‘Rick and Morty’ goes beyond the brand of entertainment to explore societal issues
Entertainment isn’t always simply about entertaining people.
We live in an interesting age where many of the “official” forms of information or moral guidance (i.e. news media, government, religion) are largely distrusted. Journalists are considered biased and government officials corrupt, and the news or rules they produce is either ignored or considered untrustworthy.
Where, then, are people getting their knowledge of the world?
Works of fiction, satire, and comedy are typically classified as “entertainment,” which suggests that their only purpose is to prompt a laugh or provide a moment of escapism. There is, however, an aspect of entertainment media that runs much deeper.
Works of fiction traditionally are meant to convey some sort of moral. Aesop’s fables were among the first in this tradition, using animals and other made up characters to provide examples of how people should or shouldn’t behave. Modern movies, TV shows and books follow this example to some degree or other.
Some, like the “Fast and Furious” franchise, provide only shallow moral lessons. In these cases, “entertainment” is a more accurate word, as the main point of the media is to provide maximum escapism through fights, explosions and chase scenes. Superficial as the moral is, however, it’s still there.
Even the shallowest of movies tends to offer the audience guidance towards some “right” or “truth” about the world. Some movies, books and shows take this a step further, and use their fictional characters, worlds and plots to tackle topics and issues that run far deeper.
The TV show “Rick and Morty” fits this idea almost perfectly.
“Rick and Morty” is extremely popular. It’s also extremely funny and possibly far too vulgar for the tastes of some, and it could easily be written off as a shallow bit of escapism for the sake of a cheap laugh.
The show, however, is extremely well-written. The characters are believable because they are flawed in ways that are very human and believable. Morty and his sister fight in the manner of siblings, their parents have a floundering marriage, and Rick compensates for the family life he missed out on by burying himself in science. The actions of each character have very realistic consequences (though augmented by features like lasers and inter-dimensional travel), and viewers can potentially watch how situations play out and learn from the result.
Going beyond family life, “Rick and Morty” also delves into wider societal problems that plagues the world today. The show makes a parody of modern U.S. government with the Citadel of Ricks, which is portrayed as a grand vision of freedom and leadership that wandered down the path to hypocrisy and corruption due to the progression of time and the temptation of power. In season three, the show delves into concepts of race, class and gender inequality by taking these issues and portraying them in an exaggerated way through alien societies.
We as the viewers can laugh at these crazy adventures that Rick and Morty embark on and the crude jokes that the characters make, but every once in a while there’s a moment where we find ourselves laughing at something that is scarily true. Sometimes, it’s so true and so dark that we wonder if it’s right to be laughing about it.
Like a mother sneaking spinach into her kid’s brownies, “Rick and Morty” sneaks lessons of morality into the adventures and wisecracks that drew you to it in the first place. In this way, the show is more than pure entertainment. It is also a medium for the writers to portray real issues that they see going on in the world today, and to force us to think about why such ridiculous things as race, class and gender inequality still exist.
Sophia Koch is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.