The Rise of Rick and Morty: What It Tells Us About Ourselves

by Calvin Foreman  /  @theharmacist_

Mainstream media can often provide excellent insight into both the cultural attitude and the individual mindset of the people who are drawn to it. An example of this theory is Rick and Morty, a critically acclaimed animated science fiction TV show that many people reading this are probably already aware of. The show follows the adventures of cynical mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his anxious grandson Morty as they have adventures around the multiverse. It’s a chaotic cartoon that manages to present a mix of funny, cynical humor and heartfelt drama. As for what Rick and Morty can teach us about ourselves, I believe protagonist Rick Sanchez represents the individual struggling with the emotional insecurity of a postmodern attitude.

In one episode of Rick and Morty, a school dance is just around the corner for a frantic Morty who is willing to do whatever he can to catch the attention of his crush. He begs Rick to use his scientific knowledge to help him. Rick agrees to help and gives Morty a serum mixed with Morty’s DNA which would cause his crush or anyone who comes into contact with it to fall in love with him indefinitely, only to find out that Rick forgot to mention to Morty the symptoms created by the serum become extremely contagious if spread through the flu. Conveniently for the plot, it was flu season, and once he ended up using the serum at the proper moment during the school dance, it causes a school-wide epidemic of crazed Morty-lovers who chase him and attempt to mate with him.

Luckily enough for Morty, Morty’s sister tells Rick that it’s flu season just in time for him to rescue Morty from the zombie-fied students. Rick pulls out another serum which he created in attempt to reverse the first mistake. When used on the already infected students it causes them to mutate into horrific half-insects and spread the virus worldwide within hours, leaving only Rick and Morty’s direct family unchanged.

Rick, seeing no way to solve the issue, jumps into an alternate universe where not only was the humanity-wiping crisis which they created was averted, but both the Rick and Morty which lived there died directly afterwards, leaving the spot open for the Rick and Morty being followed in the plot to take their place and continue leading their normal (relatively) lives.

Now, the necessary question. What about this drawn-out seemingly  depressing series of events entertaining? Your avid Rick and Morty fan would probably respond with “all of it” but we want to know why.

There’s no doubt the show is well-written. The dialogue is witty and there are often side-stories during many of the episodes (and some full episodes) that deal with the rocky marriage of Morty’s parents, the extremely low intelligence of his father, or deriving humor out of the silliness of many of the fantasized creatures and aliens displayed in the show etc. But side-stories and small laughs aren’t the key to the show’s success. The concepts Rick and Morty deals with give it the depth it’s known for.

The show shares many stylistic choices with the cosmic horror genre. It utilizes the boundless imaginative frontier of the of the cosmos to create moral dilemmas and interesting plots similar to the classic writings of H.P. Lovecraft or movies such as Alien, Event Horizon, etc. where horror isn’t derived from merely fearing a specific outcome or possible future which we see as undesirable, but by pinching at our deepest nerves, being insignificant and helpless to an infinitely cold unknown.

What separates this show in particular from the traditional cosmic horror is that it turns the moral dilemmas and internal insecurities created and developed through the plot upside down and laughs at them. It derives dark comedy and shock-value from the pain of various characters involved, dealing with the indifference of the universe to our short and insignificant lives by spitting in the face of all which is traditionally held to the utmost importance. Rick and Morty endears itself to us by embracing the abyss created by the feeling of dealing with the ultimate triviality of our day-to-day lives.

In order to have something to fear, there must be something to value in which you fear losing, and for an individual growing in the postmodern world – our world, where the tradition and the values that previously provided a stable ideological frame for society and our emotional lives are seldom held or respected. Being taught that ourselves, those we care for and our highest ideals and fears are nothing but blips in the endless darkness of the cosmos, being objectively no more important than the dust gathering under our furniture, is not the best life philosophy for a motivated and mentally healthy individual, regardless of whether it may be “true” and therefore laughing, with the help of Rick and Morty, at our greatest insecurities caused by this larger issue provides the perfect remedy.


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