Rick and Morty

By Shamus Posted Monday Aug 9, 2021

Filed under: Television 231 comments

Hey, remember a couple of years ago when the TV show Rick and Morty was the topic of the day? No? Weird. I remember half the recommendations on YouTube were thinkpieces talking about how the show was pure awfulness / pure brilliance / at peak cultural relevance / a sign of the fall of civilization / a dumb fad / a show for smart people / a show for assholes. Most of it went over my head because I’d never watched the show.

The show is still going, so I’m not sure why it’s getting so little attention now. (Or perhaps, why it got so much 2 years ago.)

The Cable Companies vs. My VPN

We don’t have normal cable TV in my house. With a service like Netflix, HBO Max, or Disney+, you pay between $10 and $20 for access to a ton of quality movies and shows. For cable TV, you pay an outrageous $80 a month for a hundred channels of garbage. Worse, it’s garbage with commercials. The cable company wants to charge me four times as much for a lower-quality product and then waste the fleeting moments of my finite existence showing me advertisements as part of the exchange. That’s not just a bad deal, that’s an act of aggression.

Sure, there might be one or two good shows mixed in with the deluge of reality television, stale sitcoms, home shopping, and other lowest-common-denominator fare. But who wants to pay $80 for one or two good shows?

But then last month I was dicking around with a VPN. I was doing this to see how YouTube and Steam would behave and what sorts of things their algorithms would show me based on where I was from. It was kind of interesting, but not interesting enough to turn into a post.

After the experiment was complete, I forgot about being logged into the VPN. I jumped over to Netflix and discovered that, as someone visiting “from Poland”, I was able to view episodes of Rick and Morty, which – if you’re an American – are normally hidden behind the $80 paywall of cable television.

Is anyone curious what this old man thinks of the hottest show of 2019? No? Too bad. That’s what we’re doing.

In Case You Missed It…

Rick Sanchez is “the smartest person in the universe”. He’s also a selfish reckless alcoholic jerk. He lives with his daughter Beth and her husband Jerry. No, I don’t know why the smartest inventor in the universe can’t get his own place. Beth and Jerry have two kids: Summer is your typical TikTok-watching zoomer, and 14 year old Morty is a shy, nervous, insecure kid that Grandpa Rick often drags along with him on his adventures.

This feels like the setup for an old-timey Saturday morning cartoon show about a boy and his inventor grandpa getting caught up in a never-ending series of wacky but harmless adventures. On paper, it looks like it might be a cousin to Phineas and Ferb by way of Dr. Who. You would expect that every week little Morty learns a lesson or gains some folksy wisdom, and then grandpa drops him off with his loving family until it’s time for their next adventure. This seems to be the template the show is drawing from. (Particularly in the early episodes.)

EXCEPT!

Rick is an amoral self-destructive old bastard, Morty is a horny insecure teenager, and the entire family is plagued by toxic relationships and substance abuse. In the rare moments when a character gets a moment of pathos, it’s usually undercut by how absurdly miserable and unfulfilled everyone is.

The show is a journey through a universe of shocking violence and flippant nihilism. Characters die horrific deaths on a regular basis, which is often played for laughs.

It feels like all of the main characters hate themselves, and hate each other even more. Sure, you can point to specific scenes where they seem to express affection for each other, but this “love” is often framed as synergizing co-dependence or mutually compatible neurosis. You could maybe even make the case that – in the view of the show – that’s what love is.

The whole thing makes me sad and uncomfortable.

Having said that, I do find the show’s approach to science fiction to be really interesting. This kept me coming back for multiple episodes, despite how awful the rest of the show made me feel.

Unlimited Ideas

The full quote is: Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV?
The full quote is: Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV?

On Star Trek, there’s this tacit understanding that the show will only ever deal with one new “idea” at a time. One episode features time travel. The next episode has everyone trapped in a simulation. The next week it’s clones. The week after that it’s humans being replaced by doppelgangers and nobody can figure out who is real and who is a doppelganger. Next up will be a robot attack. The show is always careful to introduce the Idea of the Week, explain what the rules are, and then have the characters overcome it at the end to return to the status quo. You’ll never get an episode where someone is trapped in a simulation with cloned doppelgangers and the simulation is being run by robots from the future, because that’s “too many ideas”.

Rick and Morty has no such limitation. Everything is always on the table, and in fact nearly every episode features some degree of multiverse-dimension-hopping on top of the three or four sci-fi concepts the show is juggling in any given episode. (The one exception is time travel. Grandpa Rick is adamantly anti-time travel.)

This means that the show is a strange experience. Its plots are all well-worn sci-fi tropes by now. But instead of taking out a single idea, exploring it, and putting it away at the end of the episode, Rick and Morty careens wildly through multiple tropes at once, mixing them all together into a soup of wild ideas and crazy visuals. Every episode begins with a premise you’ve seen a dozen times, and ends somewhere south of Fucking Gonzo Apeshit Lunacy.

It’s Fine


Link (YouTube)

(For the record, I disagree with the Moviebob video I embedded above. Like so much of his material from the last decade, Bob frames this as “Here is another case where the people I hate are the root cause of everyone’s problems.” But despite that, it’s a really good overview of the multi-layered nature of the show.)

I hasten to add that I am not condemning the show for its cynicism and nihilism. I don’t think this is a flaw that needs to be corrected. The show is resonating with its intended audience, and that’s what successful shows do. I’m just explaining why I feel depressed after watching it.

I am reminded of the late 1980s scolds that condemned The Simpsons and Married… with Children for daring to show a dysfunctional family on TV. I thought the shows were brilliant. Then South Park came along and made The Simpsons look like Leave it to Beaver. Now we have Rick and Morty, which is darker still. Sooner or later you fall out of step with the cultural zeitgeist. As someone who will turn 50 later this month, I guess the age of my irrelevance has come. I’d rather just accept that than run around bad-mouthing the next generation for doing entertainment wrong.

When I was younger, my theory was that this sort of thing was cyclical. Entertainment will trend towards cynicism for a few generations, and then suddenly there will be an abrupt shift towards hardshipLike say, a Great Depression sandwiched between two World Wars. and the troubled people will want their entertainment to be reaffirming / heartwarming again. That will work for twenty years or so, but then their kids will find that sort of thing to feel fake and insincere. And so the cycle will begin anew.

But that’s what I thought 20 years ago. Now I’m not so sure. I still believe that we’ll reach maximum cynicism at some point. But I don’t think a counter-swing back towards idealism is inevitable. I don’t know where things go from here. If I live another 20 years will I discover another, even darker show to appeal to the kids born in the age of COVID? Or maybe I should stop thinking about entertainment as a singular monolithic thing, because the internet has fragmented entertainment and split us into a thousand subcultures. Perhaps we now occupy all points on the cycle at the same time. Some folks are watching the Andy Griffith Show on TV Land, other folks are watching The Simpsons, and still others are watching Rick and Morty.

Rather than culture shifting to suit the zeitgeist, perhaps now entertainment is fixed and unchanging, and it’s the people that move. Maybe in the Internet Age, folks migrate through the fixed entertainment landscape, looking for existing shows that suit their mood and worldview. I don’t know.

Anyway.

So that’s what I think of Rick and Morty. It’s an interesting cultural marker and it’s wonderfully inventive, but it makes me sad and it’s not worth the $80 that American cable companies are asking for it.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Like say, a Great Depression sandwiched between two World Wars.



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231 thoughts on “Rick and Morty

  1. MerryWeathers says:

    I enjoyed the show in its first two seasons, felt it decline during season three when it focused a bit more on the drama than with an equal balance of fun sci-fi like the previous seasons.
    I only watched the first few episodes of season four but I enjoyed them way more than most of season three.
    From what I’ve heard of season five, it seems the show is declining with more misses than hits with the episodes and the characters are turning into caricatures of themselves. Rick and Morty may be going the way of Simpsons/Family Guy.

    1. Geebs says:

      I appreciate that being deliberately obnoxious is Rick and Morty’s “thing”, but it’s telling that the point where the show started making deliberate jabs at its audience for being too unsophisticated to appreciate its new, oh-so-meta direction was pretty much the exact point at which it started to suck.

      1. MerryWeathers says:

        Yeah, I do find that Rick and Morty works well if there’s a good mix of unique sci-fi concepts and “drama”, it’s fun but it gets genuinely obnoxious when it solely leans on the latter more.

    2. CloverMan-88 says:

      I have watched all the episodes twice, and I somewhat mirror your opinion – the first two seasons are the best (I prefer season 1, as its way less violent and later seasons seem to lead to heavily on violence for shock valie/humor), felt that season 3 was way worse, and found season 4 boring and season 5 almost unwatchable – boring, unfunny, and way, way less inventive. I’ve heard that the creators wanted to end it after seasons 3 but are contractually obligated to make 5 season, and it sure feels like it.

    3. Asdasd says:

      I didn’t even get all the way through season 3. It did feel like the writing was on a decline, but more than that, nihilism is just sort of exhausting. I discovered that I only have so much tolerance for jokes about the inevitability of death and the absurdity of existence, even if they’re good ones.

  2. Grimwear says:

    I watched 2 or 3 seasons of Rick and Morty and thought it was fine. Honestly, the first episodes are the worst. I have a real hard time listening to the burps that Rick is constantly doing. Also streamers. God, I know you’re alone in your house streaming but is it so much to ask to just turn your head away from the mic and cover your mouth when you burp? So freaking rude. I know that’s an odd thing to hate about a show as dark as Rick and Morty but I can’t handle it. I’m not disgusted just as annoyed as I can possibly be.

    As for tv I barely watch anything anymore. I’m waiting on the final season of the Expanse but honestly that show went downhill fast. Most things that I do end up watching I’ll only watch if I know going in that there’s an ending. For cartoons that basically boiled down to Gravity Falls and Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated. Both shows start off with the monster of the week, then discover a deeper mystery in their respective towns and then come to a cosmic world ending climax. And through all this Scooby-Doo ends up being the darker show with Nazi Robots, Murder, and Child Kidnapping. It’s wild.

    1. MerryWeathers says:

      I do find it interesting when people say Gravity Falls managed to execute a good ending compared to something like…Game of Thrones even though I feel both suffered from the same problems.

      1. Grimwear says:

        Having never watched Game of Thrones I’m afraid I am unable to compare them. Honestly, I can barely remember the end to Gravity Falls which must mean that it didn’t have much of an effect on me. I do remember enjoying the show, just not as much as Mystery Inc. I wish that show had been more popular. I actually bought it on dvd and dang if the quality isn’t massively mediocre. O well.

        1. MerryWeathers says:

          Half of the enjoyment of Gravity Falls was trying to solve or speculating on the mysteries as the show went along, which is impossible to do if you binged the show in one sitting or weren’t a part of the fandom.

          I do agree with you on Mystery Incorporated, it was basically an attempt in modernizing Scooby-Doo with serialized storylines and a more serious tone while still being a loveletter to the original and it was great for that.

          1. Grimwear says:

            Yep in both instances the biggest flaw was once again…cable. I remember watching Gravity Falls then just hitting repeat episodes so I stopped following. It was only later I discovered it took them like 3 years to put out the second season in little spurts. So I ended up just starting from the beginning again and binging. I had the same problem with Mystery Inc except I recall that they were releasing the episodes weekly but I got busy with university and ended up missing some episodes so I stopped watching altogether. Came back later and just binged the 2 seasons online. Seriously…online makes things so much simpler. I will say my biggest gripe with Mystery Inc was the love story with Shaggy and Velma. And how it was Velma or Scooby. Sorry Scooby literally lives with Shaggy and they’re best friends what is Shaggy supposed to do? Kick him out? Luckily that didn’t last too long but ugh is it painful to get through.

      2. Mr. Wolf says:

        It was my understanding that Gravity Falls started with the X-Files style of mystery building. That is “whatever we think would be cool, with no regard to whether they’d be able to tie it together later”.

        With that foundation, I’m surprised it turned out as well as it did.

        1. MerryWeathers says:

          You are actually right, I don’t think the show not having a plan from the start beyond the identity of the author of the Journals is a well known fact.

          “whatever we think would be cool, with no regard to whether they’d be able to tie it together later”.

          It goes by so many names now: “Chris Carter Effect/Lindeloffian Method/Mystery Boxes”

        2. Ninety-Three says:

          Gravity Falls’ solution was mostly to not try to tie it together. It doesn’t take the J. J. Abrams approach of “Ooh, Bigfoot’s real, what does it mean? Stay tuned to find out!” Instead the show clearly assigns no “this changes everything” significance to Bigfoot and indeed it’s eventually revealed that the town is a magical weirdness magnet so this stuff just shows up. I found it pretty obvious that Bigfoot and gnomes and so on would not tie into the arc plot in any way, and it was campy enough that I was content with that (not being a children’s cartoon, X-Files had more of an issue with “this seems like some of it should’ve gotten public by now”).

          1. MerryWeathers says:

            I don’t think that’s a good comparison, the bigfoot/gnome stuff are more comparable to the monster-of-the-week episodes of X-Files which don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

            When people talk about the J.J. Abrams approach in the context of the X-Files, they’re mainly referring to the Alien myth arc which the show’s main overarching story is about. A more appropriate comparison of that with Gravity Falls is the “Author/Bill Cipher storyline”.
            Both suffered from a case of the showrunners focusing on setting up lots of clues that when it came time to provide the solution, both shows didn’t know what to do and started to decline from a lack of clear direction.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              Maybe this is a damning indictment of the show, but I never got the impression that the Bill/book plotline was meant to be a mystery with clues that the audience follows. There’s an obvious sense in which it had more continuity than the gnomes, but trying to predict what would happen next seemed pointless in the same way that you couldn’t predict if the next monster of the week would be Nessie or vampires.

              1. MerryWeathers says:

                This is where the “half of the enjoyment of Gravity Falls was trying to solve or speculating on the mysteries as the show went along” part comes into play.

                If you sort of just casually watched or binged the show in one go then you’ll miss out on most of the various cryptograms, foreshadowing, or little background details scattered throughout the show which will take away a big aspect of the show and make the twists feel out of nowhere.

          2. Mr. Wolf says:

            Well it’s not like the X-Files tried to tie every monster-of-the-week in to the conspiracy plot either. Proportionately, fewer X-Files episodes than Gravity Falls episodes deal with the “main plot”.

    2. Bubble181 says:

      I absolutely agree with the belching.
      The whole show is trying to make everything and anything as ugly as possible, and Rick is absolutely deliberately breaking social norms and expectations etc – his belching is a clear and deliberate decision to showcase that, and to remind people he’s an alcoholic. I technically don’t mind that….But I still absolutely cannot stand his belching/burping.

      1. Ronan says:

        I didn’t watch past the first episode because of that.
        I was interested in some aspects of the show, and would have liked to know more about why people liked it so much, but not at the price of this constant burping.

    3. The+Wind+King says:

      I need to try Mystery Inc again, I got to the episode with the Mascots and just sort of gave up.

      1. Boobah says:

        I accidentally skipped that episode my first time through the show. Then read about it online, and was very confused when people mentioned Speed Buggy and Jabberjaw made appearances.

        I won’t say you aren’t missing anything, because I enjoyed the episode when I went back for it. But it’s mostly independent of the meta-plot.

  3. Olivier FAURE says:

    Personally, I’m mostly a fan of Rick & Morty, but the episodes can be pretty damn hit-and-miss.

    On the one hand, even the most disgusting, sad episodes have lots of really innovative ideas, spins on existing tropes, and a lot of nuance in how they tell their stories. On the other hand… well, sometimes they’re really gross. Season 5 has my favorite episodes, but it also has way, way too many incest jokes.

    Overall I think the series is fine. Some episodes are bad, and sometimes the show forgets that Rick is supposed to be an asshole and we’re not supposed to agree with him, but it’s never something permanent. The series has a baseline of being slightly dark, cynical and depressing but kinda upbeat, that it always comes back to. I guess for some people, what I just said is super bleak, but for me it’s reassuring: it never stays bad for too long.

    (Also it’s a story that does some effort to have an evolving continuity, characters aging a bit, major events not being reset, etc. It’s not stuck forever in a mutant status quo like The Simpsons.)

  4. Henson says:

    For me, Rick & Morty is two shows. One is an interesting dive into the question ‘what are the implications of multiple universes?’, and everything that comes from that. It’s full of novel ideas and a fresh take on old ones. The other show is belching, drool, and awkward, stilted, improvisational dialogue intended to be ‘humorous’. It wears out its welcome very quickly.

    (On another note, I think you’ve hit upon what appears to be a big difference in our society with the introduction of the internet and instant information: culture is frozen.)

  5. Parkhorse says:

    I recognize that the comments here are supposed to avoid politics, and I really try to separate the content from the creator, but… Moviebob, man, I just can’t. He’s made repeated comments in support of eugenics, including wishing it wasn’t tainted by the Nazis. His “no bad tactics, only bad targets” justification of an ends-justify-the-means philosophy is just morally repugnant. And then there’s things like his strong support of the “Cuties” documentary, the weird parasocial relationship thing he has going towards LIndsay Ellis, wishing for a return to intelligence tests for voting… the list really just doesn’t stop.

    Point is, even if Moviebob may have a relevant analysis… All of his other statements make it really hard for me to even consider listening to his commentary.

    1. Shamus says:

      I’ve met Bob Chipman. He’s an amazing fellow. We shared a panel at PAX 2013, and afterward I got into a group of people talking movies with him. The “moviebob” thing isn’t an act. He really is a walking encyclopedia of cinema and his passion for the topic is both boundless and contagious.

      But yeah. Without getting into his political views, he has a certain, let’s call it “mean streak”. And as the years have gone on, it’s sort of consumed him. At the time, you could watch it happening in real time on Twitter.

      1) Say something controversial / confrontational.
      2) A thousand jerks cuss you out and call you stupid.
      3) Allow the backlash to get to you, growing into resentment and hatred of your opponents.
      4) Use their backlash as proof that they’re all evil dimwits.
      5) Since all my enemies are provably evil, I’m justified in being even MORE controversial / confrontational. Repeat.

      This is exactly why I quit Twitter. It’s a hate machine. I saw it twisting up people like Bob, and I didn’t want that to happen to me. Watching Bob Chipman spiral into anger and resentment over the last few years has broken my heart. I seriously get choked up thinking about it. It’s bad for his work, and it’s bad for his heart.

      1. Yerushalmi says:

        Most people consume their steaks, not the other way around.

        (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

        1. tmtvl says:

          To keep the levity up, I cook a mean steak. In fact, I cook a steak so mean it robbed me in clear daylight.

          1. Zeta Kai says:

            I cook a steak so mean that it shot a man just to watch ‘im die.

          2. Mr. Wolf says:

            The price of beef is daylight robbery nowadays.

          1. tmtvl says:

            If thou doth eat a steak, the steak also eats thee.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        I really, really, liked MovieBob’s Escapist shows when he was talking about random movie facts, or obscure cartoons, or weird things that happened in comics. He did a series called Shlocktober about bad horror movies that pointed me at some glorious trash, and much fun was had.

        But when he gets going on some issue important to him, it makes me wince. His opinions presented as objective facts. Other opinions presented as (at best) woefully mistaken or (at worst) straight-up evil. While I agree with a lot of what he has to say, the sheer extremity of the views and his ‘You’re either with me, or just plain wrong – and an awful person to boot’ attitude are…
        …typical for someone who spends too much time on the wrong parts of the internet?

        It’s a good contrast to RedLetterMedia, who I moved onto for movie reviews etc after he left the Escapist for the first time: while I can make a couple of (educated) guesses about what Mike Stoklasa & co. think on certain political issues, you really get the impression that they understand their views are…just their views. Moreover, said views are rarely aren’t as important to them as making entertainment / reviews of movies.

        My impression was always that the root of the problem was Bob taking himself so damn seriously. Which is something that a lot of the internet (Twitter in particular) can exacerbate.

        1. Cohasset says:

          The Escapist is where I first was introduced to MovieBob too (also Shamus the first time he was a part of it) and his shows were always very enjoyable because of how much of a comic book/movie/cartoon nerd he is as long as he stayed away from political topics or didn’t try to interject them into a review. Regardless of whether one agrees with his views or not it’s sad he’s become such a polarizing figure and there are so many areas of the internet where it’s become near impossible to have a rational discussion between people of differing opinions.

        2. Cubic says:

          Then again, the US looks hugely polarized all the way from politicans, media and down. Part of the general climate of obnoxiousness, I’d say and perhaps it shows up like that in practice. I’ve seen much worse from far more eminent figures.

    2. CrushU says:

      “Intelligence tests for voting” is one of those things that sounds great. If you don’t know about the history behind that. Or think through the implications of it… Because it’s one of those things where “Yeah, I’d like the smart people to make decisions for the benefit of all, please” is the idea, but the implementation is always “Yeah, so the people who are the biggest assholes set the rules of the test to make sure they continue to make decisions centered around their own benefit.”

      (Like, holy shit, look up ‘literacy tests for voting’ in the USA for a wakeup call…)

      There’s… a few topics like that. Good idea in theory, terrible idea in practice.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Hopefully this is bland enough to not run afoul of the no-politics rule but it also gets into a fundamental disagreement about what democracy is for.

        Some people view it as a wisdom of crowds thing: there are a bunch of policies on offer, we need to figure out which one is best and sometimes aggregating a bunch of opinions outcompetes “just defer to the best bean-counter in the room” (mostly because everyone is biased, but if they’re all biased in random directions then in a large enough sample the randomness cancels out). On that model it can make sense to prune the lowest-information voters because they’re probably contributing more noise than signal.

        The other view is that democracy is a tool for making sure everyone’s interests get represented. Society is best when we’re not crushing a rightless minority into the dirt, so we give everyone a vote, the minority’s number one issue is not getting crushed into the dirt so they can outvote a majority that doesn’t care as much and overall we manage to preserve human rights, hurray. On this model, day 1 is that we take away the vote of everyone under 90 IQ and day 2 is that we double their taxes because hey, what are they gonna do about it?

        1. There are significantly more views on democracy than that. “The wisdom of crowds” has far too many obvious counterexamples for me to take seriously (yes, even the so-called “smart people” tend to be catastrophically wrong en mass), and democracy is much better described as “Tyranny of the majority” than “making sure everyone’s interests get represented”. There are plenty of examples where a slim majority was just as interested in oppressing a minority as the minority was in not being oppressed, and when you’re a part of the 49% on a very polarized issue, your “representation” doesn’t count for anything.

          Democracy is really just a very imperfect solution to the problem that power being concentrated in too few hands leads to runaway abuse and corruption. Needs to convince at least a 51% majority of the country to go along limits what you can get away with. Until it doesn’t. Also, there are so many ways to game the system that you can’t even draw a fine line between “democracy” and “dictatorship which holds show elections”.

          Democracy is sanity check on political power that has a tendency to break down whenever the population gets too excited about something.

      2. Shamus says:

        I’m going to break my own no-politics rule here. But I’m doing it not so I can argue with a particular policy decision, but to make the case that for me, this isn’t about whether any given policy is good or bad.

        In response to CrushU: To take your idea one further, intellect itself creates a certain bias. John Carmack has never made any political statements to this effect, but based on his life experience it would be totally plausible for someone in his position to say, “Hey, I worked hard and became a millionaire under my own power, without any special family connections or starting capital. Other people just need to work hard.”

        Which, yeah. If you’re a literally MENSA-level genius and you can single-handedly out-code and out-invent entire companies, then success probably seems pretty easy. Why is my neighbor poor? Why doesn’t he just take a couple of weeks to hammer out a new cutting-edge graphics engine and license it for millions? Must be lazy.

        I apologize for blundering into politics like this. Honestly, I find the “intelligence test for voting” to be an initially alluring idea that a decent and reasonable person might embrace, because the shortcomings are sort of counter-intuitive.

        Like, I don’t get mad at Bob for having this opinion. It’s a little out there on the fringe, but I know a lot of people with unconventional views. I might disagree, but I still consider them friends and I find their thinking fascinating.

        But I DO get frustrated at Bob for taking the rhetorical position of, “I’m right, and if you disagree then you’re part of the evil force dragging this nation / planet into idiocracy!” It’s not the unconventional views that’s a problem for me, it’s the arrogance, self-righteousness, and flippant mockery of people on the Other Side.

        About a half mile from where I live, there’s a house with a large yard positioned at the corner of a busy intersection. Before the election, the house had a giant pink “WOMEN FOR TRUMP” flag flying in the front yard, day and night, with lights on it. Really, this flag was huge. That was on the right side on the yard. On the left side was a traditional “BIDEN HARRIS 2020” yard sign. (And I think there was an “Impeach Trump” sign for a while? I forget. It was some variety of anti-Trump message.)

        I always smiled when I drove past the place. Both of these people evidently felt very strongly about their beliefs. They obviously disagreed with each other to an extreme extent. And yet they were able to live under the same roof. Maybe they screamed at each other over dinner every night, but I like to imagine they just took it in stride and lived together amicably.

        Earlier this year, someone passed along a link to the SSC entry on “Mistake Theorists” vs. “Conflict Theorists”, and that article perfectly crystalizes my thinking on this issue. Some people (mistake theorists) believe that the other side is misguided / mistaken. If they understood the facts, they would change their position to agree with me. Other people (conflict theorists) believe that the other side is evil. People disagree with my good policy ideas because they are stupid and evil.

        I find that I care very little about whether or not people agree with me politically. (Okay, there are a couple of extreme issues that you can’t really bend on. I’m sure you can guess on what those are. But let’s assume we’re talking about dry policy stuff like tax laws, business regulation, public works funding, social programs, and that sort of thing.) I don’t care if you lean left or right, but I REALLY don’t want to hang around with Conflict Theorists, regardless of party orientation.

        Like, if you lean away from me then you’ll see me as an agent of evil, and that’s a dealbreaker. But even if we agree on policy, I find your hatred of the other side to be really uncomfortable and troublesome. I’m over here trying to reason with someone and help them see my way of looking at the world, and you’re just punching them in the face and screaming “NAZI!” at them. You are doing the opposite of helping, and to be honest I’d rather hang out with this “Nazi” than hang out with you.

        EDIT: Holy shit. 700 words? I guess I needed to get this off my chest. I’m going to ban myself from making any further replies. I evidently need to sit the rest of this thread out.

        1. CrushU says:

          I’ll read the whole article you linked, but based on those summaries you gave, I also used to subscribe to Mistake Theorist ideology wholeheartedly. If only they knew the facts, surely they would reach the same conclusion!

          Then the pandemic happened and demonstrated, vividly, that for a substantial section of the population, understanding facts are not enough to persuade them.

          On balance, I do generally believe that people aren’t necessarily Evil, unless you consider ‘greedy and self-centered’ to be Evil. At this point, I mostly just assume that people who are demonstrably wrong are just Uncurably Stupid. And again, to be specific, I’m talking about disagreeing with objective reality. If you just believe a different policy is better than this one, that’s *fine*, it’s Failure To Agree Upon Reality that I abhor and will cause me to write you off as Uncurably Stupid.

          Really toeing that ‘no politics’ line, I think. :D

          1. Henson says:

            Unfortunately, it’s become increasingly apparent that the incredible difficulty is trying to determine exactly what objective reality is. Everyone has their own facts, and has a lot of them. Trying to find the truth is like wading through miles of muck to see if there is anything valuable hidden within. And you have to do it for every. single. part. of. every. issue. It’s exhausting.

            Based on our current political/media landscape, I don’t blame others for thinking different facts are true; I only blame others for believing facts that only stand up under a complete lack of basic logical scrutiny. The one thing I want people to do is actually think for themselves.

            1. CrushU says:

              “The one thing I want people to do is actually think for themselves.”
              That’s actually the problem.
              Not enough people trust experts/specialists in their field, and think that their own thoughts on a topic should hold just as much validity as an expert in the field who has published a peer reviewed article that stands up to the strictest standards we hold.

              So at this point, I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who says that people just need to ‘think for themselves’.
              No, the problem is that people need to find trustworthy sources. And there’s the rub, because you can’t dictate which sources *are* trustworthy, for similar reasons that we can’t have an IQ test for voters. Ideally, I’d simply want people to be able to identify trustworthy information versus information designed to mislead. And, because English, this actually could be what you really meant by “think for themselves”! Yay, language.

              1. Rho says:

                I think I would have to disagree, respectfully, because experts can’t be trusted to be *correct*. Even within their own fields, plenty of experts have been, well, wildly wrong. This doesn’t mean one should not *listen* to experts, but critics are frequently correct in pointing out mistakes, dangerous over-simplifications, or relying on broken processes because they are formally “accepted”, whether or not they make sense in a specific situation.

                This doesn’t mean one should ever believe a critic just because they are a critic; that’s just making an opposite mistake. And as a good first-order rule, accepting the word of someone with credentials is almost always the right choice. But too often, failure to think critically has led to experts causing significant and serious harm. The problem with trusting experts is that experts aren’t a;ways trustworthy, so to speak. As an example, experts or formal institutions often have severe biases which can lead them astray, even when they are well-meaning or otherwise well-led. It’s very easy for very knowledge people or institutions to over-estimate their ability to understand and control a situation. They may miss major factors that should lead them to be careful and seek advice and assistance because, in relying on their own domain knowledge, they don’t know how to assess other important and relevant domains. They don’t have be evil, selfish, or conspiratorial in order to cause harm.

                And that is one major key to making good judgments about criticism of experts. If you’re being asked to assess an expert based on negative personal values, that is likely an attempt at manipulation or based on false beliefs and criticism should be assessed skeptically. However, when the criticism is very specific or evidence-based, or points out significant gaps in the expert consensus, then it should probably be assessed more carefully.

                Or, for the TL;DR version, There’s no way to judge who is right without critical thinking.

              2. Grimwear says:

                I agree the issue is find trustworthy sources. Who’s trustworthy? Were the doctors on Capital Hill trustworthy? Well of course not so they were removed from facebook and twitter. What about Harvey Risch? He has an h-index score of 95, nearly double the average for how prolifically they are cited. But he also said hcq is promising in out patients and requires further study so he’s “bad news”. What about John Ioannidis, a man once lauded as one of the most influential scientists alive. He opposed lockdowns. The point being that much like statistics you can find a trusted source for any side. And with social media pushing one side as hard as they possibly can and removing everyone who says otherwise it does not breed trust. So all that’s left is to once again think for yourself and find what you personally believe.

              3. Sven says:

                In and of itself, people “thinking for themselves” is fine. The problem is that that only leads to good outcomes if the people are able to get good information, like you say.

                The first step here is to make sure that people are educated. Not just to have basic knowledge, but to have a basic understanding of how to think critically, and how to critically evaluate information. The problem isn’t so much that they need to find good sources (they’re fairly easy to find), but that they need to be able to distinguish them from bad sources. Especially when the bad sources can be much louder, even easier to find, and generally tell you what you want to hear rather than the truth. Especially especially when we’ve created giant infrastructure (social media) designed to keep you isolated among people who already agree with you (not intentionally, but as a byproduct of how these platforms drive engagement).

                At this point, that’s really just arguing details, though. I think broadly all of us agree here.

              4. “Trust the experts!” is functionally identical to “Trust whatever authority figure you’re presented with who aligns with your biases!”.

                You can’t identify trustworthy information without being at least educated on a rudimentary level regarding the subject matter. Our society is filled with “experts” who cannot, in any objective sense, demonstrate actual expertise and who cannot pass simple tests like being able to make accurate predictions based on their expertise.

                If people are going to hold strong opinions on things, they do need to think for themselves, and not just repeat what a scientifically illiterate journalist told them the expert consensus was. There’s no way around it- if the subject matter itself is completely beyond your understanding, then you’ll never have any idea who the real expert is and who is a charlatan being propped up by a major institution with an agenda.

          2. CrushU says:

            Okay, so I read the article.
            Yeah, it reads like a naïve perspective on political thinking. *To be fair*, I was also naïve in the exact same way a year ago.
            Now, I cannot trust that anyone who chooses to engage in policy debate is actually a cognitive person, self-aware and attempting to reach the best conclusion for everyone. Which is annoying and frustrating. Which is why I generally don’t engage in policy debate.
            I would probably come down as a ‘Hard Conflict Theorist’, because I don’t believe we can just think our way to a better society. Thinking is good, though.

            I dunno, I suspect the truth lies between those two extremes of ‘Mistake vs Conflict’. Like most things, honestly.

            I am extremely annoyed that he’s had to delete his blog since the NYT doxxed him.

            1. Matt says:

              The author is back on Astral Codex Ten on Substack.

              Regarding Mistake vs. Conflict theory, I have come to identify more as a Conflict theorist over the last few years, mostly because I realize how many of our most strident political arguments are rooted in value disagreements, many of them irreconcilable. In the past, when everything moved slower and was more disconnected, it was possible for people to be largely ignorant of and unconcerned by such differences. These days, I think that is impossible and so conflict is inevitable

              1. Ultimately, I’m also a Conflict Theorist in principle. However, I tend to act more like a Mistake Theorist in practice, because I think it’s hard to know which you’re dealing with without spending a lot of time with a particular individual. And I think that whatever that amount of time is, “one otherwise context-free internet post I blundered across on my Internet wanderings” is well below the threshold. Before I will really write someone off as deeply in conflict with my fundamental values in an irreconcilable way, I want a lot of evidence.

          3. Daniil Adamov says:

            You know, I keep hearing/seeing people say that their worldview was drastically affected by the pandemic. It has not affected mine in the slightest (I don’t remember assuming that people, myself included, are particularly rational by default – only that we can try to be smart about some things, some of the time, but usually won’t), which may be why it is a little strange to me. Surely there were plenty of examples of highly irrational behaviour around before. I guess this was a more dramatic and blatant demonstration than usual?

          4. Nate Winchester says:

            it’s Failure To Agree Upon Reality that I abhor and will cause me to write you off as Uncurably Stupid.

            Here’s the problem.

            REALITY(tm) has far more data in it than any single brain can process. Pick any object – a rubber ball, a flower, a dog – and try to list every objective fact you can about it. You’ll be exhausted before you finish (after all, once you have the basics, you then have to account for the speed and position of every atom making up the object).

            Therefore in order to function, our brains only bother with the facts/aspects that we prioritize. While your fact list would probably overlap a lot with someone else’s, the order of the facts will vary. If we had everyone in the exercise list the facts in order of importance, each person’s sort order will be distinct.

            This isn’t a reference to that dumb “blind men with the elephant” parable because that has the blind folk all being wrong. The truth of the matter is that everyone in the parable is right – but incomplete. To one person what matters most is the flower’s beauty, while to another person its edibility. Another person values the flower’s history in various cultures, while to the gardener what’s most important is their personal history with it. All these people are disagreeing about REALITY(tm) yet they are all accurate and true to REALITY(tm).

            Yeah, people can be objectively wrong. But in my experience a lot of the times the “objective” disagreement is really a disagreement over sort-orders. Next time you’re in an argument, take a moment to see if your databases are mapped accurately to each other first.

            And to get as close I wish to politics: very often the “objective” disagreements are over future projections – which are NEVER actually objective nor technically REALITY(tm) because it hasn’t happened yet.

          5. Alecw says:

            What you fail to understand is that people capable of interpreting facts differently. Facts don’t care about feelings but your feelings sure change how you deal with the facts. There’s no factual or scientific approach to public policy or private ethics.

            Extreme example: let’s say covid 2.0 comes out and instead of a more infectious flu that has a higher mortality rate among the vulnerable, it’s a real doomsday virus. 70%, Ebola death rates among all groups. Populations will vanish.

            Many would look at this and say the most extreme measures are called for. There would be those that would accept the facts, not in dispute. Instead they argue that their freedoms and rights are more important than the society and lives of the people who will die. People have died by the million forever for endless reasons, so this person isn’t factually or objectivly wrong. They’re interpreting the world through different values.
            And that’s if you’re both reading the same studies. With climate change you can interpret the data many ways, but you can interpret the call to action it creates many, many more ways.
            Should we ban meat? Plant trees? Sterilise people? Gas them? Pour money into RnD or invest in current and get it out there? These are all valid responses to the facts. Facts don’t give you ethics.

        2. trevalyan says:

          Thank you for saying all of this, Shamus. It clearly meant a lot to you. I don’t doubt that you feel very strongly about this, and are equally determined to avoid engaging with the topic further. I’m most grateful because intelligence, and the perception/ fetishization of intelligence, are major factors in the popularity of Rick and Morty.

          A society that rewards scientific intellect above all could eventually look like a Council of Ricks- and that society was so unstable it fell to a coup d’etat. If Dan Harmon had any sign of acknowledging that social and emotional intelligence was anywhere near as valuable as scientific intelligence, it would have come through in the show. But it can’t, and never will. To cite one example, Rick cloned his own daughter so that she could be a housewife AND an intergalactic revolutionary. Smartest man alive, but too stupid to see that both versions of his daughter should and would hold him in permanent, well-deserved contempt. Another example is when Jerry is utterly horrified by whatever atrocious memories were in the mind of the talking cat- he’s ready to honor these people by remembering them. It’s literally the necessity of Never Forget in a post-WWII society. He’s on the path to becoming a better person. Then Rick uses the memory gun and WHOOPS, character development averted, L O L.

          At least Breaking Bad had something interesting to say about amoral intelligence, and said it relatively quickly. Rick and Morty can’t develop its characters because then the money train is over, and the fans who only worship intelligence (and intelligent people like Rick and Walter White) would tune out. “Rick and Morty” is as played out as The Simpsons, and it took a far shorter amount of time to get there.

        3. Steve C says:

          The whole “Mistake Theorists” vs. “Conflict Theorists” seems like an uniquely American take on politics. Where a loud vocal group wishes to steer agendas by being more noticeable. Either by being more eloquent or by being more expressive or aggressive. However both “Mistake Theorists” and “Conflict Theorists” are trying to maximize bandwidth. Which is alien and weird to me.

          Rick and Morty is an apt example due to the szechuan sauce riots. That was weird. A group decided they wanted something and that’s the method they went about getting it. That is a form of politics. It was a uniquely American response though. Which is evidenced by the fact Rick and Morty is international and nowhere else experienced sauce riots. That was not a reasonable act to not getting your way. The fact that when the dust settled and it worked is just another set of crazy. Its success proves it was reasonable.

          The property with the flag/signs that makes you smile is another example. Nobody is saying they shouldn’t be allowed to do that. But to people outside American and looking in? The fact they wanted to at all and then went through with it… That shit is weird as hell. It’s uncomfortable. It’s like watching someone who’s insane not getting help. It’s sauce riots in another form. I’m reading about Smile or they might stab you.

          In the same way that Football is not Football outside of the USA, American style politics is not “politics”. It is its own own unique brand with its own rules. Theories like “Mistake Theorists” vs. “Conflict Theorists” might apply uniquely to American style politics. It would be an error to apply that thinking outside the USA the same as it would be to espouse theories on when it is ok to touch the ball in Football.

          1. MerryWeathers says:

            Which is evidenced by the fact Rick and Morty is international and nowhere else experienced sauce riots.

            That was probably because the szechuan sauce was only brought back in America and not anywhere else in the world, the sauce only being in limited amounts (literally only 20 packets) was what caused the riots in the first place if I remember correctly.

            Though I agree with you that type of shit would probably only happen in the U.S. Apparently someone even got stabbed waiting for the sauce in line which would sound ridiculous anywhere else but certainly sounds plausible in America.

          2. Daniil Adamov says:

            “The property with the flag/signs that makes you smile is another example. Nobody is saying they shouldn’t be allowed to do that. But to people outside American and looking in? The fact they wanted to at all and then went through with it… That shit is weird as hell. It’s uncomfortable. It’s like watching someone who’s insane not getting help. It’s sauce riots in another form.”

            I’m not sure what you mean here. My non-American extended family is full of people with diametrically opposed political views, but everyone in it gets along just fine most of the time. When there are conflicts, they certainly aren’t over politics. Disagreements over politics manifest in occasional sniping during encounters. That seldom lasts long, though. For that matter, my parents had very different political views from each other at the time they got married, and only converged later.

            There is something to American politics being a little different from everywhere else… maybe. I’m not sure what it is exactly, and I find it difficult to speculate as to the causes without violating the no-politics rule even more than it has already been violated. I don’t think that people proudly coexisting with others whose opinions are different is it, though.

            (It also kind of reminds me of a possibly apocryphal Napoleon III quote: “The Empress is Legitimist, my cousin is Republican, Morny is Orleanist, I am a socialist; the only Bonapartist is Persigny, and he is mad.” Whether true or not, I doubt that it was meant to his discredit.)

            1. Jeff says:

              I think they’re specifically referring to the signs/flags.

              Up here in Canada there’s signs during election season, and only the literal election season (which is just a few months before an election). If ever we saw people with Trudeau-hate or Trudeau-worship flags/attire, they would look insane.

              1. Steve C says:

                Yes. I was referring to the flags. Many times I’ve seen yards with multiple political signs. That’s not special nor noteworthy.

                The difference is demanding attention. It is difference between someone stating “I like dogs” when discussing pets VS someone repeatedly shouting “I LIKE DOGS!”

                Ok. I was just trying to go to the store to… “I LIKE DOGS!”… ok… that’s nice. I just need some eggs. “I LIKE DOGS!” Yeah. You are starting to creep me out here. “I LIKE DOGS!” I’m just going to go now… “DO YOU LIKE DOGS?!” … (backs away slowly)

                The issue is the bandwidth and attention demanded.
                Not “Mistake vs Conflict”. Not the message. It’s the need to express your beliefs to the point it becomes an identity. The fact the people in that house were flying different flags is neither here nor there. It was the fact that they were of vastly different sizes. And that any were giant and with lights. The need for the people living in that home to grab as many eyes as possible at the intersection is the creepy part. It’s extremely ‘US’ vs ‘THEM’ tribal politics.

                Democracies generally have more than one political party/group/ideology etc outside America. Theories like “Mistake vs Conflict” really don’t make a lot of sense when there’s more options.

        4. Dreadjaws says:

          Some people (mistake theorists) believe that the other side is misguided / mistaken. If they understood the facts, they would change their position to agree with me. Other people (conflict theorists) believe that the other side is evil. People disagree with my good policy ideas because they are stupid and evil.

          This perfectly encapsulates politics for me and why I despise them so much. Because nowhere in that binary list is the “I’m perfectly able to accept the possibility that I might be the one who’s wrong” option. Being an introvert, for over half of my life I was exposed exclusively to my parents’ political views and tended to view everyone else as wrong (and, to be clear, things aren’t just as black and white as having two parties where I live). Once I moved away from them and I experienced life on my own I started to see that other sides actually made some good points and some of my parents’ ideas were and still are severely outdated. But I still didn’t just “jump ship” to any of the other sides because I still think they’re not always in the right either.

          This is why I refuse to join any political party. I don’t think there’s any of them that’s always in the right (and by “right” I mean “correct” in this context and not “right-leaning politics”). I like to hear both sides on any discussion rather than only listening to echo chambers and ignoring the rest, so I can then draw my own conclussions. Even to this day, in the COVID age, I hear people from both sides being both entirely reasonable on many subjects and completely irrational on many others. If you read between the lines you can pretty much always tell when the thinking behind their rationalization comes from critical thought and when it comes from a desire to stick it to the opposition.

          I’m subscribed to a bunch of YouTubers from different political leanings (even though their channels aren’t necessarily about politics) and they very clearly disagree with each other when talking about specific subjects while entirely agreeing on others yet I have the certainty that if they were to debate with each other they’d find ways to disagree on everything. And here is the crux of the problem and the reason why I despise politics so much: because they bring out in people an “us vs them” mentality that forces them to think the other side is in the wrong no matter what.

          1. Syal says:

            Because nowhere in that binary list is the “I’m perfectly able to accept the possibility that I might be the one who’s wrong” option.

            Not in that one necessarily, but it’s in the blog. I won’t be able to find the post because navigating the SlateStarCodex archive was a horrific ordeal even when it was still alive, but there was a post in there with a good metaphor about a psychiatrist treating a patient who thinks they’re the psychiatrist, and if you engage in good faith, sometimes you realize that they’re right and you’re the crazy one.

        5. Cerapa says:

          Maybe it’s an artifact of the American political system, with its two party system, but this reads to me as an extremely simplistic way to look at politics that relies on having a singular unified opposition. The idea of looking at the world through the lens of conflict vs mistake makes no sense when you have 5 different parties in parliament, plus those that didn’t get enough votes for a seat, because they are all different.

          Among political actors you are going to have some which are simply misguided or are basing their decisions on things you are not familiar with, some actors which have a fundamentally different view of what a country should be and what the world should look like, and also actors who are actively hostile and self-serving. There are going to be some with which a dialog is productive, and there are those who you cannot convince because they fundamentally do not want the same things you do.

          1. Dotec says:

            It’s a simple binary, and not totally explanatory. But I find it to be a pretty good model that matches well to the variety of political interlocutors I have.

            I don’t think you should be mapping it to any kind of party system. Mistake theorists and conflict theorists arguably exist in every political group. They are your comrades and bedfellows, as well as the enemy’s. You’d have to be pretty juvenile to read a blogpost like that and come away thinking anything along the lines of “Ah, yes. Democrats are clearly the Mistake party and Republicans are the Conflict party” or the inverse.

            These days, I don’t really see the binary as a political/worldview. It seems to me that most people are happy to pick up one or the other depending on setting and utility. In my private political arguments with friends, I am sincerely Mistake-focused in my musings. Publicly? Conflict is the coin of the realm, and anything less feels like a suicide pact with my ideals.

            I’m kinda giddy that SSC got linked here by Shamus, since the longform analyses of both blogs scratch a very similar itch for me, albeit with different topics. But I have to admit the last few years have made me very cynical. I’m starting to question if ‘Mistake Theory’ is an actual thing or if it’s just kicking the can down the road – and all roads ultimately terminate in ‘Conflict’.

            1. Cerapa says:

              >“Ah, yes. Democrats are clearly the Mistake party and Republicans are the Conflict party” or the inverse.

              I meant in the sense of how you treat others, not that a party is composed entirely of conflict theorists or something. There are going to be people who you can find common ground with, and there are going to be people who fundamentally will be in conflict with you. Treating everybody the same makes no sense.

              1. Dotec says:

                I’m not even sure what the disagreement here is. What in the SSC blog post makes any argument for or against “treating everybody the same”?

                I’m possibly misunderstanding your post. But you said the theory seemed largely informed by the two-party US system, and it doesn’t neatly translate to – say – a parliamentary system. My argument is that you could have it be fifteen parties and you will still see the discourse broadly sort into these two lenses. Being gridlocked against a dozen other parties with competing interests may impact your effectiveness, but it doesn’t change the way individuals or groups nonetheless see the world.

                1. Steve C says:

                  you will still see the discourse broadly sort into these two lenses.

                  But those of us outside of the two-party US system do not see this. That was Cerapa’s point. (And mine.) If it was a true rigorous theory it could be applied broadly. But it can’t be applied broadly. Instead it just appears alien and breaks down outside of two-party systems.

                  However when you are inside it, it tints how outside is perceived. For example:

                  Being gridlocked against a dozen other parties with competing interests may impact your effectiveness,

                  There’s an implicit assumption of being gridlocked. Or that it isn’t possible to work with competing interests. Or that it automatically makes you less effective. None of that is true. So much so it is strange those would even be implicit assumptions.

                  It’s pretty clear why too. Let’s say one faction/party has 40% of the vote. Another has 40%. A third has 15% and the rest make up 5%. Whichever of the 40% party gets that 15% faction to support them has won. So it’s all about convincing and working with competing interests. And that 15% faction is insanely effective. They get a disproportionate amount of power. And everyone has to remain sane and reasonable on all sides. Because the balance of power is definitely going to shift in a few years time and nobody knows exactly how. No career politician can afford to burn bridges today when it screws over their future. Even 5% in any way changes the entire dynamic.

                  Every parliamentary system has baked into its core the need to rip apart *every* idea and policy and rebuild it in a way that best served everyone. Historically everyone having that debate ultimately got to decide nothing. They only got to make recommendations to the King. They were only really presenting the pros and cons for someone else to decide.

                  This fundamental core that every idea is terrible and needs to be beaten into a good idea by everyone remains in the DNA of the system. When parties are forced to work together just to survive, ‘theories of the mind’ political belief systems like Mistake vs Conflict make no sense given real world evidence.

                  This disagreement is with this:

                  I am sincerely Mistake-focused in my musings. Publicly? Conflict is the coin of the realm, and anything less feels like a suicide pact with my ideals.

                  That’s a culturally alien concept. It very well might be true for you and the politics that surround you. It is still strange, not applicable outside that culture and frankly a little disturbing.

        6. My problem with the “Conflict vs. Mistake” framing is that it assumes that one is a statist who thinks that one view must win out over the other and be enforced via the government.

          Conflict theorists are fundamentally correct in observing that the problem is a difference in values, not just in information. But the framing assumes that the next step is forcing your values on the other side, rather than maximizing the ability of individuals to live according to their own values.

          It’s like arguing whether people who prefer mushrooms on their pizza are just ignorant or evil, and whether we should treat them as imbeciles and lecture them until they realize how stupid they are or beat them with a stick until they agree to submit. There’s a third option there being ignored- leave them alone and worry about what’s on your own pizza.

          1. Nate Winchester says:

            The solution you describe is called “federalism” and was once the ideal in the USA. ;) Whatever your values were, the idea being that you find a state which best represents them and go live there along with a bunch of other people who share the same values.

            Obviously I quite agree with you on this as a solution.

      3. Tom says:

        Given the nature of this site, particularly since Shamus is covering another 0451 game right now, it’s basically mandatory that I bring up Deus Ex at this point, since this is exactly the sort of conundrum that game was built to illustrate, and to a considerable extent, does.

      4. Syal says:

        Even assuming you can create a perfect intelligence test, which truly creates a more informed voting demographic in a completely unbiased way with no secondary effects… there’s still going to be a lower end of the voter pool. And people are still going to be frustrated that things get decided by the lower end. And they’re going to want to increase the standards. And if you do that, then there’s a new lower limit, and new frustrations, and the process gets tighter and tighter until you might as well just call off democracy and have a king.

        So, not really even a good idea in theory.

    3. Shatrek says:

      It’s also cuz he’s fat. In ancient Mayan scripture, the more weight you have, the more evil you carry.

    4. Savage Wombat says:

      The statements listed here are not descriptions of MovieBob, they are the positions his hatedom baselessly ascribes to him. You can disagree with the man’s actual views without repeating the lies of trolls.

      1. eldomtom2 says:

        Are you claiming that his infamous tweets are fakes?

        1. Savage Wombat says:

          No, I’m stating that one tweet that was both meant as a joke and apologized for has been repeatedly thrown in his face for a decade and passed around a certain community that dislikes him. If you disagree with his politics, you have plenty of his actual beliefs to argue with instead of repeating calumny.

      2. Parkhorse says:

        He literally tweeted:

        There are days when my fondest wish is that “Eugenics” hadn’t been tainted as a science by racists and nazis. You call them “weekdays”

        He has since deleted it, but the tweet was archived

        1. Savage Wombat says:

          Thus my point above about “one tweet”.

          Let’s drag this back to the point of the post – if you’re incessantly harassing a movie critic over one joke post from many years ago – you’re engaging in the “conflict theory” behavior being criticized here.

          1. Parkhorse says:

            Fine. That eugenics tweet was “only a joke.” We’ll ignore how easy that is to retroactively claim once it got a negative reaction.

            “There are times when I *REALLY* hate that Jim Crow-era racists pretty-much ruined the idea of intelligence-tests for voting.

            “Here’s something you should know about me: I “believe” that there is (almost) no such thing as a bad tactic – only bad TARGETS”

            Moviebob and Lindsay Ellis part one, part two, and part three.

            Moviebob defending the “Cuties” documentary

            But yeah, it’s just that one tweet that makes me dislike him, obviously. I’m just deluded or mislead, and not reading the man’s actual words, and if I just had all of the facts I would change my mind. Totally just “conflict theory” behavior. And talking about the things he has said on a small blog he almost certainly does not read is “incessantly harassing a movie critic.”

            1. Savage Wombat says:

              I think your response makes my point ever-so-clear. You are totally documenting all of these “sins” of a movie critic because of his offenses against rationality, not because you have him tagged as an “enemy”.

              Anyway, I’m surprised this thread hasn’t been deleted already.

              1. Parkhorse says:

                Your words:

                The statements listed here are not descriptions of MovieBob, they are the positions his hatedom baselessly ascribes to him. You can disagree with the man’s actual views without repeating the lies of trolls.

                You said my statements were positions his hatedom baselessly ascribes to him, that I am repeating the lies of trolls, but… I have provided documentation of his words for each reason I listed for finding him distasteful. How is that lying, or baseless? You said, “Thus my point above about “one tweet”, ignoring that my initial comment listed several different issues I have with the guy without touching on his political views. “No bad tactics, only bad targets” is a morally repugnant view regardless of one’s political views. I provided sources on the ones you ignored when you focused on “one tweet.” And now, my responding to your minimization of the reasons I could dislike him, showing that my claims were neither “baseless” nor “lies” as you claimed, is evidence of my being untruthful about the reasons I dislike him? What!?

                For the reasons I initially listed, and later provided sources for, and more I have forgotten over the years, I would dislike Moviebob regardless of whether, politically, he was left of Mao or right of Pinochet. I don’t automatically approve of everyone on “my side,” or automatically hate everyone on the “other side,” so please don’t assume that’s the real reason for my complaint.

                But yes, I’m also surprised the thread hasn’t been deleted. We can at least agree to that.

                1. Shamus says:

                  Ah wow. Looks like I picked a bad day to sleep in.

                  Okay, I need to take on some (a lot) of the responsibility for this mess because I basically started it. But really this can’t go on. Let’s stop talking about MovieBob.

                  Thanks.

  6. Vertette says:

    Funny to think that back in the day, The Simpsons was considered to the most subversive show on television. Even the president commented on it. Now we get much darker and subversive shows all the time and nobody bats an eye.

    1. Addie says:

      It was considered one of the most subversive shows on TV, because at that point, it was one of the first mainstream, prime-time cartoons aimed at adults. That expectation has now been thoroughly subverted; South Park had even blacker comedy with an even more childish style, and that was twenty years ago.

      I don’t know what the new think-of-the-children, how-could-it-come-to-this media frenzy du jour would be, though – Tiktok is kind of done.

  7. Fizban says:

    Rather than culture shifting to suit the zeitgeist, perhaps now entertainment is fixed and unchanging, and it’s the people that move. Maybe in the Internet Age, folks migrate through the fixed entertainment landscape, looking for existing shows that suit their mood and worldview. I don’t know.

    I was gonna say it’s this- but thinking for a moment, it’s not just this. People definitely still watch what’s on right now. But the ease of streaming and tendency of Netflix to dump the entire show all at once means that the immediate zeitgeisting doesn’t last nearly as long: rather than a long runup then 1/4 to 1/2 a year, the Big New Show seems to be done with in a month- and even if it’s being dragged out, waiting to binge it is a known thing. I’d like to say it feels like spoilers (in-person) are now a well-known bad move, and people are more accepting if you don’t immediately binge the New Hotness, because they’re similarly aware of the flood presented every time you log in and how finding anywhere from 3-12 hours to binge the show is a big ask (not necessarily a bigger ask than tuning in at exactly X time on X cable channel every week for months, but much more in your face).

    Meanwhile some older shows will be presented over and over by The Algorithm while others fall by the wayside (and eventually be license dropped, unless they’re owned by the streaming service). And the new stuff being made will never stop chasing trends on the greater scale. But in general, I would say that yeah, with everything available on demand, people will watch what they want, ignoring New stuff if they’re not interested.

    1. Daimbert says:

      Meanwhile some older shows will be presented over and over by The Algorithm while others fall by the wayside (and eventually be license dropped, unless they’re owned by the streaming service). And the new stuff being made will never stop chasing trends on the greater scale. But in general, I would say that yeah, with everything available on demand, people will watch what they want, ignoring New stuff if they’re not interested.

      Yeah, that was my thought as well. In the old days, the network structure meant that what was being produced and shown reflected what most people wanted to see, and that did move a bit in cycles. With both extra cable channels and streaming services, there’s more room to appeal to niche audiences, and so what people watch will vary more. But new stuff will still roughly aim at the general tendencies and what takes off (following a breakout leader) except for stuff directly aimed at a specific niche.

  8. Lino says:

    Typolice:

    It’s plots are all well-worn

    condemning the show for it’s cynicism and nihilism

    Should be “its”.

    Regarding Rick and Morty, I tried watching it, but couldn’t get past the first 1-2 minutes of the first episode. I absolutely hated the voice acting for the two main characters, and I haven’t touched the show ever since. The art style is also something I don’t really like (I watched shows like that when I was a kid, and I feel like I’ve had my fill of deliberate ugliness), and all the memes surrounding the show have definitely not endeared me to it.

    I guess even though I’m technically still young, deep down I’m an old man who just wants those dang kids to get off his lawn….

  9. Joshua says:

    I must admit, there is nothing out there on TV attractive to me to bother watching. Everytime I watch a show, either the premise gets drawn out way too long, or the endings are a bit lame (how I felt about all three MCU Disney+ shows).

    On a tangent, it appears that movies will also have significant trouble, with The Suicide Squad only making $26 million due to lost revenue due to HBOMax. I think we’re going to be hitting an entertainment desert in the next few years, and I’m not sure what that will mean.

    1. MerryWeathers says:

      To be honest, other than Dune, I do not want to bother going to cinemas (and I literally still can’t in my country) to watch most of the blockbusters coming out anymore.

      It’s become convenient for me to be able watch movies like The Suicide Squad and Luca from the comforts of my home and I don’t feel they warrant that much of a difference if I had watched them in theaters.

      1. Lino says:

        Same. Apart from Dune, I don’t plan on watching anything in a cinema this year.

        The only movie I’ve watched in a cinema this year was a kids’ movie I went to with my parents and 4-year-old sister (she’d never gone to the cinema before).

        1. Sven says:

          I guess I’ll join the “only going to the theater for Dune” squad. I never went to the theater that often anyway. But Dune I’ll make an exception for, even if I’m 100% prepared to be disappointed.

    2. Kincajou says:

      As a lone counterpoint, for reasons I am only getting my second dose of vaccine today, I cannot wait to be able to go back to the cinema at the end of the month!!

      I love the experience, the stories told, the whole shebang !

      Granted I’m not massively into the mainstream blockbusters like the mcu offering though, once in a while yeah but not every single time.

      But yeah, glad I managed to catch nomadland when it was in the big screen, as well as calamity (the last two I managed to see before cinemas were shut)

  10. Fluffy boy says:

    Down here in Argentina, Rick & Morty has been part of the service since it firet released, so I’m surprised to hear it’s cable-only in the US.

    I watched the first three seasons our of peer pressure. I thought the show was fine and funny in places, but I’m not that into the extreme nihilism and as someone who usually latches on to likeable characters I find most of the cast to be too much a jerk to form a real connection with so I’ve never held more than a passing interest in the show. I haven’t watched seasons 4 and 5 so far

  11. Mr. Wolf says:

    Or maybe I should stop thinking about entertainment as a singular monolithic thing, because the internet has fragmented entertainment and split us into a thousand subcultures.

    Yes! There will be no “2020’s kids”, because they will find what they love by searching the world, virtually, and not have it dictated to them by television executives!

    They had it wrong all those years. Television shows aren’t bad for you, television schedules are.

  12. Thomas says:

    I had pretty much the same reaction to Rick & Morty. The sci-fi set-ups were fun, but the cynicism wasn’t for me. ‘Cynicism’ might not even be fully it. Black Mirror is a cynical show. It assumes most innovations will be used to exploit other people, and that most people are very fallible and struggle to resist the worse sides of themselves. But Rick & Morty goes further revels in making everyone and everything ugly. The ugliness is the hook even more than the cynicism.

    Culture isn’t a monolith now, I can’t speak to the past. At the same time we’re getting dark and edgy stuff like Joker, you also have Ted Lasso, which is relentlessly optimistic and very in vogue.

    1. Tom says:

      Rick and Morty may be ugly, but it’s one of several of the current generation of animated shows that, I’ve noticed, actually depict a lot of the dynamics of various forms of mental illness, arrested development and abusive relationships *very* accurately, even deconstructing them and in some cases showing that they are, indeed, toxic, and demonstrating some of the techniques for surviving and healthily coping with them, breaking free of them and recovering – as well as illustrating the consequences of some of the other, common coping mechanisms that aren’t healthy and don’t work.

      The marriage counselling episode was, for example, a superb illustration, exploration and at one point clearly spelled-out explanation of codependency. The B-plots of the first three series, taken as a whole, chronicle Jerry and, to a lesser extent, Beth’s slow coming to terms with their various neuroses, personality defects and mental problems, and their journey out of them towards being a more functional couple.

      The question is whether it does this well enough to actually help anyone who’s watching it, or whether you basically need to have already been through therapy yourself and got better before you can spot this aspect of it. Looking around at the state of society and the largely unacknowledged mental health epidemic sweeping the world, however, I think these shows are trying to do a wonderful and very necessary thing in this aspect, for all that it can make them upsetting to watch sometimes.

      It’s often been suggested that the majority of, if not all, good speculative fiction actually addresses contemporary issues in the here and now, but casts them in fantastical, far-in-the-past-or-future terms to make them easier to digest by what can seem, superficially, to be total abstraction from the pressing concerns of today, and mental health is absolutely one of the most pressing concerns of today.

      1. Tom says:

        Addendum: There are also several episodes where Rick himself actually manages to briefly overcome his narcissistic arrogance and have moments of sincere introspection, crucially demonstrating mindfulness of his own toxic emotions and flaws, and then showing frank honesty in admitting and discussing them, and making efforts to overcome them – this is probably the most important skill to learn in dealing with just about any mental condition, and I can only think of one other popular show that ever demonstrates stuff like this, The Good Place (which is a truly amazingly well-written thing that not only demonstrates all of this, but exemplifies it). Even in such moments, we still never get an actual apology from Rick for the way his hang-ups have led him to behave – sincere apologies, especially for toxic behaviour, are, I’ve noticed, quite astonishingly rarely demonstrated in just about all modern and not-so-modern media – aside from The Good Place, the one and only example I can think of off-hand is Bruce Willis’ character apologising and clearly admitting fault after an outburst of rage to his wife in Pulp Fiction, of all things.

        1. Geebs says:

          I dunno, I feel like R&M has a very Western “the problem is selfishness, and the solution is more selfishness” attitude. The marriage counselling episode is funny but this idea that you can boil all personal relationships down to co-dependency is pretty darn toxic in itself.

          1. Tom says:

            Where did you get the idea that all personal relationships can be boiled down to co-dependency? I didn’t say that, and neither did the episode. Beth & Jerry’s relationship is co-dependent, and the episode was a fun but accurate exploration of the dynamics of that particular type of relationship, but I don’t recall it generalising more than that. The marriage counselloer in the episode implicitly acknowledges that not all unhealthy relationships are codependent when he suddenly realises that Beth and Jerry actually are, and panics (funniest line of the episode – “They’re codependent! RUN!”)

            1. Geebs says:

              Every main character in the show is an unrepentant asshole and pretty much every supportive interaction between characters is framed as enablement. I’m not saying that the show has to present a contrast, but without one it gets kind of tiresome trying to tell whether the showrunners have a genuine satirical point or whether they’re just really bad at relationships.

              1. Tom says:

                The show provides contrast between the characters as they are at the start of the run, and as they are by the end of the third season. Their progression is not as clearly visible as in, say, Adventure Time, there’s a much stronger element of “have-personal-growth-then-hit-the-personality-reset-button-for-the-next-episode,” but it is there, and it’s not really unrealistic anyway for most people to regress not very long after such moments of personal growth. The journey to health for toxic people is typically a slow and painful one of 99 steps back for every 100 steps forward; backsliding is common, and many never make it at all.

                I’m with you on the lack of good examples of repentance, but as I already remarked, that’s pretty much par for the course across all current forms of media; allowing for that, Rick and Morty is at least well above average in that the characters occasionally demonstrate very healthy, explicit mindfulness of their shortcomings when pushed, even if it’s merely average (but realistic) in that they then don’t apologise for the harm they’ve caused to others, and typically also seem to fail to grow very much from these experiences.

                I ghink you’re framing it as a false dichotomy between the showrunners having a satirical point and merely being bad at relationships. There really seems to be a tremendous reluctance in a lot of modern audiences to differentiate depiction from endorsement; just because they are depicting dysfunctional relationships doesn’t necessarily mean they are either trying to be satirical or else trying, and failing, to depict a healthy relationship. Maybe they’re just interested in non-satirically depicting how unhealthy relationships work? Satire and idealised examples are not the only means of making a point; perhaps they prefer to show a non-ideal, non-satirical example of how relationships can fail, and how people can try to salvage the situation by developing self-awareness?

  13. Daimbert says:

    I kinda started the whole “streaming” thing before streaming was really available, by buying DVDs and watching them in spurts. I even dropped cable for about four years, but eventually came back to it, mostly because I was missing sports and it’s pretty difficult to get good live sports off of cable. Also, I find that cable is much better — if I pick the right set of packages — for those times when I want to have something on for noise and to half pay attention to but don’t want to really watch. And, perhaps ironically, the only streaming services I’ve ever had access to I’ve had through my cable box, which gives me a simple one-stop-shop for all of my TV viewing needs.

    The problem with streaming services for me, in general, is the fragmentation. I never really went for Netflix or things like that because it was always hit and miss that they’d have things that I like, which biased me towards just getting DVDs of what I like and then watching and rewatching them. Now that there is definitely good content on them but it’s spread out among a number of services, it’s even MORE annoying for me. If I didn’t have a streaming service accessible through my cable, I wouldn’t have one, or else would go for a specialty service like Shudder. One of the benefits of cable is that you can get access to a wide range of channels all through one place and on one bill, and I don’t see myself ditching cable for streaming exclusively until that happens for streaming.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      The fragmentation is indeed an issue, but as someone who’s averaged 3-4 streaming subscriptions steadily for the last half decade I still find it better and cheaper then cable. If I pick 4 big streaming services I will have way more content then I can partake and will still end up at like $40 a month, about half of Shamus’ cable package (and roughly what a basic cable package would cost here) with the benefit that I can keep up to date on the cool stuff. And if one of the streaming services declines or doesn’t put out something I like for a while I can just switch one out (like Disney+ for HBO) and suddenly have an influx of stuff I haven’t seen.

      Between the two I much prefer juggling streaming subscriptions, which are often as easy to cancel as going to their website and pressing the “unsubscribe” button (and just as easy to resume). Ending a cable package is much more tedious and will have “customer service” call you three times a week until the end of days with “beneficial offers” to get you to resume your cable subscription.

      1. Daimbert says:

        I have a couple of personal issues that make streaming in general more difficult for me. The first is that as I’ve lived for quite a while in an older house, I have the traditional set-up where my computer stuff is in one room and my entertainment stuff is in the living room. It’s not that easy to set up streaming in the living room for me, but that’s where I want to watch TV, and trying to watch TV in the office isn’t all that comfortable. Now, of course, I could rearrange all of that, but then the second one comes in, which is that the main reason I came back to cable TV after ditching it for four years was because I wanted live sports. I’d still need that even if I went to streaming. And since buying DVDs has, for now, given me most of the benefits of streaming at perhaps a slightly increased cost — it costs quite a bit more per set than the per month charge, but then I get to keep them and watch them across multiple months with no further charge — and fits well into my living room, I don’t lose much, currently, from keeping the cable and it fits better into my life.

        For costs, I’d be paying about the same for live sports anyway, and cable works out to about the same as getting those streaming services would be for me. DVDs come out of another budget and since not all things are available everywhere I’d be buying them anyway.

        The issue for me with juggling subscriptions is that with cable I get that bill and that’s the cost of my general TV watching entertainment for the month, so it’s easy for me to see what I’m paying there and assess if it’s worth it, and I won’t subscribe to something and forget I have it and then have to track it down later. While it may be easier to cancel them, the more I’d have the more attention I’d have to pay to them, and I am trying to minimize the things I have to pay attention to.

  14. Syal says:

    perhaps now entertainment is fixed and unchanging, and it’s the people that move.

    I think that’s probably backwards. The audience’s interests are largely fixed and unchanging, and what moves are the more finite interests of the people making/promoting the shows. The Internet allows for more creatives, so the trends are levelling out.

  15. Yerushalmi says:

    Or maybe I should stop thinking about entertainment as a singular monolithic thing, because the internet has fragmented entertainment and split us into a thousand subcultures.

    I’m in favor of this particular theory. Consider that parallel to the cynicism of Rick & Morty we have the idealism of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most popular movie franchise in history. And in parallel to the MCU is the cynicism of Zack Snyder.

    Entertainment *is* fragmented. Even at the height of love for Game of Thrones, or Stranger Things, or Bird Box (remember when everyone was obsessed with Bird Box?), these only achieved a fraction of the viewership and attention that a mildly-unsuccessful television show had in the 80s or 90s.

    Check out the table at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_watched_television_broadcasts_in_the_United_States#Series_by_year_2. I Love Lucy peaked at a 67.3 rating; no show since has reached a rating of 50. Gunsmoke was the last show to reach a rating of 40. The Cosby Show was the last to reach a rating of 30. Seinfeld was the last to reach a rating of 20. American Idol was the last to reach 15, way back in 2009. Nowadays you’re considered a success if you hit 7.

    Those numbers are in millions of viewers. But that’s for broadcast television, you say? Maybe streaming is more popular?

    Yes, streaming is currently more popular than broadcast television. But it’s nowhere near as popular as broadcast television was even fifteen years ago. Game of Thrones peaked at 13.61 million viewers, which is less than American Idol had a decade earlier even though the population of the US was smaller by 20 million. Stranger Things did even better, 26.4 million, reaching Cosby Show numbers – although the US population has grown by almost 50% in the interim.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      The best way to show entertainment culture is fragmented is that for most of the last decade including the Game Of Thrones years, the most watched non-sports thing on television has been NCIS. Despite spending a ton of time on the internet I have seen exactly one reference to it in that time. The same vague forces that cause me to end up in spaces where people are more into Mass Effect than the vastly more popular Call of Duty cause me to end up in places where no one watches or talks about the biggest show on TV.

  16. Philadelphus says:

    For cable TV, you pay an outrageous $80 a month for a hundred channels of garbage. Worse, it’s garbage with commercials.

    Shocking! You can get all that for free on YouTube!

    I never used to enjoy watching TV growing up, and I always felt like a weirdo since everyone else seemed to have no problems watching tons of it (or so I gathered from pop cultural osmosis). As a kid I used to theorize that it was because watching TV was “passive” and I’d rather be doing something active like gaming or reading (both of which I could do for hours on end, so it’s not like I had an attention problem), but I think I’ve finally realized that I don’t like watching TV because I hate commercials and the emotional whiplash from the short, schizophrenic bursts of emotions they interject into something I’m getting into. (Horatio: “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” Announcer: “Heeeeey, kids, who’s up for some zany fun with [wacky toy name]!”) Turns out when YouTube Red (or Premium or whatever it was/is called) became available I actually can spend a decent amount of time most days “passively” watching things when there’s no ad breaks. (I’ve also never really enjoyed listening to the radio, preferring to listen to my own curated music collection, which fits with this theory.) I’ve still never really gotten into TV shows that much, though, leading to a lot of “just smile and nod” when other people are discussing them.

    1. bobbert says:

      Yeah, on a garbage-per-dollar basis, it is really hard to beat You-tube.

  17. CocoaMaster says:

    I’m curious what you would think of Star Trek: Lower Decks? It’s an animated show written by the same writer as Rick and Morty and I would say has a similar feel but is less dark. I think it’s only available on CBS All Access (now Paramount Plus? I don’t know why they changed the name). I’m a little surprised that no other commenters have mentioned it yet but I suppose I’m one of the few suckers who actually has a subscription to an otherwise mostly-useless streaming service.

  18. Smosh says:

    People because the people who are now in their 20-40s have been thoroughly disenchanted with everything. Te economy is doing “great” (when you look at stocks) but utterly terrible when it comes to actually finding a job that treats you like a human being. The rich has so much money they can fly to space in penis-rockets, while millions are starving. Fascism is on the rise world-wide, and the planet is boiling. Great. Oh, and there’s a pandemic, which in the grand scheme of things is just a minor hiccup.

    So a show that’s openly nihilistic just resonates with everybody at “the bottom”, which you can define as “all people who can’t buy a home”, which is basically everybody who doesn’t make at least 6 digits annually.

    Simpsons was ironic, Southpark was cynical, and Rick and Morty is nihilistic.

    Is there a bottom? I’m not sure.

    And I completely agree on how it made you feel, Shamus, because I had the same reaction: I found it thoroughly depressing, but also kept watching because it was still fascinating to see what weird crazy shit they would come up next.

    1. Vowl says:

      Rick and Morty was already popular before the world went to shit, I think the show just resonates with people who want to feel smart and superior which certainly explains the fanbase and the szechuan sauce riots.

      In other words, it’s not really people at the bottom or “people who can’t buy a home” that really connect with the show (I don’t think they could even watch the show if they’re that poor), it’s actually people who have a “I’m surrounded by idiots” mindset or just want to self-insert characters like Rick or Beth while seeing most people as “Jerrys”

      1. John says:

        I think the show just resonates with people who want to feel smart and superior which certainly explains the fanbase and the szechuan sauce riots.

        College Humor has a series of skits in which fans and the anthropomorphized objects of their fandoms go to couples counseling. In the typical skit, the fan wants to break up with the fandom. The Star Wars fan is unhappy with Star Wars, the Game of Thrones fan is unhappy with Game of Thrones, etc. It is perhaps telling that in the Rick & Morty skit, Rick & Morty wants to break up with the Rick & Morty fan.

    2. SidheKnight says:

      I am one of those people “at the bottom”, and all the pessimism and nihilism doesn’t resonate with me at all.

      I guess I’m more in the camp that Shamus described, about people in the World Wars/Depression era wanting their media to cheer them up and give them hope, or at least escapism.

      I read somewhere, can’t remember where, that Superman is the most popular superhero with poorer African American communities, while Batman, the ‘dark’ and down to earth hero, is more popular with middle class white kids.
      I can’t help but think these things might be related.

  19. Amstrad says:

    Not a lot to say here other than something I find interesting is that Rick and Morty’s original incarnation was a short also done by R&M creator Justin Roiland called: “The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti” (I’m sure you can extrapolate the references being made here.) I find it even more interesting that based on the obvious chain of inspiration going on here that Rick is so vehemently against time travel. Sure he has an in-show reasoning for this, but I have to wonder if the actual reason is that having Rick do time travel stuff is just too on the nose.

  20. Matt says:

    When I was younger, my theory was that this sort of thing was cyclical. Entertainment will trend towards cynicism for a few generations, and then suddenly there will be an abrupt shift towards hardship[1] and the troubled people will want their entertainment to be reaffirming / heartwarming again […] But that’s what I thought 20 years ago. Now I’m not so sure..

    I think this is still largely true, just perhaps harder to pick up on because entertainment has fragmented and the pace of new content to obsolescence is accelerating. The Obama Years, beginning in 2009, I think were an upswing of positive mainstream entertainment – think Parks & Rec or Modern Family. Somewhere in 2014-2016, we entered a shift towards more negative entertainment.

  21. Ninety-Three says:

    If I live another 20 years will I discover another, even darker show to appeal to the kids born in the age of COVID?

    Have you heard of Bojack Horseman? It goes in a different direction but is arguably even more nihilistic than Rick and Morty. Rather than emphasizing “everyone is awful and toxic look at them being awfully toxic to each other” it has a lot of simply wallowing in misery, “depression porn” is the simple way to describe it. I don’t get the appeal but there is definitely a part of modern internet culture that has depression and just wants to wallow in it.

    1. Shamus says:

      I watched the first season a few years ago. It makes for a really interesting comparison with R&M. I wish I’d thought to bring it up in the article.

      I get why people call BH “depression porn”. Although, I think it’s interesting that in BH, there are happy, well-adjusted people. Contentment is a real thing that exists, but for various reasons our leads can’t get there.

      In R&M, the only happy people are dimwits. The smarter you are, the more nihilistic you are. Joy isn’t real. It’s just an illusion that dipshits fall for. But us smart people? We know the score. We understand, you see.

      Both shows present different ways of coping with emotional pain. I don’t have to deal with these kinds of pain at this point in my life so I can’t really judge how well the shows work as comfort food / cultural balm. I wonder if there are any other shows that would fit into this category?

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        I enjoy Rick and Morty but the cynicism mostly washes over me like a crappy sitcom laughtrack. It’s there and I don’t like it but I’m pretty good at filtering it out, just like I was good at filtering out internet banner ads in the days before adblock. That said I can totally understand why it’s a dealbreaker for some people: much like a laughtrack it sounds pretty obnoxious when you describe what it is, I’m just not bothered by it for some reason.

        1. MerryWeathers says:

          I think sitcoms become signficantly more hilarious when you actually take out the laugh track because everything becomes really awkward or unnerving.

          1. Daimbert says:

            It depends on the sitcom. For the DVD release, “Sledge Hammer!” deliberately removed the laugh track and it was still hilarious — and possibly even more so — because the jokes were clear and telegraphed enough that they were funny and you got to choose what you found funny. On the other hand, I watched some unedited episodes of “Red Dwarf” which then didn’t have the laugh track and the show seemed depressing and kinda dark, mostly because the jokes were more, in that episode, us having to laugh at the misfortunes of the characters and at the characters themselves, and so without the laugh track making it clear that this is all a joke it seemed mean.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              That was kind of the feeling I got from the movie Four Lions. It was so grim that I was surprised to learn after the fact that it was supposedly a “dark comedy”. If you described any of the scenes in words I could imagine them being funny, but the actual movie felt someone wrote the script for a slapstick violence comedy then handed it off to a director who cut the laughtrack and shot it all as serious.

              1. Thomas says:

                Maybe that one is a British thing? Four Lions is pretty much straight down the middle for other comedies like The Thick Of It, The Office (British version).

                In fact googling it just now, I learn that some of the writers were the same writers as In The Loop. I was going to write that you could take any scene from Four Lions and put it in In The Loop and it would make sense, but it turns out that’s not very surprising!

                1. Daimbert says:

                  “Red Dwarf” is British as well, so there could be a link there, but I’d wager that you could take the laugh tracks/audience laughter out of “Blackadder” and “Faulty Towers” and it’d still be hilarious.

            2. Dorenkosh says:

              If you listen to the creator’s commentary (or watch one of the special features on the DVDs, I forget which) he explains: The pilot episode of Sledge Hammer! was made without a laugh track, and the intent was for the rest of the series to be presented like it was a traditional cop drama as well. It was only insistence from above that led to the series having a laugh track, including the pilot when it first aired.

              Thankfully, they were able to remove that track for the DVD release (or, I guess, find the production copies of each episode from before it was added), but you can notice the difference in comedic timing between the pilot and the rest of the episodes. There are noticeable pauses after the jokes, that aren’t there in the pilot. (Admitted, it means that on the DVD you just get these little moments of Dori staring at Sledge silently before she responds, which also sort of works.)

              1. Daimbert says:

                Spencer notes it in the introduction to the DVDs, pointing out that he’s so happy that they let him remove the laugh track because he finds them insulting to the audience, and then he moves on to a joke that the series was originally supposed to be an actual drama before he gets hit with a glass vase that is followed up with a laugh from the laugh track.

                I admit that I didn’t notice the difference in timing between the pilot and the rest of the series, and yeah, Dori’s long-suffering glares at Sledge do work to add to the characters.

      2. Thomas says:

        Because happy people exist in Bojack Horseman, the audience ‘want’ is to see Bojack and co. become happier one day. The pathos is knowing that happiness is achievable, but that they’re not able to achieve it.

      3. Syal says:

        I wonder if there are any other shows that would fit into this category?

        I dropped out of House of Cards (a couple of times) because only the amoral people are allowed to be competent. All the moral people are effortlessly swept aside, or actively self-destructive.

        1. Henry+Chadban says:

          My reason for falling out of love with house of cards(The USA version) was sort of similar in that after the first two seasons it felt pointless since all these amoral characters now had a great deal of power but they did not do anything with it apart from try and hold onto it. It just made the whole thing seem like a waste of time, the underwoods had spent so much time plotting and scheming to get into the white house, but once they get their they just mess around like kids at the mall.

          I found the british version to be much more focused, the main character actually has an agenda consisting of actual policies, which you can agree or disagree with but they have a point at least. The fact the whole show was over in 9 episodes rather 60 something like the american version probably helped avoid it feeling listless as well

          1. Syal says:

            I dropped out after Season 2 because it was both extremely cynical and also quite stupid, if the antagonist was sane Frank’s gambit should never have worked.

            I came back later, and actually enjoyed Season 3, featuring a moral, competent character challenging Frank… until she self-destructed and was effortlessly swept aside. Frank didn’t even have to make a plan, so effortless was the sweeping. I haven’t been back since.

            1. Thomas says:

              Switching to the US political system pretty much forced them to up the power level of their protagonist to an unbelievable level.

              In the UK, Underwood’s overall plan isn’t just not absurd, it’s commonplace. It’s essentially how we got the current Prime Minister, and his chancellor is currently sharpening the knife to attempt the same thing. They took a normal situatuon one step beyond the pale for comedy and drama.

              Whereas no President (?) has actually got to power the way Frank did, and it requires some absurd contrivances to work.

    2. Cuthalion says:

      I actually never understood that take on Bojack, even though I know it’s common. I never found the show very depressing, despite the plight of the main characters. It’s a show about people having to come to terms with the fact that they are the problem (and dragging others down with them) and eventually, hopefully, being better. I was worried it’d be too grim and sad for me, but once I started watching it, I never felt that way. It’s a very un-cynical show.

  22. RamblePak64 says:

    The question of what show could be even “darker” reminds me of the concluding question in Metal Evolution’s Shock Rock episode, where the documentarian asked “what would it take to shock audiences today?” He gets a smattering of answers, with one of the members of Rammstein stating very seriously that it would have to be something as extreme as a public suicide. Alice Cooper replies jokingly that you’d have to chop your arm off and eat it, and “you can only do that twice”. Rob Zombie doesn’t think there’s really anything you could do, that it’d be more shocking for one second if anyone was shocked. Basically, all the artists and musicians that specialized in “shock rock” no longer believe audiences can be shocked, save for something absolutely terrible.

    I think part of it is the state of post-modernism, myself, where this sort of idealistic sincerity in the heroic and optimistic is perceived as being saccharin or naive or just outright bad for reasons I find pretentious. It reminds me of the influence Zero Punctuation had on amateur games criticism for a while. Sure, it was nice to hear someone come onto the scene and acknowledge that every game is imperfect, but all the imitators and wannabes were convinced that the only “smart” criticism was inherently negative. It was already a developing attitude and sentiment (it permeated on 4chan and helped give rise to sites like SomethingAwful, after all), but Zero Punctuation kicked it into high gear. It’s an intellectually dishonest stance, though.

    When it comes to Rick & Morty, I’d say what it is missing that The Simpsons possessed was a sense of “heart”. I feel like Super Eyepatch Wolf is also on a downward trend (I don’t know what it is but so many content creators I have followed for years just seem to be getting more and more… infected by whatever it is that figuratively living on the Internet does to the brain), but his The Fall of the Simpsons video essay, is still one of my favorite essays on YouTube. While the show was certainly irreverent, it does not seethe with loathing or hate.

    Though, admittedly, I’m not sure I can say Rick & Morty does, either. What I get from Rick & Morty is some weird sense of conceit. I’ve seen some scenes that seem to frame Rick in particularly… I don’t know if I can say “heroically”, but I watched him give a monologue to his son-in-law as some worm thing swallows him, as if the son-in-law is completely wrong for… well, being absolutely right about Rick. It’s weird, and admittedly I got that clip exclusively out of context, but it feels like there are several moments where the show, despite being blatantly honest about Rick’s faults, still paints him heroically. That is what is disturbing to me, I think.

    As for why it left the cultural zeitgeist, well, now that the whole Szechuan Sauce fiasco has died down and no longer a physical, real-world controversy (that, to me, is more about the sad state of fandom than it is about man-children, specifically), what’s there to write about? There’s far greater outrage to get clicks from. Additionally, it’s also possible that leaving social media like Twitter means there’s a lot of things that once seemed “culturally important” that just whizz on by.

    In the end, though, I think it’s mostly that there are other controversies and hot button topics that are more likely to get clicks. Why make a video or article about Rick & Morty when you can do the same about how fanboys are misogynist man babies or Kevin Smith is an SJW liar in regards to the latest He-Man on Netflix? Gotta hunt for the next controversy.

    On my own optimistic note, while I do think the notion of a “unified cultural zeitgeist” is sadly dying, I do think there’s “hope”, so to speak, in old stuff becoming more readily available. I just watched the original Gundam on Netflix for the first time. I purchased the entirety of Fist of the North Star on Blu-Ray for cheap. I’m rereading Dune in preparation for the film. While it’s hard to determine where the upcoming, high-school aged Gen Z is going, it seems like a lot of them are less interested in the “next big thing” as Millennials, Gen-Xers, and even Boomers have become and are satisfied going in and finding older stuff. It’s a potential re-emergence of actual sub-cultures.

    Now we just need to stop relying so heavily on algorithms and unified social media and figure out how to become actual online communities again.

    1. Lino says:

      It reminds me of the influence Zero Punctuation had on amateur games criticism for a while.

      Weren’t Angry Video Game Nerd, Spoony, and the Nostalgia Critic before ZP? I think they were the ones who started that entire fad.

      1. Thomas says:

        The Angry Video Game Nerd predates Youtube.

        In some ways though, I prefer the modern slightly mellowed out versions of Linkara, SF Debris, Angry Joe (to a lesser extent) than the new wave of rage-bait. At least those creators were so theatrical in their anger, you knew it wasn’t totally serious.

        Anger still gets views, but now creators play for a more ‘realistic’ anger where it’s not so obvious that they don’t mean it.

        1. RamblePak64 says:

          True, AVGN, Spoony (have I seen any Spoony…?), and Nostalgia Critic were there first, but I feel like Zero Punctuation had a different appeal since it felt less like a character or skit. There’s also a different sort of… intellect? to it. AVGN was always more a character than a real, substantial analysis, and Nostalgia Critic hardly brought anything to the table.

          Still, you could probably create a timeline. AVGN and Channel Awesome lead to Zero Punctuation and Extra Credits lead to RedLetterMedia’s Plinkett reviews, and by 2011-2013 you have the first massive wave of video essayists (many of whom started with Mass Effect 3 ending videos, like MrBTongue). The Escapist was certainly ahead of the game in seeing where the content was going, but… well, all good things come to an end, in more ways than one.

          The current state of YouTube essays is… weird. That’s the best summary I have for it.

          1. Parkhorse says:

            Spoony… has had a slow, sad fall into a terrible mix of depression, narcissism, and probably addiction. He had longer and longer gaps between the videos he was known for, before eventually stopping entirely a couple years ago. I think he still does the occasional bit of game streaming, but mostly he tweets an incredible amount. The latest big news is that his house is for sale, as a short-sale, and he likely moved back in with his parents. Really it’s just… sad.

          2. Radkatsu says:

            @RamblePak64 – If you’re into YT video essays, and assuming you don’t already follow him, I highly recommend NeverKnowsBest. Does fantastic videos, generally 30 mins to a good 2.5 hours long, and well worth the time. His Fallout series video is one of my favourite essays on that franchise ever (if Shamus reads this, you’d also likely enjoy it, if you can find the time).

    2. bobbert says:

      They are making a new Dune movie?

      1. Thomas says:

        Trailer. I’m excited for it. It’s by the guy who did the Bladerunner sequel, so it will look beautiful if nothing else.

        It’s going to be two films, splitting the first book in two. My guess is the first will focus mostly on the escape, and the second on Paul’s leadership. There was a big time skip in the book that almost works as a place to split the story.

        1. bobbert says:

          Huh? I am surprised they are making another. I thought the David Lynch version lost a huge amount of money.

          Maybe I am just getting old, but the trailer looked really washed out compared to the Lynch version.

          1. RamblePak64 says:

            Washed out? In what way?

            The use of the Pink Floyd song is a nod to Jado…Jadorowsky? Dune, where Pink Floyd was intended to do the soundtrack to the film. That was the attempt before David Lynch’s, and that this trailer is using it combined with some of the visual elements has me feeling like Dennis Villenueve is paying homage and inspiration from the prior attempts where he can while still maintaining an accuracy to the novels.

            If I’m being honest, this is the first time I felt this excited for a movie since… okay, well, since Shin Gojira, but before that, since the first time I saw the trailers for Fellowship of the Ring. The difference here is I believe Dennis Villenueve is a far more talented director than Peter Jackson, based on his work on Arrival and Bladerunner 2049 (and he evidently directed the first Sicario, which people say was evidently really good). Much like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, I feel like Lord of the Rings was a blessing at the time, but there were many scenes and segments that left me feeling Ralph Bakshi “got” the source material better than Jackson and left me feeling as if we got a pretty good but flawed adaptation that was flawed in unnecessary ways owing to the taste of a good but not great director (which sounds awfully reductionist considering the logistics of the production).

            The first trailer for Dune feels perfect. It has that sense of “Oh man, this is the adaptation I never thought possible”. But is it going to be that? I’ve been disappointed enough not to keep my hopes up… but man is it hard not to.

            1. bobbert says:

              Washed out? In what way?

              Granted, I skipped through it on mute. The big impression I got was grey sky, grey sand, grey machinery.

              1. evilmrhenry says:

                I see what you mean; there’s barely any color there, and what color exists is “natural” (sunlight or fires or what not). This is a bit of a different issue from Hollywood-style color grading, but it has the same issues. I hope this is just a phase Hollywood is going through.

                1. RamblePak64 says:

                  I don’t think it’s a matter of being “washed out”, but there’s definitely something of color grading going on. You can see it a bit more in the second trailer where you get more footage from Giedi Prime. Some of it is a “natural lighting” thing, but if I were to guess, they want to also choose specific colors for specific planets. Warm colors are used for Arrakis because such colors instill a sense of heat and even aggression, which is fitting for a desert planet. Caladan, on the other hand, has a lot of blues and other cool colors to suggest the opposite, which Caladan technically is. I would also imagine the colors used give a sense of a gentle rain at any time, all used to indicate just how plentiful water is on Caladan compared to Arrakis (which, based on select footage, seems to have the glimmer of spice present at any moment in the air). Giedi Prime, in the meantime, is shown in blacks and grays, very industrial, and the one outdoor scene is pouring rain. It doesn’t feel like “plentiful” water, though, but more oppressive.

                  All of these traits and colors are fitting for each planet, and I would not doubt the intentionality of it all on the part of the director.

                  Of course, considering the looks of Arrival and Bladerunner 2049, I wouldn’t be surprised if the director also just likes gray, damp weather and colors, so who knows.

                  1. evilmrhenry says:

                    My specific complaint is that, for example, everyone is wearing black, white, gray, or tan. There’s a half-second of someone wearing red in the second trailer, but that’s it. I can see the point in having everything be colored based on the location, and to generate an emotional reaction, but it also creates a flat, uninteresting appearance to the film, which I don’t think is a good tradeoff.

                    1. RamblePak64 says:

                      Interesting. To me, it feels clean, clear, and uncluttered as a result. It also seems to fit the look of the art being made in the era in which the book was written. As a result, that doesn’t bother me at all.

              2. Tom says:

                It seems the 1980s was just a much more visually vibrant decade in general, and Lynch’s Dune was no exception. It’s a real tragedy what happened to it; for all the experimental stuff that didn’t quite work, the technical limitations, and the final cut being edited into oblivion, you can still tell that there’s a damned good movie in there somewhere, struggling to get out.

                I still actually quite like watching it, or at least most of the less-rushed-and-ruined bits of it (generally from the first half), every now and then.

                1. bobbert says:

                  I remember the knife fight at the end being pretty good.

                  Costume and set design were some of the stronger parts of that movie. (starring STING and Patrick Stewert didn’t hurt either)

              3. bobbert says:

                I just loaded up the 3hr Lynch version and it is striking just how much more yellow the sand is.

                Also, directed by Alan Smithee, written by Judas Booth.

            2. bobbert says:

              The Jackson stuff still makes me sad – so much wasted potential.

              I think you are right about Bakshi, and his is a very good movie.

              Unfortunatly, I don’t think it is a co-incidence that Bakshi respected the material and failed, while Jackson disrespected it and succeeded.

            3. Richard says:

              Oh, same director as Arrival?

              Now I am even more interested. Might even see it in the cinema.

            4. Steve C says:

              Aww man! Dennis Villenueve? He made Dune? I was looking forward to it too. Can’t stand his movies.

            5. Bubble181 says:

              I’m just sad the stillsuits are still pretty much reduced to “tight fitting clothing and a plug in the nose”.
              The suits in the books are full-face-covering leaving the eyes clear.
              What these actors are wearing wouldn’t keep you hydrated in the Namib, let alone on Ancient Rakkis.

              1. Thomas says:

                Rule #1 of Hollywood is no-one is going to wear something that covers their face, no matter how practical. How many WW2 films did we go through where all the lead characters refused to wear their helmets? Or worse the medieval films where the characters were wearing full plate armour but left their head totally exposed

                1. Daimbert says:

                  Or the superhero movies like Spider-Man where he is trying to hide his secret identity and keeps pulling off his mask in front of lots of people at dramatic moments …

              2. Tom says:

                I’d guess that’s because it’s much harder for actors (or anyone wearing a full face shield in real life, for that matter) to emote when you can’t see their face. Really, though, I think that such complaints are often evidence of a failure of imagination on the part of the costume and prop designers – especially in a sci-fi film, where one typically has maximal freedom for novelty in such things.

                The most obvious solution would probably be some kind of transparent visor, or at least a few windows strategically placed in the helmet over the most emotive parts of the face, probably giving first priority to the eyebrows; according to an article I once saw by John K, effectively all cartoonists learn to start drawing there because it’s the absolute foundation of any expression you want to convey.

                If you wanted to get a bit more “out there” and unsettling, you could have a heavily restrictive visor automatically snap open whenever a character speaks or wants a better look at something, then snap shut again. That kind of effective-but-harsh design might be particularly good for the Harkonnen, if we were emulating the Lynch approach and heavily telegraphing the characteristics of each faction via the aesthetic and ergonomic design of their architecture, fashion and cultural artefacts (And, really, why wouldn’t you? One thing Lynch’s Dune could never, ever be called is visually dull. Like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Caro and Jeunet’s City of Lost Children, it is an Expressionist feast for the eyes, whatever else might be said about the script and delivery thereof.)

                That’s two possible solutions just from me improvising for five minutes. I’m sure a professional team of visual futurists could come up with a lot more.

    3. Gwydden says:

      “I feel like Super Eyepatch Wolf is also on a downward trend (I don’t know what it is but so many content creators I have followed for years just seem to be getting more and more… infected by whatever it is that figuratively living on the Internet does to the brain) […]”

      I’m curious as to what you mean by that? I’ve only watched a few of his videos here and there.

      1. RamblePak64 says:

        I think it’s hard to explain and doesn’t fix exclusively to just YouTube content creators, and I’m not even sure I could summarize it simply. I guess, for me, the Space Jam video and the recent “I didn’t do my research and just blindly bought a Dell” vlog were too much for me. Even when he had to update them later, his best videos involved research and providing information that informed his perspective. The more and more he leans into the subjective, the less and less I find myself enjoying his content.

        There just seems to be something that I can’t summarize. Sometimes it’s a lack of professionalism, sometimes a sense of narcissism, and other times it just seems to be a detachment from reality based on making your living online. Shamus is the only creator I’ve followed for so long that hasn’t fallen down any of these traps, and maybe that’s because he’s older than most of the other creators I’ve followed. Simultaneously, Matthewmatosis was one of the first YouTube essayists whose work inspired and convinced me to give it all a try myself, and he’s only stopped because he decided he wanted to try his hand at making games instead. I wish I still had his thoughts on games sliding into my YouTube subscriptions periodically, but I cannot fault the guy for trying to go ahead and make something for himself. He was open about his reasoning and is communicative to his Patreon supporters regarding his work.

        Eyepatch Wolf… I dunno. It’s hard to say, but it’s been a while since I enjoyed his new content. So I no longer subscribe. Maybe others will still find something of value, but rewatching that Simpsons episode, I felt a little depressed because it feels like that’s not why he makes videos anymore, and things like his Space Jam or Dell Computer videos are… not what I’d consider a productive outlet of creativity. Instead, they feel like he is profiting off of wasting my time (which could be its own rabbit hole of semantics as “isn’t all media a waste of time” etc. etc., but I didn’t learn anything, I suppose. I gained nothing and lost time).

        It just feels like, nine times out of ten, that is the inevitability of anyone that creates content on the Internet as a job long enough. Now that I think about it, I commend Shamus that much more for making it work.

        1. Gwydden says:

          That makes sense and I don’t entirely disagree. I used to watch a lot of video essays as well and have been turning away from that for similarly intangible reasons. Well, intangible other than the fact that YouTube’s a lot of time wasted, and if I am going to waste time I’d rather play a game, read a book, or watch a movie. That strikes me as a more productive time sink. I will say that traditional blogs (like this one) generally seem more resilient to the effects you’re describing. Unfortunately for the creators, they rarely attract anywhere near the same amount of traffic.

          Sticking to YouTubers, I’d recommend Noah Gervais. I don’t watch all of his videos (only the ones that interest me, really) but he’s a smart and down-to-earth guy who’s managed to maintain a largely consistent style. My personal favorites are probably his Warcraft, Starcraft, and Baldur’s Gate retrospectives—and while for me the ‘Craft games are wrapped up in childhood nostalgia, I didn’t care for Baldur’s Gate, so I think that speaks in his favor. Those are all older videos, but I think that’s more because his focus has been outside my preferred genres these past few years.

        2. MerryWeathers says:

          Matthewmatosis is making games now?

  23. Chris says:

    I watched Rick and Morty early on, then, while waiting for new seasons, i forgot about it. I heard it no longer is relevant since the release rate is glacial and the new writers are bad at their job.

    Maybe because I’m younger than the twentysidedtale demographic but I didn’t mind the nihilism. I found some of the humor very crude and childish, but the sci-fi concepts and the “life is without meaning so just do what you want” worked for me. A good example is the one where Rick has to fix his car battery.
    Rick’s (flying) car battery dies and he wants to fix it. He goes into the battery that turns out to have a miniature universe in it. Years ago he made that world and introduced electricity to the people there, which made him a god to them. What he also did was give them a blueprint for a machine to generate electricity. This machine secretly siphoned off some of that power which ended up powering the battery. But then an inventor in the miniworld finds out a new way to generate power, which inadvertently avoids the power siphon. Therefore the battery is dead. So rick goes to the miniworld, has an adventure, destroys the new power source, and leaves. He also tells the inventor to just suck it up. And the inventor does suck it up, because if they dont generate power for rick, rick will toss the battery in the garbage (and their entire world with it).

    I guess that hits closer to home for people coughing up quadruple digits monthly rent for a tiny apartment, than for people with a house they bought ~20 years ago. On the flip side, I watched the (early) Simpsons only recently and I was really confused what people were upset about. Then i read an article about how kids werent allowed to wear a Bart Simpson shirt to school because Bart isn’t an A student, and parents were shocked their kid could identify more with Bart than with some idealized kid from earlier family shows.

    As for the splintering of viewership. I think it has multiple causes. Instead of a few TV channels there is streaming. Before people that work at the same place, and watch the same shows, would talk about it at the water cooler. The few who didnt watch the show would watch it to fit in. Now, with the higher employee turnover, flexible jobs, and streaming this no longer happens.

    As for the negativity, I think it doesn’t get better because in real life things seem to keep getting worse. From 2001 (9/11), to 2008 (credit crunch) to 2016 (financial crisis) to 2020 (corona), there hasnt been a moment of “wow things are getting better now lets put on a wholesome show”.

    1. Daimbert says:

      I think one of the arguments against that, though, is that things like television are also or are even primarily for escapism, and if things keep getting bad people should be DESPERATE to escape into worlds where things are simple and pleasant and happy. That should lead to the audience preferring more positive vs more negative works, especially as the negatives in the real world drag on.

      Then again, maybe the problem is at the production end. The audiences might be ready for more positive stuff, but the artists want to express their angst and so produce more cynical and negative works. With streaming and DVDs, people who don’t want that can retreat to those things, and so the people that are left could be enough to support those more negative shows.

      From what I recall from Chuck Sonnenberg’s analysis of Star Wars, that’s kinda how Star Wars made it. It was much more positive and light than the competition, and people were worried that it wouldn’t succeed on that basis. But it turns out that lots of people really DID want something like that, and so it not only was a huge success but spawned a more positive trend in movies. Maybe all we need is a really good positive show to come along and do the same thing.

      (I’ve been musing about this a bit, because I’m going through my half-hour DVD stack and watched “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Munsters”, which are both just silly fun, and was wondering what modern shows were just silly fun like them? I don’t watch a lot of modern sitcoms, but the descriptions always struck me as being more in the “Seinfeld” mold of not being about very much than deliberately being silly and ridiculous).

      1. bobbert says:

        Then again, maybe the problem is at the production end. The audiences might be ready for more positive stuff, but the artists want to express their angst and so produce more cynical and negative works.

        That is how it works in the architecture world. The public loves symmetrical and beautiful. The profession loves the shocking and transgressive.

        1. Daimbert says:

          And the reviewers generally share the same opinions as the artists, and so we get into a feedback loop …

        2. Tom says:

          I’m all for self-expression in art, but not in architecture. People can walk away from most other forms of art if they’re not into it, but some poor bastard’s going to have to live or work every single day in some angsty architect’s edgy, transgressive building, and more are going to have to live and work around it. Art is for the artist, but architecture is for the patron. It should be designed to be comfortable, elegant, tasteful, and above all conducive to good mental health in those who spend any time near or in it.

          1. bobbert says:

            Yeah, there has been some weird stuff lately. Like the Borg-attack on the Toronto Museum of Mrt.

            1. tmtvl says:

              Or the poo emoji hotel in Edinburgh.

              1. Lino says:

                Oh my God, that’s a real thing! I saw your comment as part of my RSS feed, and thought it was a reply to something unrelated. But now I see the thread you’re replying to. I just googled it, and I realized that SOMEONE WAS ACTUALLY PAID TO DESIGN THIS! Ay, ay, ay, I’ve definitely picked the wrong career…….

          2. n says:

            The art in architecture /should/ be about creating something beautiful, interesting, and fitting, while still maintaining usability, flexibility, efficiency, and sensibility.
            Over the past…15-20 years, I’m tempted to say, that part has mostly gone away.
            We literally have a court house nearby which was designed in such a way that there *is* an inner court for safe transfer of prisoners, where they can be moved out of police cars and into holding cells without media attention…But the gateway in is so low, that literally no police car can actually get there. So now dangerous and high-profile criminals get taken out of the car outside on the street, and walked into the building, in full view of cameras and gawkers.
            And the architect KNEW his doorway was too small before construction started (not before designing, of course), and refused to change it because it would mean making a wall higher and it would break the “flow” of the building. That’s just plain ridiculous.

            Also, accidnetally cut out my name, but this is Bubble181.

            1. Tom says:

              ‘And the architect KNEW his doorway was too small before construction started (not before designing, of course), and refused to change it because it would mean making a wall higher and it would break the “flow” of the building…’

              Oh, great, of all the futuristic dystopias we could’ve ended up living in, it would have to have been the one unironically written to be a utopia by Ayn Rand…

      2. DeadlyDark says:

        I think, that escapism is a fragmented term. Yes, there’s escapism in positive, idealistic and heroic fantasies, and this is what comes first to people’s minds (I obviously have nothing against it). But recent backlash against “deconstructions” (at least from the guys I hang out with), seeing live reactions to an exploitation flick, plus one user I knew talked about why spaghetti westerns became popular (and they are significantly more darker and morally ambiguous than previous generation of westerns but in a way, still an escapist fantasy of their own), got me thinking, that sometimes people either more interested in an intellectual escapism (let’s try and deconstruct this concept and see where it will lead us*) or they deliberately will go to a dark territory so when we return the world around us would seem not so bad in comparison (I do think that exploitation movies have that certain popularity, and quite a lot of them are very nihilistic in one way or another; not all of them, obviously).

        * deconstruction is not really necessary here, it’s just one facet of it. Another would be exploration of themes. Obviously, I mean if it’s done in a proper manner, like Legend of the Galactic Heroes did it, not like certain others are doing it now

        1. Daimbert says:

          Well, I didn’t mean “escapism” in the sense of only being a positive or happy thing, but in the sense of it being an “escape” or contrast to everyday life. So in contrast to the idea that the world is terrible right now so people want darker and more cynical shows, in such a world people would want to “escape” to simpler and more positive worlds. If we were in a boom or Golden Age, more people might want to escape to darker and more complicated worlds to contrast with what they experience everyday. Both negativity and positivity can be overwhelming if they are relentless, and so the escape would be to give a break from that.

          You have a point that people might want to go to darker and darker worlds to provide a world that’s worse than the one that they’re in, but I’d still probably argue that that’s more from the artist’s side than the audience’s. Some of the audience might go there, but I think most of them would end up overwhelmed by the constant depression.

          On deconstructions, I do think that appeals less to escapism and more to the intellect itself. It’s interesting because it’s a novel take and tickles the intellect, which is a different reason to watch than escapism.

          1. DeadlyDark says:

            That’s fair. These were my half baked ideas of recent

          2. Chris says:

            I don’t think people just want escapism. Sometimes they want to to recognize themselves in someone else. If you feel your life is meaningless, but every story in every medium shows the hero finding a purpose, then you feel lost. Having a show where people dont care that their T-shirts are made in sweatshops, that their smartphones are put together by underpaid chinese people, that their batteries are getting taken apart by african kids, affirms their worldview. They know, they know its wrong, but they don’t have the money, energy and willpower to care.

            This goes beyond deconstruction. Deconstruction (simplified) follows an arc of “this is how stories are built up, but that isnt how real life works, so what you like is unrealistic and bad and escapist”. Beyond that you have “stories are fake, you know that, but rejecting them just leaves a gaping hole, and does it really matter in the end.”

            1. Daimbert says:

              Oh, I realize that there are different reasons to consume a particular form of entertainment, but escapism is a big one and so one that is more likely to drive broad trends than the others. In your example, yes, someone might want that, but in general would only want that if it seems like everyone else and every other show is saying that, so a show that shows people without a set purpose will help them to feel that they aren’t alone and that it isn’t a flaw in them that’s responsible for their problems. The same thing applies to the “confirming worldviews” idea, where someone would be drawn to that only if they feel that the rest of the world doesn’t have the same view as them and so they are looking for something to, again, make them feel that they aren’t alone. But if they get that affirmation from their culture in real-life, then they don’t really need it from their entertainment. So if they are drawn to that, it’s because it seems credible or reasonable to them, and not for escapism or to make up for something they feel they lack.

              As for deconstruction, I think you’re focusing too much on the cynical forms of deconstruction. At its base, deconstruction is “You know how in that media you always take it for granted that things should happen that way? Well, there’s no real REASON to think that except that that’s how it’s always done”. Comparing it to real life and noting that in real life it wouldn’t happen that way is the easiest way to do that, but is much more likely to get rejected with a “So what? It’s not supposed to be real” response. But comedy can often be driven by that sort of deconstruction (especially in parody) where they note that things don’t have to work out the way the audience expects and generate humour by how ridiculous that premise is if you break from the expectations, like a parody of mysteries that has the detective gather everyone together to explain who did it and then doesn’t get any of it right and keeps moving on to the next one until they actually find someone. It’s not cynical because a real detective wouldn’t do that and it relies on the detective being incompetent (or out of their balliwick), but it does deconstruct the idea that that’s the sort of thing that should work in that situation.

              You can deconstruct to criticize, or you can deconstruct out of love and a desire to highlight and play with the genre. Arguably, Shamus’ long analysis posts are similar to the latter where he takes apart some stories because he loves the genres and wants to show what they do right and what they do wrong. (And sometimes it’s just frustration at how wrong they get things [grin]).

              1. Syal says:

                like a parody of mysteries that has the detective gather everyone together to explain who did it and then doesn’t get any of it right and keeps moving on to the next one until they actually find someone.

                As such.

                1. Daimbert says:

                  I don’t have a clip of it, but “Get Smart” parodied it once when he was revealing a spy who was impersonating an agent and kept accusing them in order and then demanded they prove the one thing that could prove they weren’t an imposter and so not a spy, and then he gets to one of the last two, the person admits it, and then he moves on to the last person before realizing that the person admitted it.

    2. Tom says:

      Oh dear, there’s a phrase I’ve learned to dread… “new writers.”

      Also, I think you’re spot on in your analysis of the battery episode; intentional or not, it’s a superb illustration of the dynamics of capitalist profit extraction and the imperialism this begets.

  24. Chad+Miller says:

    I heard it no longer is relevant since the release rate is glacial and the new writers are bad at their job.

    This was my thought too. I no longer hear about it for the same reason I no longer hear about Archer: it’s over the hill. (out of the current season I’ve only caught the Voltron “parody” episode and it was so boring I have little desire to go watch the others even though I probably have them DVR’d)

  25. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Rick&Morty is very good but I still prefer Dan Harmon’s previous baby Community. It doesn’t have R&M’s cynicism and you actually like the leads, which is a big plus for me. Its problem was, while it was a pleasant sitcom from the start, it took almost a season to find its stride and become incredible.

  26. Mark says:

    I watched Rick and Morty on Hulu, which is relatively inexpensive (at least compared to cable) if you’re willing to endure some ads (it’s like $6/mo, I think). I don’t know if its still on there because I have since cancelled my Hulu subscription because I’m cheap.

    Regarding the fact that it has slipped out of popular culture, I think part of the reason is that its been over a year since Rick and Morty released a new episode.

    1. Retsam says:

      Regarding the fact that it has slipped out of popular culture, I think part of the reason is that its been over a year since Rick and Morty released a new episode.

      The fifth season is currently airing, a new episode aired literally yesterday.

    2. evilmrhenry says:

      Justwatch says it’s currently on HBO Max and Hulu.

  27. MarsLineman says:

    I agree that Rick and Morty depict truly toxic individuals being (often-times) very nasty to one another. But what makes the show great (when it’s at its best) is that its sadness draws on true existential/ philosophical questions. That if you know, for certain, that there is no god, that the universe is vast and uncaring, that our time is short– and in a cosmic sense meaningless– where do you find meaning and joy in life? If there is such a thing as a multi-verse with infinite different variations of every possible outcome (and person), where do you find individual purpose and identity?

    The show (again, when it’s at its best) answers that there are two routes one can take– if nothing matters, then why not just get drunk, fuck around, and embrace the nihilism? This is the route that Rick takes, and it makes him a sad, bitter, angry man.

    The other route is to find meaning and joy in relationships with the people around you (temporary and meaningless that they might be)– like watching TV together, or journeying together. This is the balance that Morty (again when the show is at its best) brings to the equation– he brings meaning and love to Rick’s life, and for as awfully as Rick treats Morty (since Rick is still mostly a bitter, angry man) when it comes down to it he will do anything for his grandson. Because, as the show postulates, in a meaningless vast universe, the only thing that matters are the people with whom you share the void.

    1. Brandon says:

      Agreed. There’s an undertone of acceptance and meaning to the show’s nihilism. Feels like Shamus kinda missed that entirely.

      1. MarsLineman says:

        This is Shamus’s blog, and I tremendously respect his work/ analysis. But “Rick and Morty” is not a show for people who believe in god. Its fundamental worldview starts with the supposition that there is no god– I’m not at all surprised that people who believe in god would find it unbearably cynical and bleak.

        1. Rho says:

          I would suggest it’s not a show for people who believe in *anything*. Its a nihilistic look at nihilism.

  28. Brandon says:

    As someone who has seen all of South Park and all of Rick and Morty, I disagree with your take that Rick and Morty is darker than South Park. South Park has some crazy dark stuff.

    1. Lasius says:

      This is exactly what I thought. Cartman is an unapologetic racist and murderer. Rick and Morty has nothing on the shit that regularly happens to Butters, Kenny or other innocent people in that show. Compared the the uncaring universe of South Park I find Rick and Morty very upbeat. I can’t watch the centrist all-sides-are-equally-shitty-and-stupid nihilism of South Park anymore while most Rick and Morty episodes have me laugh out loud several times.

      1. Shamus says:

        Okay, I should admit that my experience with South Park is extremely limited. I watched a couple of episodes in the 90s and decided it wasn’t for me. I’ve sort of been assuming those eps were representative of the whole. (The one “modern” ep I’ve seen is “Canada on strike”, which is from 2008 according to Wikipedia.)

        None of the episodes I saw seemed particularly dark / nihilistic to me, but I don’t know how they compare to the rest of the series. My overall impression of the show was “raunchy” rather than dark. But I’ll admit my sample size is really small.

        1. Syal says:

          Haven’t watched South Park in a long time, and would agree it’s usually sillier than dark, but there’s still stuff like the Scott Tenorman episode, or that one where Butters gets a shuriken in the eye.

        2. Grimwear says:

          I watched all episodes up to season…21? The early stuff is very rude and crude and essentially dark for darkness sake. I personally think its best seasons are around the 10-14 range. These are more fun and less just….gross. I personally love the Pandemic episodes (Pan Flute epidemic), as well as the classic World of Warcraft episode, Coon and Friends, and Imaginationland. I did still enjoy the episodes that came later but with the introduction of PC Principal it all became political all the time. No more critique of movies or games. Just…politics all the time. And it really turned me off of the whole show and I haven’t gone back. And I don’t just mean US politics. Matt and Trey made that smug comment to the Chinese government which got them banned in China and that got brought into their show too and I just can’t spend my time wanting to watch a comedy getting upset at politics all the time.

          1. Taellosse says:

            Personally, I felt like South Park’s high point was it’s pre-television pilot, where Jesus and Santa fight over the true meaning of Christmas, Poking fun at sacred cows with silliness, goofy violence against literal paper cutouts, and a bit of pointed dialogue.

            The early episodes on TV were sometimes almost that good, but frequently just relied on juvenile and even excessively scatalogical humor. And then they started taking themselves too seriously, and decided it was their job to mock everyone, especially anybody that criticized them, and I thoroughly lost interest.

          2. MerryWeathers says:

            I watched all episodes up to season…21? The early stuff is very rude and crude and essentially dark for darkness sake.

            I wouldn’t say early South Park was dark (it has always leaned more into absurdist comedy so much of the black humor doesn’t feel depressing or sad compared to Rick and Morty) as much as it was just outright contrarian.
            Examples being the episode “Gnomes” where the show took the side of the big corporation and portrays the small business, that’s usually oppressed in these types of stories, as scummy and greedy or when it shat on the Rainforest Preservation movement by portraying nature as savage, dangerous, and something that really needs to be tamed by industrialization and modernization.

            1. Grimwear says:

              Ya dark is probably not the right word. Saw that being used a lot with R&M and it must have stuck. Hmm maybe crude? Angry? Juvenile? Early seasons had a lot of poo, a lot of absurd stuff, and a lot of the kids being angry and violent that has since been dropped.

  29. Rho says:

    [Comment misplaced – will retype elsewhere]

  30. Hal says:

    I’ll repeat what others said, that Hulu has Rick and Morty in the US. (It has some other things worth watching, too, just to be clear. I really enjoyed The Awesomes. It has Futurama and Bob’s Burgers. I wanted to like MODOK, but the tone of it just wasn’t resonating for me.)

    The nihilism of R&M really does get to me, too. I can watch only one episode at a time, it’s just so . . . much. It’s got some fun ideas to it, but as someone who firmly rejects natural materialism (and the nihilism I consider an inevitable consequence of said materialism) I just find the show so sad at times.

    That said, you know that scene in the Matrix where Neo and Trinity need guns, and these infinite racks of guns come screaming into view? R&M has a bit of a problem with setting up Chekov’s Gun and then not firing it, to the point that it has entire Matrix-racks of Chekov’s guns.

  31. Coming Second says:

    At its best, Rick & Morty feels like a spiritual successor to Douglas Adams. At its worst, it’s somebody poking you in the eye and saying ‘Hey, do you like that? No? Too bad, I’m going to do it again. While farting.’

    It’s given me some of the biggest laugh out loud and ‘wow’ moments of any TV show in the last five years. Other times I’ve felt profoundly bored by it. Ok, you don’t care Rick, there are zero stakes in this for you because you are literally an uncaring God, so why should I the viewer care? Nihilism inevitably eats at the soul of a creative project, you can use it to fuel your vision to a certain extent but at the end of the day the rot remains visible and it’s ugly. I think stand alone episodes make for great watching, but taken as a whole it leaves a nasty taste in your mouth.

  32. Clareo Nex says:

    I’m disturbed by the inability to have both a functional family and a dysfunctional family in one show. Your options are apparently to wallow in self-destruction or to have downright Brave New World happy-happy times.

    If you really wanted to ask for a lot, how about a dysfunctional family that becomes less dysfunctional over time? Crazy, I know…

    1. bobbert says:

      Honest question: if Homer Simpson got sober and stopped cheating on his wife, would anyone still watch the show?

      We are sort of there for the brokenness and fireworks.

      There are also big capital-letters Moral Questions that you risk introducing. If a fallen-man chooses to be a better man, what does it say about those who don’t?

      1. Coming Second says:

        Homer doesn’t cheat on Marge. Unless he does in Season 9+, in which case it doesn’t count.

        1. Syal says:

          Was thinking that; Homer’s marital faithfulness is one of his good points, and there’s at least one entire episode about it.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        Wait, Homer Simpson is a drunk who’s cheating on Marge? I know I stopped watching the Simpsons a long time ago, but that would be terrible if true. Part of what makes Homer as a character is that his heart’s in the right place and he never does anything too bad.

        There are also big capital-letters Moral Questions that you risk introducing. If a fallen-man chooses to be a better man, what does it say about those who don’t?

        I’d say this is one of the best things a TV show can do. It applies more to formats like Soap Operas than comedy, but by depicting something similar to real life and showing a solution, it can actually have a message.”This is how this person ended up that way; this is the effect it has on others; this is how they changed.”
        Maybe it’s trying to trying to teach the audience something, maybe it’s not. Could be tha tthe show is just depicting things that happen; what the audience takes away from it is their business.

        Related point: One of my (many) complaints about Rick and Morty would be how static it is. To take a word used by Clareo Nex, it often just kind of…wallows…in the situations and horrible relationships. No real change, no real insight…not really funny, even.
        I mean, shows like Arrested Development and Archer have character who are awful people too, but they also take said awful people and put them in ridiculous situations where they got up to fun shenanigans.

  33. BlueHorus says:

    Rick and Morty’s writing always makes me think of a teenager. Like a smart, genre-savvy 17-year-old writing their first scripts; not supid by any means, but not nearly as insightful or clever as it seems to think it is. There’s nothing deep about the show’s nihilism – anyone can say the world is shit, buddy, a lot of us went through that phase when WE were young.

    It’s kind of sad. The show is inventive, it’s intelligent, it’s full of references, it’s fast, it’s unpredictable in a good way… but almost every time it seems like it might say something actually profound or thoughtful, there’s a fart joke or some lazy shock humor or Rick just effortlessly solves the episode’s problems via plot armor and learns nothing.

    I kind of want the show to be cancelled for a bit, so it can go out in the world and get some life experience. While it’s fine but somewhat annoying now, the same show with a bit more maturity could be really, really good.

    Also related: something I just don’t get don’t get about a lot of modern comedy shows I’ve seen – the character who does nothing but fail or get insulted, all the time.
    Rick and Morty has it in the form of Jerry, Morty’s dad – the guy gets a plot line or screen time in almost every episode, and Every. Single. Time! he’s made to look stupid and pathetic, messing up in some stupid way.
    That’s it. That’s the character. I could also point to Meg Griffin in Familiy Guy, or Steve Smith (sometimes, not always) in American Dad.

    Just – what is this character archetype? Is it meant to be funny? Are we meant to like them? Pity them? Hate them? What are they for? It’s not funny or satisfying to watch, you’re not saying anything with them…just why?

    1. Coming Second says:

      In the case of Jerry, he’s an inversion of the expectations of a sitcom family. Instead of the whacky uncle character being the comic relief and the world-weary dad being the main character, the roles are exactly reversed.

      He can be seen as the final stage of an evolution begun with Homer Simpson, the patriarch of 20th century American culture deconstructed down to the point of something so mediocre and laughable it can no longer even function as the nucleus. I don’t think it’s all that clever or funny – beyond the first couple of seasons you do wonder how he’s justified as being there at all. Season 3 struggled with it a bit, then shrugged its shoulders and went ‘whatever, Jerry is a thing I guess’. Hurray! Nothing matters!

    2. Tom says:

      Actually, though Jerry never quite escaped from “butt monkey” status, he did at least get something almost no other show’s butt-monkey ever gets: character growth. Rick forces Jerry to face and grow beyond at least one of his most toxic flaws, even if he still remains a semi-dysfunctional abuse magnet thereafter.

    3. Joshua says:

      Why I can’t get into a lot of nihilistic stuff is that whole smugness/edginess.

    4. Brosephus says:

      Yeah, the show’s nihilism often makes it come off as confused than anything. The character’s arcs just seem to get reset over and over again, unless you count the family just getting meaner and more callous.

      Its a memorable show, but I sometimes think people will remember it more for the fun concepts and comedic moments than for the deep character progression.

  34. Clareo Nex says:

    Heck it, let’s talk about nihilism.

    I always thought part of the joke was R&M doing nihilism wrong.
    “Nothing matters and that’s horrible!” This is strictly illogical.

    I guess, let’s first talk about belief.
    It’s almost impossible, and thoroughly unnecessary, to talk about believing in The Truth per se. As a matter of fact homo sapiens(lol) come to some belief. Whether reliable or unreliable, it frequently doesn’t matter, because the belief isn’t going anywhere. (Caveat: unless you specifically work very, very hard on developing more-reliable belief formation.)

    Thus, some believe in nihilism. It doesn’t matter why that is, because that belief isn’t going anywhere. However, given that these individuals believe in nihilism, what does it mean?

    Logically, very little. Nothing matters, and that’s awesome.
    Whatever you thought mattered, you were right. You can go ahead an pursue those things, because it’s guaranteed that nothing can come from outside and invalidate those values. Regarding these things, the only relevant factor is your personal opinion about them. There are no external values or objective values which you could potentially be wrong about.

    Morty, for example, clearly thinks it’s important to exist for some purpose and to belong somewhere. Because (we’re assuming) nihilism is true, there is nothing stopping him from creating those things. He can simply assign himself a purpose. Maybe find others who want to belong, and decide together what they want ‘belonging’ to mean, and then do that. Whatever they want it to be, it’s guaranteed to be okay. (Unless trying to make a square circle, but this normally isn’t an issue.)

    Being guaranteed to have no purpose and belong nowhere isn’t nihilism, it’s almost exactly the opposite of nihilism. If the universe guarantees having no purpose, then it’s purpose is to assign anti-purpose. Bzzzt. Self-contradiction. If the universe guarantees belonging nowhere, then it is enforcing belonging to the not-belonging group. Bzzzt. Technically it’s possible the universe is actively malevolent in some similar way, but then it wouldn’t be esoteric philosophy, but instead experimentally verifiable through myriad ways.

    Most likely the R&M faux nihilism is about evolutionary mismatch. You’re supposed to have a tribe of about 100 folk, which obviously you belong to. The tribal elder will assign you a purpose, such as making spears or maintaining the tents. This nihilism is not some profound insight into the true nature of the cosmos at large, it’s a prosaic psychological need modern industrial society happens to default into not providing for. Many individuals discover their “purpose” when they have children. In other words it was merely the Darwinian imperative to have children, but confused into this baroque angst.

    You often read about folk gaining belonging by joining a gang or the military. It’s hardly impossible to do this sort of thing intentionally, rather than having to go to such extreme tangents before discovering it by accident.

    1. Hal says:

      Some would say that creating your own purpose is nothing more than a coping mechanism, like a child clutching a teddy bear to ward off the shadows at bedtime. Any “meaning” you create for yourself is ultimately just whistling past the graveyard.

      It also warrants asking, “Why bother?” What does it matter how you feel about anything? Whatever thing you use to give yourself “meaning” in the moment, ten years later none of it will be more than a few random memories and vague feelings of contentment (or not.) A hundred years later, nothing you ever felt about anything even matters. Did you create meaning and purpose? Were you content? Were you plagued by anomie? Disillusioned? Miserable? It doesn’t matter, least of all to you.

      1. Taellosse says:

        The obvious counterpoint is, “yeah? So what?” If it works – self-defined purpose and belonging provide a reasonable measure of contentment/satisfaction – and that individual prefers the resulting state of mind and life they lead, what does it matter if they “made it up” or not? It made them happy, and harmed no one else (presuming their purpose wasn’t harming others, of course).

        The subtler rejoinder is that just because the impact of a given life becomes difficult or impossible to distinguish after some arbitrary period of time has passed does not mean it had none. Ripples spread outward until they are lost in the current, but they still moved the water. And a lot of individuals choosing purposes that are similar can have much larger and longer-term impact towards a given end goal.

      2. Clareo Nex says:

        years later none of it will be more than a few random memories

        Is meaning when things last longer?

        It doesn’t matter, least of all to you.

        Why not?

      3. Shufflecat says:

        The obvious counter to the first part is “what’s the alternative?”. Do you choose to believe in God? Fate? Which one (of either)? If your reason for believing is because you can’t stomach the thought of there being no objective meaning (as opposed to because you have external evidence), is that not by definition a coping mechanism? If it’s a choice between coping mechanisms, which seems more healthy: accepting the situation and making the most of it, or running from it internally, not caring where that takes you as long as it’s away?

        And of course, there’s the fact that different people will respond to the concept differently. While creating your own meaning might feel scary and empty to you, to others it may feel like an open road with an unbounded horizon, while the meaning imposed by a god or fate feels like a gilded cage at it’s narrow best. What happens if the faith you choose commands you to ignore or deny this difference?

        If you can’t evidence your faith (which is kind of the definition of faith), and emotion/intuition is its foundation, does that mean the faith you choose is a roundabout means of self-justification? Why not cut out the middleman?

        To the second part, there are many obvious counters. To (glibly) start with: “tell it to Jonas Salk”. More seriously “it matters in proportion to how much you feel it matters”. Note that this is true of a faith-based sense of meaning as well. As above, don’t make the mistake of thinking others share your emotional architecture: they may be experiencing fulfillment where you cannot (or believe you cannot).

        Plus: anything less than infinity is equally small compared to infinity. What makes a god or fate any more objective in the big picture? What larger framework does God exist within? If he/she/they doesn’t need one, why does the material universe? What are souls made of, and what constraints hold a soul’s “shape” to that of a mind with a personality, memories, etc., as opposed to just dissipating into a chaotic cloud? Can that be answered without either resorting to Lewis Carol-esque semantics legerdemain (e.g. “can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it”), or adding another layer of ontological structure rather than freeing one from such? Do these beliefs actually solve the problem, or just kick the can down the road?

        1. Syal says:

          If you can’t evidence your faith (which is kind of the definition of faith)

          Nope, that’s blind faith. I have faith that if something rolls off my counter I’ll find it on the floor. I have faith that my automatic-bill-pay service will pay my bill automatically. I have faith my car will start in the morning. And I have that faith because it’s worked that way every time I’ve tested it, or near enough to rely on.

      4. Tom says:

        I’ve always felt that finding a purpose for oneself constitutes a purpose in itself.

  35. Steve C says:

    I don’t know why the smartest inventor in the universe can’t get his own place.

    Most Ricks do have their own place — The Citadel of Ricks. Or Rick’s very special toilet could also qualify.

    The Rick we follow lives with his family because he needs them and their love. And Rick deeply resents them for that fact.

  36. tmtvl says:

    I am not a super genius with 1,000 IQ, so I will simply resign myself to my fate and watch the Miyazaki-directed Lupin episodes again. (Wings of Death Albatross is the best thing I’ve ever watched, and I’ve watched Columbo, Star Trek TOS and TNG, and Avatar The Last Airbender)

    1. Kincajou says:

      On the subject of lupin, did you catch the TV show from last year? I quite enjoyed the first half

      1. tmtvl says:

        Not yet, I have to watch The Woman Called Fujiko Mine first, it’s on the to-do list.

  37. Something that always stood out to me about the show is how well it handles the switch from humor to seriousness. Most comedy shows I can think of really seem to struggle with any type of serious plot line, and when one comes along it’s usually the point where the audience realizes the show’s running out of ideas.

    IMHO Rick and Morty has always handled it really well. Like the interdimensional cable episode you screencapped, one second it’s the creators mad-libbing silly ideas into a microphone, and a few seconds later it’s transitioning into a decently heartfelt moment.

  38. Joshua says:

    This reminds me of a time way back in 2003 when I had a bunch of negative things happen, including getting fired from a job. I had to find a way to use up my spare time* while not looking for a job, and managed to download copies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Six.

    This was a season where “Life itself” was the main villain, and all of the characters fuck up their lives and relationships. Maybe some people enjoy depressing media when they are down on their luck, but for me it was absolutely miserable. I have no desire to watch likewise depressing television when I’m in a funk.

    *This triggered a sequence of events where I met my future wife, moved to Texas, finished school, and started a great career, so everything ended up for the best.

    1. RCN says:

      As someone who coped with a recent set of depression by watching Bojack Horseman, I’m certainly in the “enjoy depressing media when in a funk” category.

      I dunno. It is sobering for me and it motivates me to get out of my funk by making me feel something when it seems my feelings are locked away in a box I don`t have the key to.

  39. Brosephus says:

    I find it interesting that many fans of the show are fine with watching Rick seemingly get away with so much selfishness while hating on Jerry. As someone who finds the show hard to watch, Jerry provides the closest thing to a break from the show’s constant nihilism. His insecurity often drives his selfishness, but he doesn’t quite have the active malice the other characters possess.

    Of all the members of the family, Jerry feels like the one who could most easily escape the show–if he smartened up a bit.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I think to a lot of people, Jerry’s main crime is being stupid. He tries to act like Rick, (and Beth, to a lesser degree) – selfish, aloof, rude, but he’s just not smart enough to get away with it in the same way. Nor is he witty enought to fight back when the others insult him.
      That, I think, is what a lot of people hate about Jerry.

      Of all the members of the family, Jerry feels like the one who could most easily escape the show–if he smartened up a bit.

      Yeah, me too. A massive part of Jerry’s problem is RICK, the narcissistic father-in-law who’s barged into his life and hates him. Get him (and the kids) away from Rick, and Beth, and he’d probably change a lot, for the better.

      1. KillerAngel says:

        I think it’s just getting away from Rick that’s important, that’s the point of the cronenberg episode: even in a post-apocalyptic wasteland they are happier as a family with Rick gone.

  40. EOW says:

    I still enjoy the show, but that’s because i’m a sucker for scifi and i’ll watch pretty much anything that can give me some cool scifi stories.
    I think the reason for the hate is because to many this show could’ve been the new Futurama, a beautifully smart scifi comedy that will be quoted years later, but then it just became merely ok. Season 3 didn’t help matters, since it started wallowing too much into beth and jerry’s relationship and it just felt like every B plot was a tumor that sucked any fun out of the show. But i think the failing of season 3 is that it kinda dropped the “parody” aspect, in the first two seasons each episode was basically “let’s take these scifi tropes and let’s have fun with them”. Season 4 was a return to norm and season 5 i’m actually liking aside from one particular episode (not even the creators seem to like that ep).

    Also i think a reason for the loathing comes from the fandom, ESPECIALLY after the infamous mcdonalds schezuan sauce.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      My thoughts exactly. The way it plays with sci-fi tropes is what attracted me to it in the first place, but when it starts to get into character drama it becomes annoying.

  41. Dreadjaws says:

    To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty. The humour is extremely subtle, yada yada yada, you know the drill. I don’t have the patience to go find the whole thing to copy and paste.

    R&M is one show I loved to recommend after watching the first couple of seasons but I found it harder to do it after realizing how insane its fanbase could be. I feel the show it’s at it best when the writers just run wild with whichever insane approach to sci-fi tropes they can think of and at its worst when it tries to out-nihilite (nihilize? nihilify?) itself in its attempts at character drama. Sure, the “A-ha! You thought Rick was caring for his family but in reality he was being a bigger asshole than you could possibly believe!” bait-and-switch was cute the first couple of times, but then it just became so predictable that it sucked even the smallest bit of fun that existed in the show’s constant depression porn.

    I’m surprised it’s not available on streaming in the US. Where I live it’s both in Netflix and HBO Max.

    1. Dennis says:

      My understanding of Pickle Rick was that they tried to make a joke about a lame gag and running out of ideas, and people found it hilarious, not getting that the joke was how lame it was. The same goes for wuba-luba-dub-dub.

      I loved the first two seasons (S2’s Total Rickall, the brain parasites episode, is far and away my favorite) and kind of fell off in season three. Haven’t watched four or five.

      1. Tom says:

        I thought Pickle Rick was originally just a throw-away split-second visual they put in an early trailer or something, and then got so much fan interest about that single shot that they later built an entire episode around it. It’s possible I’m experiencing a false memory on this, though.

  42. Taellosse says:

    Shamus I’m not spam, I promise! I just wanted to edit my comment to close a quotation mark! :-(

    1. BlueHorus says:

      that’s exactly what a spambot would say! You can’t fool us! What are you selling?!

      (Not really. Shamus’ spam filter is famously unreliable. It’s probably not personal.)

  43. KillerAngel says:

    I don’t think our art is becoming more cynical. I think it can seem more cynical at times but that’s actually an illusion brought about by contrast. For example, you reference the “no one belongs anywhere” quote I believe as an example of cynicism, but in the episode it’s from that’s immediately followed by optimism when Beth and Jerry, enchanted by the idealistic visions of their solo lives and careers in the alternate time-line, watch as those idealized versions of themselves admit that they are totally miserable without what Beth and Jerry have made with each other. It’s the contrast that makes both seem more cynical and more optimistic than they would be by themselves. Just like when we listen to music we don’t register volume in decibels, we notice the switch from piano to forte. South Park is relentlessly cynical, but it’s so relentless that for me it becomes just a meaningless tide of one-note cynicism. The cynicism in Rick and Morty hits harder because of the contrast.

    This modal quality of switching between cynicism and optimism is something that characterizes a lot of current popular media and it’s what drove the initial success of the show in Season One. After that I think it fell off the rails and nosedived into too much cynicism, but once a show becomes popular that has a lot of inertia even if the quality or tone changes. If anyone is interested in more about this topic Leighton Gray talked about art history, memes, and how that applies to writing videogames in this GDC talk.

  44. RCN says:

    Nah, entertainment isn’t cyclical. It is all encompassing in all directions
    The thing that makes people fall out of the loop is that it is always pushing boundaries in all those directions.

    I guarantee to you there are modern shows out there more wholesome than Leave it to Beaver or Boy Meets World. It is just that they’re not also encased in a self-delusional universe of everything ends well because the universe is good and try to find something wholesome in a more grounded world. For me, in particular, those “wholesome” shows of a bygone era feels positively unnerving and fake in a way I cannot enjoy them for what they are trying to do. If I lived in one of them it’d be like living in a waking nightmare like the Stepford Wives.

    Today the equivalent wholesome show would be something like Sex Education on netflix. It deals with sexual themes but in the end of the day it is a positive message about sex without shying away from the real life problems related to it. I just wished it kept the premise of the main character being an ace (asexual) teaching sexually active teens to have a healthier sex life (because his mother is a sex therapist) instead of just reframing him as a late-bloomer at the end of the first season… But it is what it is.

    Also, there is fiction out there more wholesome and optimistic than Star Trek or even NG Star Trek. It is just not the newer Star Trek shows and they’re not usually found in televisioned entertainment.

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