Rick and Morty explores the depths of the darkness of the human dilemma. It deals with everything from gritty truths about family life to the smallness of our existence.
“Don’t run. Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody dies. Now, come watch TV,” Morty tells his sister Summer, who’s having a bitter teenage meltdown over news that her birth was a mistake. Summer’s going through a crisis that is threatening to shatter her sense of the world, but thanks to Grandpa Rick’s universe-bending, Morty has seen some things that put everything into perspective. What he’s saying is stark, but comforting.
In fact, this Morty isn’t even the Morty that was born into the dimension that Summer exists in. In first season episode “Rixty Minutes,” Morty explains to Summer that the Rick and Morty she grew up with are dead and have been buried and replaced by different versions of themselves who ruined all the people of their own Earth. The episode where this happens,
“Rick Potion #9,” ends with an unfazed Rick settling into his new, uncannily familiar environment with the same bored affect he approaches everything. However, you can feel the weight of the situation drawn all over Morty’s face while some haunting, churchlike music plays (Mazzy Star’s Look On Down from the Bridge.)
Part of the philosophical message of this show is that while it’s a human trait to look for meaning, and that meaning helps us live our lives, we tend to overthink it. (“Meeseeks are not born into this world fumbling for meaning, Jerry!” – Mr. Meeseeks) We tend cling to fundamental myths about ourselves that bevy our importance, but the responsibility of that illusion of importance can end up crushing us. It seems painful to think we are insignificant in comparison to the rest of the universe, or even in our little planet, but when we embrace that fact, we can find some relief. That’s why part of why it’s such a spiritual and psychologically calming experience to look up at the stars, or spend time in nature, or travel to unfamiliar places. We are afraid of feeling small, but once we actually feel small we realize it’s what we wanted all along. It’s the cure to an ego aflame.
It’s a brief cure, though. We constantly have to keep reminding ourselves that the massive universe in our heads full of drama, joy and hurt, is ours alone. In a way, we are like Unity, (from Auto-Erotic Assimilation) our internal worlds are incredibly complex and don’t fit under singular labels. We’re so much more than our outward presentation, than the social understanding others have of us. But still, this vastness is limited to our consciousness. We can get lost in the towers of our mind, but the reality is that the rest of the universe is indifferent to it. Other people are largely indifferent to our world, but they can also relate to it and communicate about it to some extent. The vast majority of things that exist cannot see or relate to any of it.
Morty’s not as smart as Rick, but the show follows him wizening through exposure to Rick’s embrace of Camus-like Absurdism. Rick’s sanded down by his experiences. He has a kind of flat acceptance of how absurd it is that we try to find meaning in the universe when the universe has no meaning to give us. Meaning is a human construct, which doesn’t mean it’s useless, but it means it’s far less significant that we’d like to belief. Meaning is how we process the crazy amount of information that comes at us every day, but our meaning doesn’t “mean” anything outside of ourselves, and that’s something we find it very hard to accept. We want our understanding of the world to be universal, to apply to any other conscious being that may be out there. Confronting the thought that it doesn’t, that our understanding of meaning doesn’t really apply to anything else than how we live our lives, is a bit difficult, but also freeing. It gives us a different kind of responsibility, a more personal one, than the responsibility of being important on a cosmic level.
Rick and Morty, in dealing with humans’ absurd state of existence, are also dealing with themselves as part of entertainment. (“Rixty Minutes” explicitly examines this.) The human desire, need even, to be entertained is constant in our lives. We crave stories, knowledge, music, art, to get our fix of feeling and thinking. We want our little zaps and tingles, new thought trains. When we are not consuming these things, we are talking about them with each other, and creating them ourselves. Our entertainment needs vary: we yearn to be challenged, disturbed, shocked, tickled, surprised, or just lulled. We want to cry, laugh, cringe, sharpen our curiosities, or just feel comforted for a minute. We want to relax, to lose ourselves.
Entertainment is such a huge part of our lives it almost seems criminal. We worry that we’re “wasting” our lives with it. Basically all I do is consume media and try to make it. It doesn’t seem as noble or rewarding as working in a hospital or even making sandwiches. But it is. We can get addicted to anything to a point where it can cause destruction, but our insatiable desire to be entertained and create entertainment, is part of who we are. We pulse with it. If we couldn’t read or watch it on our screens, we would sing it, we would tell it over food, we would draw it on the walls. We find joy and solace in doing these things, but we still want to know why we do it. Rick would answer this “why,” with “Don’t think about it.” Part of grappling with absurdism is not getting too lost in the whys (it’s whys all the way down,) especially when the whys are just sly grasps for feeling important. Art does not need to be validated, it exists because it exists, because we are compelled to want it and to create it. As Camus pointed out: “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
Haven’t seen Rick and Morty? You need to fix that.
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