What I Learned From Rick and Morty

My mother wrinkles her nose at me in disappointment whenever I mention that I watch cartoons. I was raised on PBS and books. I didn’t see Looney Toons until I was far too old for them. In her mind cartoons still means Saturday morning and for kids only.

The Simpsons changed that idea, South Park defied it and Family Guy did away with it completely. Japan has known this for years. There’s a whole subgenre of animation geared towards adults. Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network has a plethora of short, bizarre, poorly drawn animation that only bores children with dialogue and absurdity.

Rick and Morty is one of these shows. The animation is not awful, very stylistic and relatively normal. It’s co-created by Dan Harmon of Community fame. I think that is very important to note.

I am not going to list all the jokes I liked or outline the plot. These things make Rick and Morty what it is but for me there is one story line that struck me so profoundly that it almost feels like it was written for me.

Rick is a mad scientist of the highest order and his experiments are usually quite successful but due to a serious of poor decisions (and motivations) he ends up destroying the world as we know it. Instead of being able to fix it and make everything okay he ports himself and his grandson Morty to a parallel universe in which their counterparts, Alternate Rick and Alternate Morty, have just been gruesomely killed in a botched experiment. Morty is rightly horrified but Rick shrugs it off as just a part of life.

The episode ends with Morty burying the alternate version of himself. He’s burying himself and as we learn in later episodes he’s burying his childishness and to an extent, wonder.

Rick and Morty is about a mad scientist and his grandson having “adventures.” Rick and Morty is about despair, depression, broken relationships, broken people. Rick and Morty is about being human.

Below is a quote from Metafilter that captures a lot about what Rick and Morty is.

I really can’t express how watching Rick and Morty effects me. There are moments in it that feel so personal that it’s a tad scary. I guess I find affirmation in it, a confirmation of my own view of life.

That might say more about me than I want it to.

Because we are simply incapable as modern people of accepting the idea that one person – who we’re emotionally invested in – is so cosmically irrelevant and easily replaceable. Rick’s “don’t think about it!” isn’t advice we can take. Additionally, it fundamentally breaks storytelling rules (because we can’t cope with it) by having all these things that happened before amount up to absolutely nothing. The R&M universe is a return to the world a thousand years ago where life was meaningless because it was brutish and short and it offends our sensibilities so much we – Morty – just can’t accept it, no matter how much evidence piles up 

Hell, Rick can’t accept it either as far as the nature of self-identity. When he’s dropped into a young body it’s not a copy of his consciousness, which would just be redundant with all the other Ricks out there. There’s some gadget that moves him and he has to use it to move back. Why? Because the younger meat computer he’s running that brain on changes him in a way he can’t accept, even if it’s benign by every measurement we’d consider. So he destroys all the bits of project lazarus because even that small tweak in himself is unacceptable. It’s not enough that everyone still sees him as Rick and he still sees himself, mostly, as Rick. That small little bit which we can accept as personal growth is too much.

So for us to know that there’s still a Rick whose adventures we watched out there, rotting in a prison, even if we have a functionally identical one? No go. It makes us confront an irrelevance we can’t stomach.
posted by phearlez at 7:01 AM on October 9, 2015 

What I Learned From Rick and Morty