No One, Not Even You, Can Avoid Mercury Retrograde Anymore

Sorry boys, even McDonald's is in on it now

The planet Mercury, which is currently retrograde
You can run but you can't hide.

If your life, like mine, seems to be falling apart in an increasingly chaotic manner recently, I have some good news: you can probably blame it all on a planet. That’s right, the astrological phenomenon known as Mercury Retrograde is once again upon us, and this time no one, not even you die-hard astrology haters, can escape it.

I don’t necessarily mean to say that the effects of this Mercury Retrograde, which began on May 10, are projected to be particularly strong based on any astrological metric, but rather that Mercury Retrograde, as a cultural concept, has finally reached a level of mainstream awareness so ubiquitous as to be unavoidable. Case in point: even McDonald’s is in on it now, with the biggest name in mainstream American consumerism offering a free McChicken promo in honor of the astrological event. As Cosmopolitan‘s Erika W. Smith put it, we, as a society, have officially reached peak Mercury Retrograde — at least as far as brands are concerned.

But first, a very brief explainer for the uninitiated and/or willfully ignorant astrology-deniers out there. Mercury Retrograde refers to an astrological phenomenon during which Mercury appears to be moving backward from our perspective on Earth. It happens three or four times a year and lasts for about three weeks (not counting the pre- and post-shadow phases, of course, but that’s a lesson for another day). Astrologically, Mercury is the planet of technology, communication and transportation, so its retrograde period is often associated with trouble and confusion in those areas. In short, Mercury Retrograde tends to be a harbinger of life shakeups (and fuckups) big and small: missed trains, lost phones, cryptic texts from your ex, breakups, you name it. Culturally (if not 100% accurately, astrologically speaking) we tend to have a Murphy’s Law kind of approach to Mercury Retrograde: anything that can go wrong will.

Chances are, even if you’ve actively tried to put as much distance between yourself and the growing astrology craze as possible, you’ve heard of Mercury Retrograde in the past few years. It’s not a new thing — according to Smith, Mercury’s apparent backward trajectory has been observed for millennia — but the hoopla around it is relatively recent. While Mercury Retrograde got its first New York Times mention back in 1996, the trend really started to take off in the 2010s, quickly becoming the subject of countless memes, tweets and explainers. By July 2019, Mercury Retrograde had reached peak Google search traffic, according to Google Trends.

Still, despite its meteoric rise in popularity over the past decade or so, Mercury Retrograde has generally remained something of a niche internet trend reserved for young women and scoffed at by a vocal (and usually male) population of astrology haters. Until now, that is. As Smith and others have noted, a flurry of brands — most notably but by no means exclusively McDonald’s — are now suddenly cashing in on the trend, cementing Mercury Retrograde’s mainstream status with the ultimate seal of capitalist approval. In addition to Mercury Retrograde McChicken, there’s also Mercury Retrograde hard seltzer, Mercury Retrograde pizza promos, Mercury Retrograde cocktails and Mercury Retrograde tacos. (Taco Bell, as Smith noted, was ahead of the game, unveiling “MercuryRetroGrande Nachos” back in October.)

Like it or not, Mercury Retrograde has officially invaded the mainstream to the fullest extent possible under capitalism, and no one, not even you, can avoid its forces of chaos and destruction. All you can do is enjoy a free McChicken (with purchase of medium fries) while you wait for a planet to ruin your life.

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