Sunday, August 10, 2014

Brooding versus Goofing: How Rick and Morty appeals to me.

I'm a brooding sort of guy. What this means isn't that I sit around and hatch eggs. I'd love to, but the last time we went out laying eggs got far too messy. What it does mean is I sit around and think about things making the world hard or miserable.

So it comes across in my writing how much despair lurks so closely. It comes out in my thinking.

What tends to not come out so much, I see, is also how much I value humor and absurdity as appropriate responses to the despair. In person, while talking, I'm all over the place with my emotions, and gestures, and smiles, and winks. I love to make people laugh and enjoy themselves, especially when we're all caught up in a frustrating situation none of us really ask for, like stocking shelves in a grocery store. Sometimes that means I tell a joke at an inappropriate time. Sometimes it means deconstructing why humor is needed in that moment.

I want to start writing about a television show that's actually made me excited: Rick and Morty.

Rick and Morty is, as it calls itself, a "high concept science fiction adventure." The show is perfectly surreal, in a way that's self-inconsistent and human. The philosophy behind it is definitely post-religious: ultimately nihilistic about the facts but fantastic about the meanings.

The premise of the show is simple: an alcholic grandfather mad scientist/engineer, Rick, takes his grandson, Morty, out for adventures; the family is an ordinary dysfunctional, with a hyperbolic take on the dim-witted, insecure husband, Jerry, combined with genius (horse) surgeon wife, Beth and their two kids, Morty and Summer, high-school girl with high-school problems; and these adventures all involve moving in and out of the infinite universes and realities available. Sounds open to all kinds of possibilities, right? Rick is morally abysmal, but he's not malevolent and sadistic, some moustache-twirling evil character who thinks science is superior to any moral frame. He's instead driven by very selfish and utilitarian values, but the show presents just enough to suggest Rick is considerate of Morty in a very twisted sense of hard love. Morty, on the other hand, is na├»ve and trusting, but suspicious and shocked, glib and impassioned—he's the typical average young white male with nothing much to go for him but how the story carries him along.

The themes of the show revolve around several things, but repeatedly the absurdity of living in the midst of the stark reality that all things die or end is the emphasis. What's amazing is how this doesn't get old at all—at least for me so far—precisely because the show is not saying "Look, this is depressing, and that's all it is, so deal with it, human."

Rather, Rick and Morty demonstrate how we do deal with death and the coming death of our species: through imaginative story-telling.

There are many hilarious scenes, spoofs, puns, balderdash, jokes, too many to summarize and too many to explain. I want to say "Just watch the show!" but then I wouldn't be able to say what makes me laugh and be touched by the show.

So, what I'm going to try and make myself do is something small. Working through the episodes of the first season, I will discuss events, dialogue, frames, references as they lead to forming what I think are some of the morals and values the show as "high concept science fiction" gets across to its target audience.

There are scenes covering things very embarrassing, intense, trigger-happy, eye-rolling, head-shaking. Sometimes it feels like the show goes too far, precisely for how subtlety in crafting these scenes makes us incapable of looking away or not following along. Like a mystery novel or noir series, the "connection" occurs inside our own thinking, making the lessons of the show much more our own than what the show explicitly gives its audience.

So, it's not quite a show for everyone, not because it "makes you think and you can't think if you're not a thinker." But because it's just so crude at times, and other times it's just too real to how actual suffering works or happens.

I'll have to keep this up as the show unfolds. Let's see if I can!

1 comment:

  1. This is an example of how to not discuss nihilism versus the other games in town: religion, natural philosophy, rational deism, make-believe, and worse, sociopathy.

    It's the Internet atheist phenomenon given a network with programming, and like a local cable access channel of old time religion here in the South, it shows how very local and small these minds are.

    On the other hand, you watch a show like Rick and Morty, and you see how wide and deep reality fundamentally is given the power of our own imagination, a mind that finally embraces not only what it means that god is dead, but also how to approach that we're really nothing but a single example in an infinite number of ways to unfold a reality.

    It was Pascal who put it in the mouth of someone having a crisis of belief ("Might I (actually) believe?") to say that the silence of the infinite spaces terrifies him.

    I think it's Roiland and Harmon who are living out the Wager in its totality.

    That is, they are embracing the idea that the only proper response to the inevitability is to:

    1. Not think about it.
    2. Watch some television.

    We see this, again and again, almost as explicit instructions for what to do in these situations. I cannot let this idea go: at the end of one of the many worlds of Rick and Morty, when this so-fucked-up family in actual love and trust sits down for the sunset of a world turned Cronenberg, they watch a television show of Summer remembering as best she could the lines and plot of Jaws.

    What is this, if it's not reaching out for the infinite happiness available to us, through the lunacy of science that drove us to land on it? What was going to the moon if not to demonstrate to ourselves that we can leave this all behind if we do science?

    That is the Wager that's facing us today. It's not belief in God. Fuck, no. It's also not belief in government, law, religions, or rules. It's not believing in love, anymore. Not even money works for these people quite the way it used to.

    It's the shows. It's the world in a box that's already sitting inside your mind.

    You will never hear this from Internet atheism modeled on the impotent frustrations of middle-aged, white male elitists.

    You will hear it from Rick and Morty, and the show has this to say:

    "Break the cycle, Morty. Rise above. Focus on science."

    'Love' is a feeling caused by a chemical, the show says. So is hatred, guilt, shame, lust, misery, despair, doubt, faith.

    It's all a cycle, the cycle of one world's life following that cycle.

    But, Rick, the mad scientist/engineer, walks through walls.


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