Sebastian Muriel
Oct 5, 2018 · 11 min read

Rick Sanchez: Internet Troll Extraordinaire

Rick Sanchez’s nihilism, cynicism, and narcissism are expressed through a tragic personality that copes with existential indifference by traveling across dimensions, inventing new gadgets, fighting (or fornicating with) aliens, and doing all the things that the smartest man in the universe would do. The show confronts the existentially-challenging depths of philosophy and quantum physics while having a character named Mr. Poopy Butthole. In other words, the show’s tone playfully wavers between intelligent discourse and lowbrow humor. Regardless, it’s accessible to any viewer by virtue of its lucid execution of such complex topics. Rick’s tragic personality and unmatched intelligence are thus accompanied with catchphrases such as “I’m Pickle Rick!” and “Wubba lubba dubdub!” The show’s confrontation of complex topics through an intelligent/arrogant character has generated toxic fans who often say, “you’re just not smart enough to get my show.” R&M takes this superiority complex to an egregious level because its protagonist is a genius who is condescending toward others with his intelligence. Andrea Braithwaite, an expert on Gamergate and geek masculinity, claims that toxic fans perceive their representation in Rick as an endorsement of their narcissism. Consequently, R&M is the home for a subsection of fans who seek to (1) replicate Rick’s narcissism or (2) use his character as a form of justification for their previously-held superiority complexes.

Toxic R&M fan on Reddit.

Acting Like A Rick

Fans who seek to replicate Rick’s intelligence and personality view an informed understanding of the show as a means to “accumulate and assert cultural capital.” (Duffett 183) This dynamic constructs a stark hierarchy based on an imaginative translation of Rick’s character into “real” fans. The Real Ricks Facebook group exemplifies this meritocracy, which is an application-based group for “people who are similar to rick with intelligence and personality.” The application questions include: What specific areas of academia have you mastered? Do you believe politics and intellect are inherently intertwined? The Real Ricks reflects a unique implication of R&M toxic fandom’s practice of appropriating Rick’s qualities (i.e. intelligence and personality) as part of one’s identity. The real-world accessibility of Rick’s intelligence/personality (unlike his portal gun or butter-passing robot) gives rise to a fan practice that is concerned with one’s very identity. Perhaps the psychological intimacy of this practice exacerbates the toxic fandom, because a fan’s entire identity is under scrutiny, not their collection of action figures or knowledge of a fictional language. The result is a vehemently defensive fandom that takes refuge in an identification with Rick in personality and intelligence.

The Real Ricks FB group screengrab via Reddit.
Pickle Rick.

The Deplorable Doxxing & The Szechuan Sauce Fiasco

Before R&M season 3, Dan Harmon sought to hire more female writers to balance out the all-male writing staff who wrote the first two seasons. The new writers worked on season 3, which has been lauded as a remarkable artistic achievement, contributing towards R&M’s Outstanding Animated Program Emmy at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards in 2018. Nonetheless, during the season’s airing dates, toxic R&M fans who perceived a decline in the new episodes’ performance blamed the new female writers and accused them of ruining the show. Fans on 4chan doxxed the writers, which allowed people to send hate mail, make death threats, and harass them. Fans on Reddit claimed that the series was forced to hire “SJW female writers,” revealing an attachment to alt-right sentiments. The addition of female writers for season 3 spurred the emergence of alt-right, misogynistic R&M fans.

Sarah Carbiener and Erica Rosbe, R&M season 3 writers.

The Bigger Picture

The cultural product of toxic fandom may have a systemic origin that goes all the way up to Adult Swim, the Turner-owned TV network for R&M. The network is mostly comprised of short-form, experimental animated and sketch comedies, and it’s noted for its raunchy humor. Adult Swim’s 2016 roster of new and returning TV shows had zero female creators (47 male, 0 female), and SEVP Mike Lazzo has reportedly said that when women are in the writers’ room, “you don’t get comedy, you get conflict.” Former employees have detailed a toxic workplace with limited opportunities for advancement that deters female executives from speaking up and risk (1) upsetting the balance, or (2) losing their jobs. Perhaps Adult Swim‘s exclusively male-created roster attracts and reinforces oppressive masculinities, and it goes unchecked because of (1) the lack of female representation in creative roles, and (2) the limited upward mobility for women in executive roles to oversee content creation.

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