Wubba Lubba Dub Dub, A Cry from the Millennials
This was originally published by Students For Liberty in 2015.
On October 12th, 2015, season two of the popular Adult Swim show Rick and Morty came to an abrupt end, much to the dismay of enthusiastic followers. The frustration expressed in response to the cliffhanger ending illustrates the appreciation of the fanbase and showcases Rick and Morty as an example of a new and flourishing kind of comedy. More than the blend of science fiction and comedy, its heavy focus on themes about human morality are what make the show what it is, which includes explorations into the validity of both freedom and government.
Animated shows with mature themes are not a new phenomenon. South Park is famous for utilizing animation and outrageous comedy in order to delve deeper into societal issues and Futurama has had touching, if not melancholy, moments, despite being a normally lighthearted show.
What makes Rick and Morty stand out?
Science fiction originated with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and since then, has produced many works that explore human nature through futuristic, or even unfathomable, technology. H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, for example, pondered socioeconomic equality and what that meant for the outcome of humanity, and a plethora of 1950s films speculated about human existence in a fabricated universe, thanks to anxiety stemming from the Cold War. Few science fiction works, however, featured comic effect. Later, the original Jurassic Park film incorporated comedy into its science fiction storyline, but it served more as an embellishment than an essential part of the story.
On the contrary, contemporary works, like Red Dwarf and Futurama, rely on comedy, which usually manifests through zany characters and the manipulation of science fiction tropes. It would be safe to assume most people start watching Rick and Morty because it’s funny, but stay thanks to a genuine interest in the characters and intellectual stimulation. The comedy is integral to the story and pokes fun at science fiction, not afraid to invoke humor from the malevolent actions of characters, brought upon by their fantastical adventures.
We, the viewers, are able to become as perplexed as the characters are because the show creates situations that almost never have a neatly wrapped-up conclusion. For example, in the episode “Auto Erotic Assimilation,” Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets the outrageous and perverted when Rick bumps into the hive-mind alien named Unity he used to date. Rick’s granddaughter, Summer, does not agree with the idea of a parasite — no matter how peaceful — overtaking individuals, believing it to be immoral. She calls this arrangement a “planet of puppets.” Before Unity, sex offenders and drug addictions ailed this alien planet. However, when Unity becomes impaired while partying with Rick, losing control over some of the life-forms it has possessed, Summer comes face-to-face with some of the planet’s violent residents, who are in a ceaseless race war. After being saved by Unity, Summer explains that she “didn’t know freedom meant people doing stuff that sucks,” but merely being able to choose your own cell phone carrier.
As much as freedom includes being able to participate in voluntary transaction, it may also lead, at least hypothetically, to more chaos. The show doesn’t tell us if freedom and individuality are entirely good or bad, but forces the viewers to ask themselves to what extent we advocate for freedom, especially with the promises of a harmonious society.
A recurring topic within the show is that of government. Throughout the first season, Rick voices for disdain for government, even the Council of Ricks, which is a government-like entity that Ricks from other dimensions have created and which they oblige him to join. The Rick we know snubs them like he would any other government.
Beyond that, we learn in the season two finale that Rick applies his dislike for order on pretty much all levels, including in his scientific work. In that episode, Bird Person tells Beth, Rick’s daughter and Morty’s mother, that the Galactic Federation is after him and Rick for committing “numerous atrocities in the name of freedom.” We do not know what Rick has done with most of his life, but this has been the most insightful look into it. It also gives us a better idea of his views on freedom, which could possible be summed up as Anarchism as an alternative to the scientific method.
A science fiction comedy centered on a mad scientist is the most cliche description someone could give Rick and Morty. Through Rick’s experimentation and indifference to acceptable measures of ethics, the story is developed and his philosophy is explored. It shows that dystopian, futuristic stories are not necessary for questioning the roles of established norms and institutions. War, crippling government debt, and insecure state programs are truths we still have to live with, as well as the mindsets and events that created them. Through its mixture of the funny and mundane, Rick and Morty has been able to resonate with these unsettling realities that millennials have had to face. After decades of feeling helpless in an ever-changing and hostile political climate, we have learned that laughter is, indeed, the best medicine.