“Rick and Morty: Representation in the Analysis Dimension”
By Kyle Lopez
Rick and Morty is a show set in the modern day about a teenage boy, Morty, and his adventures with Rick, his sci-fi savvy alcoholic grandfather. The duo form two pieces of the Smith family which include Morty’s older sister Summer, Morty’s mom Beth, and Morty and Summer’s father Jerry. The show is incredibly popular now, and one I enjoy, which makes it a prime candidate for analysis. Sure, Rick and Morty can make me laugh when my brain is turned off and I want to unwind, but when viewed through the lens of difference, power, and discrimination what is it contributing to the conversation? Through a look into season 1, the deconstruction of Rick as a character, and some insight provided by other authors analyzing Rick and Morty, I intend to show you that, sadly, Rick and Morty aren’t contributing much.
The place I want to start at is an analysis I found written about season 1 episode 7 “Raising Gazorpazorp”, by Mridula Sharma of the Contemporary Literary Review India. In this episode Morty fathers a child on a sex robot (that Rick bought for him at an off-world pawn shop), which sends Rick and Summer to the planet the robot came from. Once there, they find a civilization in which a ruling caste of female Gazorpians have separated themselves from the males (a male Gazorpian is the galaxy’s most aggressive bloodthirsty species) in an event they refer to as “The Great Passive Aggression.” While the episode is comical at points it also sees Rick tell his granddaughter to be ashamed of her gender and introduces the idea that the worst crime a female can commit, in an all-female society, is to have bad bangs. These facts, along with Ricks’ snide commentary throughout the episode, cause Mridula to sum up the episode by saying, “Viewers are compelled to revisit and appropriate the operation of contemporary feminism as a misandrist mechanism in actuality” (Sharma). Meaning that the episode takes the real-world conversation regarding women in society and positions feminism as both being threatening to men and, were the feminists to get their way, inept.
Now, Mridula’s analysis is of a single episode, and scathing, so I wanted to juxtapose Mridula’s analysis, with a look at season 1 episode 6 “Rick Potion #9”. I chose this episode because it is from the first season and features Jessica, Morty’s love interest. While we are shown Morty daydreaming about Jessica in the pilot episode, it’s in episode 6 that their relationship is defined to the viewer. In it, Morty, whose locker is only a few down from Jessica’s, gathers up the nerve to approach her about going with him to the Flu Season Dance only to have Brad intercede for Jessica before she can do anything other than sneeze past a hello.
This moment happens in the episode’s first seconds and sets a precedent. Later that night Morty has the genius idea to ask Rick to make him a love potion. After some nagging Rick decides to do it to shut Morty up. While the premise of this episode is common to the point of being a trope, that doesn’t mean it isn’t tantamount to a rape fantasy. The existence of a magic love potion in no way makes it okay to force somebody else into loving you, sexually or otherwise. Jessica, who seems mostly indifferent towards Morty even when Brad is ridiculing him, wouldn’t otherwise choose to be with Morty. Thus, the show is actively implying the idea that a man’s desire is what is important. The fact that Rick, an adult, enables his grandson in the endeavor, legitimizing it that much more to the audience, is mildly horrific. And, yet, somehow normal.
If we take our analysis a step farther and look at the consequences of Morty and Rick conspiring to rob Jessica of her right to consent, things only stay the same. Since Jessica has the flu Rick’s love potion piggybacks off of the virus and reduces humanity to horrific flesh sacks unified in their lust for Morty. Except that’s not what happens, any chance to episode had to convey how wrong what they’ve done to Jessica is gets strangled to death mercilessly by Rick’s genius. He’s able to find a dimension where the gene pool hasn’t been destroyed and flees there with Morty. Leaving behind Morty’s original Jerry, Beth, and Summer to whatever fate awaits them on a planet of Cronenbergian nightmares that Rick made. It is a small thing, Rick and Morty stepping out of a ruined world and into their new home. It is also a complete vindication of all their actions previously taken in the episode.
Juxtaposed the analyses paint a grim picture and establish the beginning of a pattern that continues through the five seasons that are currently out. That’s not to say that the series is without positive female representation. In the season 4 finale, Beth (Morty’s stay-at-home mom) and Clone Beth (Beth’s space adventuring clone) have to save Rick when he is utterly defeated by his best friend turned arch-nemesis Phoenix Person. However, some positive representation doesn’t negate the series overwhelming trend of negative representation.
Gender isn’t the only prism through which we can examine the series though, so let’s move on to race. The Smith family (Rick, Morty, Jerry, Summer, and both Beths) are a middle-ish class white family. Rick’s last name is Sanchez but that’s as far into Latin culture as his character goes. Looking past the Smith family to the rest of the cast it isn’t until Mr. Goldenfold (Morty’s math teacher) in the hierarchy of relevance that you reach a character that is distinctly not white. Mr. Goldenfold features prominently in the second episode of the series “Lawnmower Dog”, which sees Rick and Morty travel into Mr. Goldenfold’s dreams to trick him into giving Morty better math grades. After that, after season 1 episode 2, he is squeezed in as an extra here and there but never featured prominently again. Another non-white character is Brad (featured above), who describes himself to Jessica by saying, “I throw balls far, you want words? Date a languager.” Which is a stereotype of young black men that has been around for quite a while. The President of the US in Rick and Morty’s home dimension is also black, but he’s mostly used as an obstacle for Rick to overcome. Non-white representation in the series is stereotypical, adversarial, or nonexistent.
The final prism through which I want to examine the series is power, specifically how power is portrayed in the series. And that leads us to Rick, where all power has been encoded. Rick is portrayed to us, the viewers, as able to overcome any obstacle with his wits alone. He is the smartest man in the universe, never has to suffer any consequences, and takes out all his problems on his family and friends. This should sound familiar. It’s the cookie-cutter description of the white patriarchal capitalist savior. As Genna Edwards writes in “What Rick and Morty Can Tell Us About American Masculinity,” the problem with Rick is that he, “allows this fan subset to do just that — place Rick as a role model, identify with him, see him and ergo themselves as gods. The issue lies in how Rick and Morty deals — or rather, doesn’t deal — with consequences” (Edwards). Rick does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, just like real men do. And, without seeing him have to live with the consequences of acting in that fashion, it is implied to the audience that this behavior is alright. Rick’s behavior, as a fictional cartoon character, is emblematic of the times that we see around us. People do and say whatever they want and then cry to the heavens about “cancel culture” when their words or actions deserve some sort of consequence.
So, what else is there to say? Well, the counterargument. There are moments, many in fact, where the writers deliberately draw attention to issues like these. There is season 2 episode 3 “Unity”, where Morty and Summer witness a race war between cone-nippled people and ripple-nippled people and Summer exclaims, “Why are you fighting?! Can’t you see you’re all the same?” Or in the season 3 premiere where Rick reveals he went to prison on purpose so that he could depose Jerry as the de facto patriarch of the Smith family. It can be argued that the writers are intentionally encoding things a certain way to provoke the audience to think about different issues. I think this explanation is pretty weak given that the show is marketed for kids and teenagers, but it must be considered.
Let me conclude with this, I love Rick and Morty. When I was kicking heroin two years ago and needed something to binge for the month and some change my body needed to detox, Rick and Morty helped me stagger through the finish line. My personal experience with them doesn’t absolve them of the fact that in nearly every way measurable Rick and Morty uphold the three pillars of white patriarchal capitalism that have been upheld for centuries.
Edwards, Genna. “Opinion | What ‘Rick and Morty’ can tell us about American masculinity.” UWIRE Text, 20 May 2020, p. 1. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 20 Feb. 2022.
Sharma, Mridula. “Examining Representation in Rick and Morty.” Contemporary Literary Review India, Vol. 7, No. 3, Page 100, August 2020. https://literaryjournal.in/index.php/clri/article/view/528/790. Accessed 20 Feb. 2022
Harmon, Dan, et al. Rick and Morty. [United States]: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc, 2015. Available on HBO Max. Accessed 22 Feb. 2022.