredom of office drones dovetails with The Wendy's Company's imperative to satisfy its shareholders by continually cranking out arbitrary new products. That is to say, the Pulled Pork Cheese Fries exist not because anyone at Wendy's has some passion for pulled pork, or cheese fries, but because many people at Wendy's have a passion for dividing consumers from their money, and our boredom, our numbness, the cultural sterility and homogeneity of our anonymous suburbs, make us desperately easy marks.
Maybe the Wendy's Pulled Pork Cheese Fries taste great. Who the hell wants to find out?