Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea: Rick and Morty

(68 comments)

On October 7th, 2017, just over two months after The Doctor Falls, police were called to several McDonald’s locations following a disastrous promotion in which the fast food restaurant brought back an obscure McNuggets dipping sauce, “Szechuan sauce,” that had briefly been released nearly twenty years earlier to tie-in with the release of Disney’s Mulan. The limited amount of sauce released to select McDonald’s was wildly insufficient for the crowds that arrived, which consisted of hundreds of people lining up for hours only to discover that restaurants had as few as twenty sauce packets. The result was bedlam—young men (the crowds were almost exclusively male) hurling obscenities and venting their frustration on minimum wage workers. On Twitter, people seriously suggested class action lawsuits and claimed that any workers who had a bad day deserved it because of the company’s bad actions.

The key bit of context needed to understand this madness is why McDonald’s was bringing back an ancient dipping sauce that Eater described as having “the color and consistency of strawberry jelly” and tasting “mainly like corn syrup with maybe a tiny bit of Worcestershire thrown in.” The answer is that several months earlier, when the third season premiere of Rick and Morty dropped unannounced on April 1st (so two weeks before The Pilot), the episode had culminated in a monologue in which Rick Sanchez, one of the two title characters, declares that his only real motivation in life is to eat that sauce again.

Well. Sort of. The more accurate description of what happens is that Rick stands above his grandson (Morty, the other eponymous character) as he cowers, whimpers, and sobs, angrily telling him that he deliberately broke up his parents’ marriage out of spite and to become “the de facto patriarch of your family and your universe” before threatening him if he ever tells anyone about this conversation and revealing his end goal of Szechuan sauce. It’s a genuinely distressing scene, in ways that are difficult to quite get a handle on. The distress is clearly intentional—the scene makes an active point of focusing on Morty’s fear and anguish, and on making the horror of what Rick is saying clear. But it’s also clear that the scene is meant to be funny, complete with Rick making a fourth-wall breaking claim that he’ll get the sauce “if it takes nine seasons.” 

This tension is not so much common for the show as the nominal point. If you assert that Rick and Morty is a bad television show on Twitter, you will quickly be assured by somebody that the show is in fact a critique of Rick’s nihilism. This is an interesting claim. Certainly the claim that Rick and Morty is a highly intelligent show that is routinely misunderstood is common enough that a chunk of copypasta beginning “to be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty” became a meme. And as the Szechuan sauce scene demonstrates, the show is open about the fact that Rick is a terrible person. That’s established in the first episode’s cold open, in which he drunkenly drags Morty out of his bed and begins to ramble incoherently about his plan to destroy all life on earth for him.

But before we go much further, it’s probably worth actually relating this to the topic of the blog. The reason that this show—which I should stress is the single least pleasant thing I have ever watched for this blog, and I include Heil Honey I’m Home! in that assessment—is of interest is that it is, among other things, a parody of Doctor Who. Rick’s character design is a riff on Doc Brown in Back to the Future, but the result clearly evokes Peter Capaldi’s Doctor as well. And the basic concept—that Rick has invented a portal gun that allows him to travel between dimensions and drags Morty along on adventures to them—is clearly a variation on the familiar Doctor Who infinitude of possible stories. (And, of course, series co-creator Dan Harmon has form on this point, having previously included a more direct Doctor Who parody in Community in the form of Inspector Spacetime.) 

So what we have is a show that is openly serving as a dark and corrupted parody of Doctor Who in which the Doctor figure is subjected to at least some sort of sustained critique. So it’s worth looking at the substance of that critique. As noted, the usual phrasing is that Rick and Morty is a critique of Rick’s nihilism. But nihilism is a curiously specific charge, and not one that really applies to Doctor Who, where the main character, whatever he might be, is clearly not a nihilist. But frankly, it’s a weird critique for Rick and Morty too. Certainly Rick expresses a routinely bleak and cynical worldview that frequently features things like rejecting love as “a bunch of chemicals” (now that’s a familiar line…) but to suggest that the prevailing problem with Rick is that he’s cynical or a nihilist is strange. The problem is that he’s horrifyingly abusive. Episode after episode entails him being a callous, violent abuser to Morty and, indeed, to the rest of his family. This isn’t a show about the corrosive effects of nihilism—it’s a show about wanton cruelty.

This is not a small distinction. Nihilism is a philosophical position whose consequences can be traced out. There are critiques to be made of it, but there are also cases to be made in its favor. Brilliant nihilist art exists. Nihilism has been taken seriously and incorporated into interesting and insightful works. Maybe, when everything is taken into account, nihilism is still worth condemning, but there’s a discussion to be had on the matter. 

Abuse is not like that. Abuse is simply a ragged, scarring wrongness. I mean, sure, there are people who actually and in all seriousness defend corporal punishment or make arguments that children can consent to sex, but these viewpoints are widely recognized as monstrous, and anyway only amount to trying to redefine the boundaries of abuse. More to the point, Rick and Morty makes no real effort to suggest that Rick is not an abusive monster to Morty and the rest of his family. This isn’t subtext. The show very much cares that we look at the abuse being perpetrated and recognize it as such. This is not hard. When I say that this si the worst thing I have ever watched for the blog, I mean that it is viscerally upsetting. There are multiple, prolonged scenes of child abuse. The dynamic in which Rick furiously berates a Morty while he cowers and stammers feeble, useless protests is utterly commonplace. And that’s on top of things like the frequency with which, for instance, adult sexualization of minors is casually dropped in—the first two episodes I watched (the pilot and “Rick Potion #9”) both had jokes about school officials being sexually attracted to Morty. 

Actually, this gets at the far larger problem, which is that for all that the show is aware of the very obvious fact that abuse is bad, it’s also repeatedly mining abuse for humor. Those scenes where Morty is cowering away from his grandfather are generally the occasions for series co-creator and primary voice actor Justin Roiland to do one of the semi-improvised monologues, typically delivered while actually drunk, that are one of the show’s trademarks. I mean, look at the example we started with—the Szechuan sauce monologue. Yes, it’s a scene of horrific and upsetting child abuse, but it’s clearly being played for laughs. 

All of this rather undermines any claim that Rick and Morty is engaged in critique. Abuse isn’t really something you can critique in the first place. You can show the political and social systems that help perpetuate it, you can demonstrate the psychology of it, and you can document the trauma and anguish that it leaves in its wake, but there’s not really anything to critique about furiously berating a crying child about how you broke up his parents’ marriage to gain power over him. It’s kinda like locking children in concentration camps that way. And when you couple the abuse with laugh lines about quixotic obsessions with late 90s McDonald’s promotions, frankly, you’re falling so profoundly far below the minimum standards of basic human decency that you should probably just stop talking, preferably forever. 

It’s worth comparing to Doctor Who when Steven Moffat is offering a critique of a character or narrative premise. Look at Hell Bent, where the Doctor’s furious attempts to save Clara turn baleful with Clara’s dumbfounded, horrified expression at the explanation that he did all of this because of a “duty of care.” There is a specific turning point—a moment where what had been exciting and edgy suddenly turns sour and is explicitly, unequivocally wrong. Or, to go back to his biggest and most defiant narrative substitution, A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler, a pair of stories in which the Doctor wielding his manpain in the name of glorious and brilliant vengeance actually leads to horrific and destructive consequences, and where that story is actively replaced with one about the healing effects of female spaces. This is what critique looks like, and has always been at the heart of Moffat’s narrative substitutions. If you want to condemn a mode of storytelling or of thinking, you can’t do it by endlessly repeating it, and certainly not by endlessly mining it as a source of comedy. 

No, Rick and Morty isnt a critique of nihilism or anything else. It’s a sniggering bit of juvenile edgelording. And the fact that it’s so convinced that it’s doing something substantive like critiquing Rick when it blatantly thinks its drunken abuser of a main character is fucking hilarious is a damning indictment of the pathetic pretensions that surround the setup. Which, let’s be perfectly honest, basically amounts to the pathetic pretensions that animate the basic idea that troubled white men who lash out are actually an interesting subject. (There is some debate to be had over whether Rick is intended to be white, but given that Justin Roiland, when asked about this on a panel, actively declined to confirm it, saying that he doesn't see race and doesn't care about Rick's heritage, leading Dan Harmon to crack "way to see race, bigot" at the person who asked the question, well, fuck them both.)

Indeed, if we are to take the conceptual similarities between Rick and Morty and Doctor Who seriously at all, this is where to do it. The twilight of the Capaldi era marks ten consecutive series over which the show has been invested in colliding every genre imaginable with a tempestuous white man haunted by the terrible things in his past. And in 2017 it was on year 54 of eccentric and tempestuous white men in the general case. The show has always been about white men.

Rick and Morty is not why this needs to stop. In 2017, as Brexit careens onwards to its inevitable conclusion of calamitous farce, as Trump marches the United States towards the single stupidest fascism in history, and as rampant and unchecked capitalism pushes the planet ever further along the line to a mass extinction that may well take us out with it, with all of this, whoever else might be involved, fundamentally the antics of white men with delusions of grandeur and importance. All of this would be true regardless of a shitty cartoon whose fans abuse minimum wage workers when they can’t have their Szechuan sauce, and all of it would make the idea that we need stories about something—anything—else.

But Rick and Morty is a demonstration of how the anxieties and turmoils of white men aren’t merely creatively overrepresented, but something whose centering threatens to become deeply and inherently toxic. My point in saying this is maniestly not that there is nothing interesting about tortured white men; the Capaldi era alone shows how that’s simply not true. But Rick and Morty shows that in 2017, it was at last clearly played out. Moffat was as good a last creatie hurrah as white dudes could possibly have wished for, clever and full of ways for white heterosexual masculinity to do better. But the claim that we need diverse stories is not merely an observation that the diversity of real world audiences demands a diversity of content, nor is it simply a description of the ways in which diversity in both creative teams and content can invigorat tired genres. It is a brutally accurate response to the fact that egotistical white men who think their angst is deep, left unchecked, turn out things like Rick and Morty. 

Comments

tachyonspiral 3 months, 1 week ago

Nice segue into Twice Upon a Time.

The Szechuan sauce thing is striking in that R&M's creators 1. apparently didn't contact McDonald's before the episode aired and 2. presumably anticipated that it would cause chaos, including irate fanboys yelling at minimum wage workers and so on. That was, one gathers, part of the joke, which is typical of R&M's humour.

If anything, you could level the charge of nihilism at R&M itself, but that would be too kind - the show revels in subjecting its characters to trauma and misery, it's not simply apathetic to this, it's part of a concerted project to make the show aggressively unpleasant viewing. It's a 'joke', in the same way that the use of racist stereotyping in Family Guy is a 'joke' (no coincidence, the shows are part of the same overall trend in American cartoons in this respect, see also South Park).

What i think is a little sad is that this happens in the context of a show that is wildly imaginative; concepts like Mr. Meeseeks are creative, off the wall SF of the kind we got from Hitchhiker's Guide and don't see often enough in Who, but there's no getting around the whole thing is brimming with edgelordiness.

Thank you for enduring this in order to give us a good analysis as always.

Link | Reply

Etana Edelman 3 months, 1 week ago

You know, I love The Simpsons but you can probably trace Rick's abuse of Morty to Homer strangling Bart. To be fair The Simpsons was obviously trying to be a subversion of the happy nuclear family, but shows like Family Guy took the abuse jokes and ran with it.

Link | Reply

MattM 3 months, 1 week ago

From my understanding the sauce thing is even weirder and more of a car crash than that.

McDonalds did it off their own back with no contact with the show. Apparently they used a Rick and Morty art style on the packaging but just different enough so they wouldn't need to pay anyone, basically leapfrogging on the show for some viral marketing. But corporate got it horribly wrong and after massive internet hype, sent each store around a dozen sauce containers.

Meanwhile the majority of the 'crazy' reactions (or at least the most famous videos) turned out to be 'pranks' rather than actual reactions - ie people wanting internet fame pretending to do what fans would do. This then ironically became what the fandom was perceived as and also turned into. See also: Pickle Rick. It's also potentially a metaphor for the show itself. By pretending to be toxic the fandom became toxic.

Like, 4chan and the rest of the internet I guess. A warning there from history, perhaps?

Link | Reply

CJM123 3 months ago

If you're an asshole looking for a reason to be an asshole to minimum wage staff, the irony doesn't matter.

And that brings it back to what El was saying. "Ironic abuse" is still abuse.

Unless you paid everyone in the video a fee to do it (in which case that seems to be an interesting charitable scheme which I like), you are just Rick.

Link | Reply

MattM 3 months ago

Oh, not saying it wasn't horribly inappropriate and embarrassing, just that the entire situation was both more of an accident and more deliberate in various ways than people realise.

All massively embarrassing, the fandom made me go from loving the show to hating it in short order. Most of that came from the fandom parodying itself as a dumb fandom and then it actually became a dumb fandom.

Link | Reply

Gnaeus 3 months ago

But Rick and Morty really isn't that zany and out there, and a lot of what it does isn't that new, or exciting. Vaguely unpleasant-looking aliens isn't new, and nor is using words like blorpalorp. It's someone trying really hard to look out there, without actually achieving it. Because if it *was* as out-there as it wants to be seen to be... almost nobody would watch it.

Rick hasn't even so much as had an interview with Harmon yet, let alone killed him.

Link | Reply

Annie 3 months, 1 week ago

And that, for all I love Peter Capaldis acting and many of the stories he had as the doctor, is why I can't really get behind the Capaldi era.
The whole narrative arc seems to be a grumpy white man learning to become less grumpy, and that supposed to make for dramatic angsty television.
Am I a good man, asks the doctor, well know when you randomly berate a PE teacher, act in a condescending way towards people who have just lost loved ones and Mock young people because of their relative inexperience even though they've accomplished a great deal, you're not a good man you're just a grumpy old git and the world and I dare say the universe, has plenty of those already.

Link | Reply

tachyonspiral 3 months, 1 week ago

Made worse by the fact he was a maths teacher, not that PE-bashing is ok. Honestly that whole bit came off as racist.

But i disagree that white-man-becomes-less-grumpy is all the Capaldi years were trying to accomplish, because it's a series that's very much responding to previous iterations of the programme. Rather, i think it's asking, "Is Doctor Who really good enough? Can it be redeemed?"

Link | Reply

mx_mond 3 months, 1 week ago

It also (though more thanks to Chibnall than Moffat) ultimately concludes that ideally the grumpy old man should not just be less grumpy, but stop being a man. I will always love it for that.

Link | Reply

tachyonspiral 3 months, 1 week ago

But Moffat deserves some of the credit, for seeding the idea that regeneration can involve a sex change. "Man . . . or woman?", the dialogue about the Corsair which happened under Moffat's tenure, and of course, Missy. Maybe also the bit about how the Doctor "could become a queen," certainly that suggests the character's gender isn't a constant.

Link | Reply

mx_mond 3 months, 1 week ago

Oh, for sure, I didn’t mean that Moffat deserves no credit at all. But the completion of that arc belongs to Chibnall.

Link | Reply

tachyonspiral 3 months, 1 week ago

Incidentally, i think R&M is best understood in the tradition of American cartoons, a tradition which obviously has intersected with this kind of ideas-based SF before in the form of Futurama.

I would suggest Star vs. the Forces of Evil as an (admittedly rather twee) antidote to R&M. Similar portal-based "go anywhere" premise, without the abuse themes. Or Gravity Falls, which works sort of like Torchwood S1-2 in the Pacific Northwest. Or for viewers who can't stomach the degree of Disney sentimentalism found in those series, Adventure Time and Steven Universe, the latter of which could have provided a good model for Doctor Who going forward after this point.

Link | Reply

Christopher Brown 3 months, 1 week ago

THIS, especially the Steven Universe bit. I've often wondered of late whether Doctor Who wouldn't be just plain better as a modern all-ages cartoon in the mold of any of those. At the very least, it would be nice if it could become one for awhile.

Link | Reply

tachyonspiral 3 months, 1 week ago

An obstacle to that would be that the UK doesn't really have a significant animation industry, certainly not one comparable to the US'.

Link | Reply

Christopher Brown 3 months ago

In the case of the long-feared license sale to a US commercial company, an animated version would be among the best-case scenarios, then.

Link | Reply

gumo 3 months, 1 week ago

Also Wander over Yonder.

Link | Reply

TheWrittenTevs 3 months, 1 week ago

[My apologies for how long this comment is; my PhD thesis is about masculinity in modern American animation aimed at adults and includes a chapter on Rick and Morty, so I've ended up luxuriating in the one time in my life where my academic specialism has actually ended up being the main topic of conversation.]

I've always seen Rick and Morty as the ultimate example of a text where the show that the creators think they're making is completely different to the show that the audience thinks they're watching. In interviews, the creatives all seem to think that Morty is the main character of the show. The entire programme exists in an inherently cruel universe and Rick is presented largely as an extension of it - as someone who's been torn down by the universe around him and allowed himself to become just as bad as it is. As such, according to the show's makers, Rick and Morty is primarily about how Morty and his family try to survive living in a hellscape world that seems to be actively sadistic towards them (something which I think has a lot of applicability to the modern sadistic hellscape that has become 21st Century Western Society) and thus is largely sympathetic towards them.

A large section of the audience seems to have watched the show and decided that Rick's the main character though, taking the fact that Rick's succumbed to the world around him to mean that he's now the smartest person in the world and the only person who knows how the world around him really works, relating to him like on these grounds. In these regards, he's basically our generation's Alf Garnett: a character created as a broad parody of a certain archetype who the creatives then went to town with under the assumption that no-one would ever actually agree with him, yet who nevertheless ended up becoming embraced as an icon by the very people he's meant to be a damning critique of.

Surprisingly (and this is where Rick and Morty becomes the most fascinating case study to discuss this subject with), the show's creators are vocally unhappy about this. Dan Harmon is infamous for using his Twitter and podcast to angrily lambast large sections of Rick and Morty's fan base for being assholes (sure, he's infamous for doing that to everyone, but still) and the creative team's reaction to the Szechuan Sauce incident was asking their fanbase to stop, followed by them suddenly becoming very embarrassed and ashamed whenever it's been mentioned since. This post's conclusions are also very interesting given the amount of flack that the production team got during Season Three because Harmon demanded they add female writers to their roster, actively delaying the show's production because he refused to do another series with an exclusively male writers room.

Much like "Oxygen" and much of Series 11, Rick and Morty thus shows how even supposedly liberal impulses behind a piece of art can still produce intensely reactionary works whether that's the creative's intention or not, and thus how the current aesthetics of liberalism within mainstream media really need a complete reconfiguring in order to be more than just hollow posturing. It's not just that these unchecked liberal white men made something as toxic as Rick and Morty, it's the fact that I genuinely believe that they didn't realise that's what they were even doing.

Link | Reply

Etana Edelman 3 months, 1 week ago

I think the big problem is that for all of his faults, Rick is still the smartest guy in the room at all times and the show rarely does anything to challenge that. They show how miserable he is but that only makes him more appealing in a culture that fetishizes the miserable genius.

Link | Reply

Michael Basov 3 months ago

To be fair that's part of the joke.

Rick IS the smartest guy in the room. By a wide margin.

He's everything a smart, disenfranchised, miserable young man wants to be. He can overcome any foe. He can solve any problem. He can even cheat death.

But he's still miserable. He wastes his intellect on meaningless bullshit. And uses it as an excuse to stagnate as a person.

Rick is a deconstruction of the guy I wanted to be when I was 15.

If you haven't seen it I would highly recommend the Pickle Rick episode. Which really drives home how pathetic and insignificant Rick is despite his intellect.

Link | Reply

Przemek 3 months ago

Maybe he is a deconstruction. But so what? There are plenty of miserable people out there who are willing to accept their misery as long as they get to "win" at something. Why change when they can convince themselves they're all cool and smart? (House, MD comes to mind). Sure, deep down these people hate themselves, but they can always distract themselves by abusing others. Rick only becomes a joke if you're willing to take a good, hard look on yourself and really see what you've become. Most such people aren't.

Link | Reply

mx_mond 3 months, 1 week ago

“Rick and Morty thus shows how even supposedly liberal impulses behind a piece of art can still produce intensely reactionary works whether that's the creative's intention or not”

It happens very often with texts that attempt to satirise or critique toxic masculinity (see Fight Club, and I expect a similar thing will happen with the upcoming Joker movie) and honestly at this point I think satire just plain doesn’t work in this context and should be abandoned. If you make the masculine figues you’re attempting to criticise in any way alluring, people will glom onto that.

(And thank you for your comment, it was very informative when it comes to the behind the scenes context of Rick and Morty!)

Link | Reply

Przemek 3 months, 1 week ago

I agree wholeheartedly.

Link | Reply

TheWrittenTevs 3 months, 1 week ago

I've long argued that modern political works shouldn't work by critiquing things the creatives dislike but should foreground things the creatives want embracing. If you want to critique nihilism, have an optimistic boy and grandfather
go on adventures in an universe too dark and harrowing for their joy to be justified and refuse to let them be beaten down by it. If nothing else, at least you significantly hedge against people missing the point this way.

Link | Reply

Przemek 3 months, 1 week ago

That's basically "Doctor Who" on a good day.

Link | Reply

Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months ago

I once read an article that said Rick and Morty espoused a kind of "optimistic nihilism" (if I recall the expression correctly). There's a sense in which the characters realise "well, nothing means anything, and nothing matters, so now I can be happy". You can see that in the episode where Morty explains to Summer that he comes from a different dimension. "No one belongs anywhere". What we can do do is try to enjoy it.

Link | Reply

kevin merchant 3 months ago

There was a programme on the BBC in the 1960's called "Till death do us part" which featured a racist , sexist homophobic bigot as the lead character. The idea was that he was always sent up and shown to be ignorant. The trouble was that a large number of people agreed with his views and thought that he was a hero. Times don't change. And don't get me started on "Love thy neighbour"!

Link | Reply

tachyonspiral 3 months, 1 week ago

Very interesting comment, thank you for sharing it.

The problem with the creators' disclaiming responsibility for the sauce thing or telling fans to stop is that it's difficult to imagine they couldn't have anticipated this, which makes the entire incident look like a successful bit of trolling. Line for line, beat for beat, R&M anticipates the responses of its implied viewers, alternately chiding and flattering them. In this respect, there is a similarity to Steven Moffat's later scripts. I would suggest you could similarly criticize "A Good Man Goes to War" for at first indulging the same impulses it seeks to attack, so that, much like "Oxygen", the end result appeals much too strongly to the kinds of people it's ostensibly against, seemingly without challenging them to the point where they take the critique on board.

If we're to take seriously the idea that Rick is being critiqued, then it's worth asking what that critique actually is. Certainly the Doctor is not normally framed as an abusive character on the show itself, but there *is* a cultural precedent for this reading of the character - for example, Alan Moore's contention that every Doctor after Hartnell's comes off as a pedophile. Doc Brown is also open to similar attacks. And unfortunately, the eccentric, paternalistic children's-character-as-abuser is not without real life precedents.

Seen in this light, R&M becomes the admittedly teenage project of taking an element of children's entertainment and savagely reinterpreting it from the standpoint that the world is dangerous place, and that images presented to children as benign and comforting conceal harsh truths. It's a rebellion against children's entertainment and its coddling of its audiences.

The problem with interpreting R&M this way is that it obviously revels in Rick's behaviour, interspersing abusive rants with snappy comedy lines. Dr. Sandifer noted that the fans lining up for sauce were majority male, and the fandom is dominated by a particular demographic - the sort of people who smugly proclaim themselves to be "Ricks".

Link | Reply

Przemek 3 months, 1 week ago

For me it doesn't really matter if the creator anticipated such an outcome or not. What matters is that after seeing the outcome, they did virtually nothing to change the show they're creating. Don't just say you're sorry; change your behaviour.

Link | Reply

TheWrittenTevs 3 months, 1 week ago

Tbf to them, all the episodes which have aired so far were produced before the Szechuan Sauce incident happened and none of the episodes produced after it have aired yet. For all we know, they could've reacted to it and remodelled the show a bit.

Of course, in the much more likely event that nothing substantive will change at all, then your above point will be the exact correct position.

Link | Reply

Kit 3 months ago

The problem with the creators' disclaiming responsibility for the sauce thing or telling fans to stop is that it's difficult to imagine they couldn't have anticipated this, which makes the entire incident look like a successful bit of trolling

It's far more difficult to imagine that, when writing or improvising a rant about a 20-year-old McDonalds promotion in late 2016, then editing, storyboarding, animatic-ing and sending the materials to be animated, they could have expected that McDonalds would ever become aware of this tiny reference in a cartoon, let alone actually make some of the sauce as a misguided re-promotion a year later.

I don't watch the show, but it seems unlikely that this was the only reference it's ever made to an ephemeral piece of commercial culture.

Link | Reply

tachyonspiral 3 months ago

Well, my assumption there is that they anticipated the obsessive sorts of people who would take the joke and run with it, perhaps not realizing that they were the butt of it.

You're probably right, of course. Nevertheless, the rant in question was culmination of an arc that had began in the previous season, which had itself ended on a cliffhanger. In effect, Rick's desire for Szechuan sauce served as the punchline to a shaggy dog story spanning more than a year and a half. So within the context of the programme it wasn't something you would overlook, and in an age where you have corporate accounts sharing memes on Twitter, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to think McDonalds might respond.

Link | Reply

Kit 3 months ago

Ta for that additional context. It's still ludicrously improbable that McDonalds brought back the sauce at all, let alone that the production could have anticipated it!

(And again as a non-viewer, I get the impression that Harmon and Roiland's perception of the awfulness of their core audience had not yet peaked by the time they were writing the 22nd episode.)

Link | Reply

Elizabeth Sandifer 3 months ago

I don't think you have to anticipate the specific context in which your audience is going to be a massive bag of dicks in order to anticipate that the audience for a show that repeatedly thinks abuse is funny is likely to be a massive bag of dicks.

Link | Reply

Przemek 3 months, 1 week ago

Thank you for this comment, very interesting!

I don't know anything about Justin Roiland, but I'm a bit familiar with Dan Harmon and I feel like "Rick and Morty" shows just how dangerous people can become when they're not actively fighting their cynical impulses. There was an interview with Harmon where he explained that he based "Community" on his own community college experiences - that he, like Jeff, was once a narcissistic loner who found himself involved with a group of strangers and learned to care about them. "Community" thus became an uplifting story about a lonely, sarcastic jerk who learns how to connect with people and becomes a better person for it.

(And yet I'd argue that "Community" becomes increasingly cynical and mean-spirited as time goes on. Season six was just plain unpleasant in places).

"Rick and Morty" largely lacks the same character arc for Rick. It starts with (basically) the same main character type, but then just lets him roam freely and be himself. Even assuming the show's aim is to eventually rise above the cynicism, nihilism and abuse that Rick represents, the damage is already done. I don't know how cynical Harmon actually is, but "Rick and Morty" clearly stems from the cynical part of him - and unlike in "Community", that part is not kept in check.

Link | Reply

Devin 3 months, 1 week ago

Didn't Harmon leave Community after Season 3 or 4, though?

(I'm not sure it actually matters, considering Harmon's trajectory. One might note that he at least read and rubber-stamped Jeff, his claimed writer stand-in, calling himself out for the same exact "way to see race" garbage he would later throw out in that panel. So apparently he went from noticing that move was bullshit to thinking it was a good way to back up his bro.)

Link | Reply

Przemek 3 months ago

He was fired before Season 4 and returned for Season 5.

Link | Reply

Eric Rosenfield 3 months, 1 week ago

This.

Further I think things like making Rick's sadism a joke is supposed to make the audience feel uncomfortable in their culpability with his shitty behavior. It IS supposed to be a critique of Rick. But the audience isn't reacting the way the creators expected them to.

Link | Reply

Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months ago

Oh this is actually a meme on itself: "you like Rick so much that you think you're him, but in reality you're Jerry".
For me Morty is actually much more likable and interesting. I think he's hilarious.

Link | Reply

Christopher Brown 3 months, 1 week ago

Of all the Capaldi entries, this is the one I've been eagerly awaiting the most since the moment the entry list was announced. I wasn't let down. 👌

May I ask what other four episodes you watched for our reading pleasure?

Link | Reply

Jay 3 months, 1 week ago

Except you provide zero (0) evidence that it was fan "boys". Presumably you assume its male because the female can not understand the show so it has no female fans? Such an isolated show that only male fans have any sort of reaction to it, this is the most garbage article ever produced because it slams only one side of humanity while excusing the other with no evidence provided whatsoever. This article operates in the same dimensions Rick and Morty operates in, make believe.

Link | Reply

Asher 3 months, 1 week ago

We got a live one here

Link | Reply

Elizabeth Sandifer 3 months ago

You are correct that I did not directly cite any of the multiple videos taken inside the restaurants on 10/7/17 in which the crowds and their gender makeups are visible.

Nevertheless, my claim that the crowds were predominantly male is easy to verify.

Link | Reply

arcbeatle 3 months, 1 week ago

That Dan Harmon sexually harassed his employees and suffered no consequences for it feels like reality being a little too on the nose here :/

Link | Reply

Ombund 3 months ago

I'd recommend listening to this, about his apology and how it was accepted: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/674/get-a-spine/act-one-5. It could be argued that he owned it in a way few other people have, and that's why there wasn't what we tend to think of as the typical "consequences" in these situations.

Link | Reply

CJM123 3 months, 1 week ago

The thing that gets to me about Rick and Morty is that fans seem to manage to conflate the Nihilism and the Abuse. Almost as if at the core of it is that intelligence and deeper understanding of the "real, logical world" of the universe and being a totally abusive figure seem to go hand-in-hand both in the show and for its fans.

Yuck. Yuck to the whole show.

Link | Reply

Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months ago

I love Rick and Morty. I think it's fun, funny, engaging, keeps refreshing itself, and always has a point to make, usually using sci-fi in a very exciting way.

If Chibnall Who continues in its mediocrity, the closest thing we'll have to DW will be Rick and Morty. I believe this so much that I actually wish Dan Harmon were in Chibnall's place.

Also, I'd love to see what a live-action Rick and Morty played straight for all its horribleness would look like (you would have to age Morty, of course).

Link | Reply

Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months ago

I once read an article that said Rick and Morty espoused a kind of "optimistic nihilism" (if I recall the expression correctly). There's a sense in which the characters realise "well, nothing means anything, and nothing matters, so now I can be happy". You can see that in the episode where Morty explains to Summer that he comes from a different dimension. "No one belongs anywhere". What we can do do is try to enjoy it. That episode did end with a celebration of the flawed love of Jerry and Beth.

There were also episodes which were overtly about abuse, like the one in which Morty is sexually abused by an alien in a bathroom, and the abusive, unhealthy relationship between Rick and the hivemind.

Link | Reply

Xaldel 3 months ago

I do honestly enjoy Rick and Morty, but I'll be the first to admit that it may only be because of how I've desensitized I am after growing up with American cartoons like The Simpsons and Futurama as examples of "ha ha, look at this abusive yet angsty white male and his nihilistic follies". And then of course, making that sort of cartoon that's also a corrupted parody of Doctor Who appeals to me tenfold.

But I stop at calling myself a fan of the show, and I think that leads into the debate between "fans" and "fanboys" (I'd say fangirls too, but El's right in that the kind of toxic behavior that leads to incidents like Schezuan Sauce are usually male-oriented). Fans watch an episode of the show, have a good time with its characters, and then probably move on to something else. Whereas fanboys treat the show like a religion, imposing their love of it onto everyone else, lambasting everyone who doesn't fit in their viewpoints, and generally treating the rest of the world as less intellectual for not being on their level.

The best statement I ever saw pertaining to R&M fans specifically was, "Too many fans of the show think that they're a Rick, when in actuality they're a Jerry." (The mopey loser character in the show who Rick belittles and targets for being the only one willing to stand up to his abuse.)

Link | Reply

CJM123 3 months ago

Even that boils down to a Rick-centric view of the world. Jerry at least tries to love his wife and children, and the show and Rick constantly mock him.

Being Jerry is so much better than being Rick. But that's the insult.

Link | Reply

AG 3 months ago

"the kind of toxic behavior that leads to incidents like Schezuan Sauce are usually male-oriented"

For a subset of fandom source material like cartoons, yes. But fangirls that go over the line tend to congregate in different ways or different types of source material. In the former, they're more likely to lash out at "fellow" fans than external "civilians." Not so much McDonald's workers, but it wasn't male fans putting needles in cookies to give to fanartists who shipped the wrong thing.
In the latter, you've got the notorious sasaeng fans (stalkers) of Kpop.

Link | Reply

AG 3 months ago

Others have pointed out some of the ways that R&M is a product of American cartoon trends, but I feel that their timeline is yet still limited.

American cartoons have always been largely underlined by abuse. From Mickey, to Tom & Jerry, to Looney Tunes, to Scooby Doo, American cartoons were largely about slapstick comedy. If they weren't inflicting violence on the characters, the characters were taking potshots at each other, sitcom quips made verbal abuse for yucks.

The 90s went to some absurd places with this heritage, actively mining either an ugliness in the art, or stylizing things so far that they also adopted unnatural movement/dialogue rhythms to match.

It may not be coincidence that the recent crop of more empathetic cartoons stem from creators noticeably influenced by anime.

Link | Reply

Christopher Brown 3 months ago

There’s a big line between what Looney Tunes (or something relatively super-tame like Scooby-Doo) does and what Rick and Morty does, though, and while I cannot currently articulate it as much as I’d like, I’d say Rick and Morty drawing from a more “realistic” emotional palette is part of the issue, again because it’s too busy edgelording to engage in that empathetic trend.

Link | Reply

Christopher Brown 3 months ago

Or in other words, I suggest not making excuses for Rick and Morty (or Family Guy, or South Park) because of Bugs Bunny. Or anything, really. ;)

Link | Reply

tachyonspiral 3 months ago

Mm, but there is a trajectory you can trace from Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry, to stuff like Happy Tree Friends and the Itchy & Scratchy segments in The Simpsons, both of which are ostensibly a parody of those old cartoons, to the Kenny running gag in South Park and the Meg abuse in Family Guy. Dunno if i'd call it making excuses so much as just, it's there, it's a thing that happened. When mutilation lost its power to shock, emotional trauma was taken up next.

Link | Reply

tachyonspiral 3 months ago

Actually if anything i think you could argue R&M crosses a line *because* it engages with that empathetic trend while furthering the sadistic one. It's uncomfortable viewing, not merely because it's abusive, but because the characters respond to pain emotionally.

Link | Reply

AG 3 months ago

@Christopher Brown

I'm not sure what excuses you think I'm making. My point is precisely that there are cartoon traditions elsewhere that aren't weren't dependent on abuse as their primary mechanism. Furthermore, that American cartoons are so saturated with the abuse heritage is what drove many people to be repulsed by it, seeking their entertainment elsewhere (myself included).

R&M isn't really that special. It's only the case examined for this series because the premise is similar to Doctor Who's. But its problems are endemic to many, many more cartoons, who are all drawing from a specific tradition.

It is relevant to note that alternatives to this destructive tradition exist, because they draw from a different tradition. Similarly, Doctor Who must step away from certain destructive genre traditions (such as that which produced Talons) in order to retain its own empathy. It can look towards other traditions to do so.

Link | Reply

Christopher Brown 3 months ago

I guess I'm defensive of Looney Tunes and other such works (well, the bits that have aged well, anyway) - cartoons like that and Scooby-Doo (but also gentler like Winnie-the-Pooh) are what set me onto the interests I have today, and I love them dearly. There's observations to be made regarding a fixation on bodily trauma as entertainment in American culture, for sure. But I wouldn't enjoy Looney Tunes if the humor was based on emotional abuse in the vein of Rick and Morty. In the former, the physical destructiveness is the comedy equivalent of watching a superhero or supervillain duke it out, or the Daleks zap people, or even the fights in the more modern, empathetic cartoons (there's an awful lot of violence in Steven Universe or Adventure Time just for starters).

Whereas Rick and Morty is based on domestic violence, specifically emotional violence. And that I find myself unable to stomach in media from any era (such as the anime series, Urusei Yatsura).

Ultimately, Looney Tunes is in abstract form a search for an expression of joy (that of physical anarchy) as SU or AT are, and as Doctor Who is. Whereas somewhere along the line, modern "edgy" cartoons transitioned to seeking shock as their primary emotion...anyway, I'd elaborate more clearly if I wasn't really tired right now.

Link | Reply

Alexandria 1 month ago

This.
The difference between Looney Tunes and Rick and Morty is clear.

Looney Tunes is purely slapstick. No characters are harmed for more than an episode, and the violence is comedic and entertaining. LT puts effort into making its slapstick funny and light-hearted.

On the other hand, Rick and Morty puts nearly no effort at all into making its abuse funny. It's like putting a laugh track on a video of domestic violence. Just because they say it's a joke doesn't make it funny. And R&M is not as light-hearted as LT. It's violent, callous, and cruel.

Link | Reply

Alex Watts 3 months ago

I think the show fundamentally misunderstands nihilism. Not just because it seems to be believe that the natural response to a nihilistic universe is self serving cruelty (which is cynical, edge-lordy leap).

It makes Rick - constantly shown to be the smartest man in the room, even as he abuses everyone around him and pushes them to breaking point in the name of his own gratification - completely wrong, in a way I don't think the show has noticed.

Risk thinks he lives in a godless, meaningless universe. And he's totally wrong. He's a in a story. He was created for a purpose, and he's got a whole pantheon of gods who write and animate him. He knows he's in a cartoon - El's article notes he leans on the fourth wall semi-regularly. It blows a bit of a hole in the premise in precisely the way you would if you were more interested in justifications for cruel jokes than the actual ideas you're using to do that.

Link | Reply

fdsfdfdsf 3 months ago

you aren't supposed to agree with rick or, really, any of the characters. aside from the casual attitude to bombs, guns, drugs, violence, murder, suicide and slavery they've also accidentally destroyed a few inhabited planets. I don't know why you think child abuse is the line they cross to being unforgivably disagreeable.

watch the pilot again and tell me rick is supposed to be some kind of role model: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDeqip5qvT8

if there is a central point to his character it's that despite having more control over the universe than anyone he's not great at having things turn out well. the apparent invulnerability he sometimes displays is largely bravado and indifference to his own death, as well. a lot of times he survives only by luck or fucks up with horrible consequences.

Link | Reply

tbu 3 months ago

You're right about the abuse during the szechuan sauce rant being both clearly understood by the writer as abuse and intended to be funny. Here's how I think the humour was supposed to work to undermine rick: It's the first episode of the season, the previous season had seemingly ended with Rick realizing he was bad for his family and having himself sent to space-prison on the condition space-government would spare his family in an act of seemingly redemptive sacrifice. The rick-centered plot of the episode follows a space government spy trying to probe Rick's memories for a secret using this framing device to show us Rick's tragic origin. He had been a good, happy and loving family man before tragedy had struck. He was a good man in a universe gone mad. Except it turns out that's a lie, he had implanted a fake memory as part of a ridiculous improbable scheme, and his redemptive sacrifice was also a lie and part of the same ridiculous scheme. He reveals in the final rant that what motivates his abusive behaviour isn't anything like the tragic backstory and ultimately noble soul that we're told redeems other tv anti-heroes, he's just an asshole who's motivated by the most ridiculous trivial thing imaginable. That's funny, because it subverts our expectations in a creative way.

I won't defend R&M here wholesale, the show isn't coherent, it glorifies Rick as much or more than it critiques him, it treats rick's abuse and morty's being abused by rick and others as an edgelordy source of humor. It contributes to and might be an apogee of a gross cultural cynicism and coarseness.

Link | Reply

Citizen Alan 3 months ago

Personally, I'm just amazed that we got a post about R&M and its generally understated relationship with DW that did not mention (presumably because Elizabeth didn't watch it) the most recent season finale in which Rick /explicitly/ compares himself to the Doctor ("I'm Doctor Who in this scenario!). And in doing so, Rick wasn't identifying himself as the hero so much as a being so far advanced over humans as to be like a mad trickster-god.

Anyway, I love the show, but mainly for Morty. I really think it works better if viewed from his perspective -- a young boy who should be dealing with regular teenager problems but who instead is constantly dragged into terrifying situations by Rick, as if he were an unwilling DW companion to a mad Doctor. By the latest season, Morty is almost resigned to being Rick's companion in vague hopes of being able to curb his worst impulses and protect his family (and especially his sister, who hero-worships Rick) from his caprices. What makes this even more interesting is the indication that the show's only truly serious and competent antagonist is Evil Morty, one of Morty's parallel selves who has recently seized control the Citadel (effectively proving himself more dangerous than all of Rick's temporal counterparts put together). Not to mention the fact that on at least one occasion, Morty flat-out tried to murder Rick but was prevented because the gun he used turned out to be a fake.

Link | Reply

Benthesquid 3 months ago

I think the basic structural problem of Rick and Morty (and subversions of the Toxic Masculine Antihero in general, perhaps) setting aside the question of whether the creators are acting in goof faith is this:

It doesn't work if Rick isn't on appealing (cool, funny, badass, always the smartest guy in the room), because then he's not recognizably the Toxic Masculine Antihero.

It doesn't work if Rick *is* appealing, because the people the creators nominally want to learn the problems with Rick will overlook them in favor of fawning about how cool, funny, badass, and always the smartest guy in the room he is.

@Elizabeth Sandifer- it's drifting kind of off topic for a Doctor Who psychochronography, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on Bojack Horseman, which faces a similar structural problem, and has deployed a variety of tactics to try and deal with it.

Link | Reply

Benthesquid 3 months ago

Wow. Good faith, that should be. Goof faith would be something rather different, I suspect.

Link | Reply

Horse Wee Everywhere 3 months ago

While I absolutely agree with your views on the Rick & Morty fanbase and the kinds of shitheads who went out demanding Szechaun sauce, I find your claim that comedy about abuse is as impossible as comedy about concentration camps a little odd considering Doctor Who itself has done comedy about abuse in one of its most beloved stories.

The sequence in Jubilee with Rochester's singing Dalek troupe where he belittles them and defends his actions by repeatedly going 'I'm only pretending to be evil!' to the Doctor, and Miriam's self-harming commitment to authoritarianism being epitomized by her disgust at her husband 'never hitting me hard enough to break the skin', are both easy to read as deeply uncomfortable jokes about their abusiveness and how pathetic they are.

On top of that, your defence of Warmonger was pretty much predicated on defending its wrongness as a bleak satire of the toxicity of the Saward era. Admittedly Rob Shearman and arguably Terrance Dicks are better at that than Roiland and Harmon, and have more going on under the surface, but it seems a bit of an odd declaration to claim abuse can never be used for comedy when it literally has been a number of times in Doctor Who.

Also, while I'm not sure if you've seen Pickle Rick since it's not an episode you mentioned having seen, but the therapist's speech in that episode does fundamentally criticize his attitude to life and behaviour, noting that his intelligence does not translate into practical benefits to him because he uses it to justify actively refusing to lead a life that benefits society or the people around him. It doesn't just amount to simply pointing out the problem and expecting it not to go away any more than, well, Series 8 repeatedly pointing out Capaldi's Doctor can be vengeful and not forcing him to change.

Oh, and Pickle Rick, unlike A Good Man Goes To War/Let's Kill Hitler or Hell Bent, was written by a woman. (Who the fans harassed for criticizing their blind desire to be like Rick, but as I said, they can get fucked.)

Link | Reply

Elizabeth Sandifer 3 months ago

I think you’ll find that I did not say that comedy about abuse (or indeed about concentration camps) is impossible, but that both objects are so unequivocally and comprehensively awful that they resist critique, which is to say a particular form of nuanced and deliberative analysis leading towards eventual criticism.

Link | Reply

RHS 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I’m a bit late to the party, but I wanted to say this is one of the best critiques of Rick and Morty I’ve read. Most of the mainstream reviews don’t go this deep.

I still think the first season was excellent. Rick’s nihilism tended to be the driver of the plot. His bad decisions would kick off the conflict, and then he would fix the problems with solutions that were clearly incomplete. Despite being a brilliant scientist, he was also lazy, selfish, and hedonistic, and he didn’t know a thing about other human beings. He was ultimately a loser with a death wish who was trying to drag everyone down to his level. Faced with the same universe as Rick, Morty instead became more empathetic and comfortable with himself, even as he lost his naïveté. The impression I got was that as the show went on, the two would meet in the middle, becoming the sort of people who could live well in a godless universe. Combine that with ingenious SF plots and absurdist jokes (I especially like the deliberately lazy names they gave to aliens), and you had the makings of a great show.

Things got wobbly in season 2 and fell apart entirely in season 3. At some point, the writers stopped treating Rick as someone who still had a lot to learn about the world, and started agreeing with him. Most of the season 3 episodes were less SF puzzles than extended killing sprees. It’s unfortunate, but maybe some other writer can learn from their mistakes.

Link | Reply

Alexandria 1 month ago

Although I'm two months late, I was linked to this article from another site, so I figured I would offer my insight.

Great job with this. I think it's incredibly in-depth and accurate, and I think your impression of the toxic Rick and Morty fanbase is spot-on. I also like your analyzing of a lot of the show's comedy that is based off of abusive, and quite frankly, horrible, premises. I haven't seen many people mention that side of the show in the past, so this was refreshing.

Although I'm not entirely familiar with some of the other things you mentioned here (I'm not a big Doctor Who fan, for example) I think I will follow this blog. I'm so glad I found it. If all your content is like this, I'll be glad to check it out!

Link | Reply

New Comment

required

required (not published)

optional

Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Authors

Feeds

RSS / Atom