Rick and Morty is a show that is pretty absurd and not in an unfunny way. It merges smooth and elegant science fiction humor with butt-flaps and fart jokes a little too often which results in delicious chaotic episodes that are not only completely entertaining, but also build vivid characters, give these characters proper story-arcs, and most importantly, build detailed universes.
What I want to talk about today, though, is only one of the many absurd ideas that make Rick and Morty so popular and so entertaining.
Naturally, it is about Rick.
Now, when I say that the show is Absurd, I mean the word in two different senses. From an entertainment perspective, the show reflects absurdity. From a philosophical point of view, the show reflects absurdism. Absurdity and Absurdism may seem like words that can be used interchangeably, but there is a huge distinction here. While Absurdity is the more silly, fun, humorous kind, Absurdism is an idea developed by Algerian philosopher Albert Camus who intended the term to refer the human need to attach or find meaning in life and our sheer inability to find one.
It is the connect between these two completely different terms that makes Rick and Morty so special. Rick’s life is clearly absurdist in the way that he goes into insane adventures to cope with the losing his daughter to Jerry, losing Unity, losing his wife and having no purpose in life. And it is also clearly filled with absurdity as he punches an alien creature who looks like a testicle and tries to make a clone by combining the DNA of Adolf Hitler and Abraham Lincoln.
A unique character trait of Rick is his counterintuitive behavior.
For a moment, pause and have a look at this graph. Granted, it doesn’t make much sense and it is not at all based on any quantitative data.
The point of the graph is to show that Rick is an asshole. Especially when you compare him with all the other fictional characters that have knowledge similar to him. It is a general perception that as you get more knowledgeable and see more of the world, you get wiser. Wiser often means kinder and refers to someone with incredibly low ego. Rick, however, is completely different. He has seen different timelines, different Ricks, different planets, species, and what not. And yet, he has an extremely high ego, he does not seem too kind and he is certainly not a reliable mentor.
In fact, this is not the only aspect of Rick’s counter-intuitive behavior. Far from being a wise person, Rick has hardly any problem killing people to get what he wants. He is the pinnacle of individualism where everything is done for the self, which leads him to do some pretty contradictory things.
To make my point clear, here are just some of the contradictory things that Rick has done. For the matter of this article, I’m going to assume that we’re talking about Earth Rick c137 unless specified otherwise.
Rick has no problem with Unity taking over the entire planet, but tries to save Earth when a Cromulon appears. Rick destroys an entire universe by throwing a battery on the ground, but saves a homeless man and makes an anatomy park inside him. Rick goes into Morty’s teacher’s mind to convince him to give Morty an A, but has problems with the Devil trying manipulate other people.
I think this is a result of two unique behavior traits of Rick. Just as the amalgamation of two different concepts Absurdity and Absurdism gives a unique flavor to Rick and Morty, the amalgamation of these two traits, I think, explains Rick’s counter-intuitive and contradictory behavior.
We don’t know what Rick believes in.
This not some ambiguous statement that I’m trying to pass off as an explanation. We really don’t know what he believes in and neither does anyone. I don’t even know if the creators know what he believes in.
More importantly, I don’t think Rick knows what he believes in. And that is purposefully done.
I’ll give you an example.
Rick freezes time to clean up the house after having party of the year. After he unfreezes it, he destabilizes his own time and is not able to piece it back together. The time splits into hundreds of different realities and when he realizes that he’ll not be able to piece it back together and is not going to survive it, he falls on his knees and prays to god. He has no hope of going back alive and he decides to pray to god, which implies that deep down he believes in god. And yet, as soon as he is able to piece time together and go back, all he says is Fuck you god, not today.
In another case, Rick confesses to Morty that the whole reason he saved everyone was to get Szechuan Chicken McNugget Sauce that had been stopped from production. In the universe, where Rick has a portal gun that can transport him to any reality any timeline within fraction of a second, the only actual equivalent to the pursuit of Szechuan Sauce is, in fact, the pursuit of nothingness. Rick loves Szechuan sauce, but that is not his motivation. That is not his belief. It is just in his mind at that moment.
Given that he is the smartest man in the multiverse, there is nothing that Rick does not know. This knowledge makes Rick more arrogant. That is simply because while all the other wise people know the fact that they do not matter, Rick knows that neither does anyone else.
In a world where you are the only person who realize that there are infinite copies of a human being and all the possible combinations of events happening infinite times, the only thing that that wisdom can resort down to is individual gain. We can see that the weight of this unbelievable tragedy does weigh down Rick as he tries to kill himself after Unity leaves him again and gives himself up to the government so that his family can have a normal life.
And while this explains Rick’s beliefs to an extent, we also need to understand his motivation.
I think Rick’s motivation stems from his hatred of hierarchy.
It should not be difficult to grasp that Rick hates hierarchy. He has made that clear on several occasions including the first episode where he reduces school down to a person in the front saying 2+2=4 and people sitting taking notes. He routinely disobeys governments and is branded as a dangerous terrorist.
Rick’s actions are attempts to break down or disrupt the existing status quo and the hierarchy. He goes into Morty’s teachers brain to give Morty an A rather than telling Morty to study. He gives weapons to assassins. He kills bureaucrats to smuggle megaseeds.
The natural question then occurs is why does Rick hate hierarchy? I think the answer lies in the fact that his only belief is the gain of the self. Hierarchies and systems work really well when there is a need of collective thinking or a collective effort. Since Rick is the epitome of individualist thinking, he has no use of hierarchy. And in fact, hierarchy obstructs him in getting what he wants.
When we put together Rick’s lack of belief in anything and the resultant assumed belief in the self and his attempts to disrupt the hierarchy, his actions make a lot more sense. I think the key point to understand Rick is the fact that all of his actions and thoughts come from a deeply rooted identity crisis. In fact, Rick lives permanently in a state of identity crisis.
I think this is best illustrated in the citadel episode where we see vivid and distinct character traits despite all the characters being Ricks or Mortys. When you take a specific body and mind and give the same thing to an entire citadel worth of people, what happens is that all the uniqueness of the body and mind gets normalized. In that case everything comes back to the square one and despite all the Ricks being Ricks and looking like Ricks, are completely different. Keeping this in mind, if we take one single Rick and put him in front of the mirror, we see the smartest man in the multiverse, Rick sees just another human being. Rick’s knowledge is unparalleled and he is a better scientist than anyone else and he knows that. This knowledge of his two polarizing identities creates that deeply rooted identity crisis which nullifies all of his beliefs because they do not seem rational to him.
And ultimately, not being sure who he is and what he is capable of, in fact, makes Rick the Rick that we know.
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