(Before we get started, I will like to say that this is not a spoiler free post. It should also be noted that it can be triggering for some readers as well, due to discussions of rape.)
Dan Harmon, the creator of the genius sitcom “Community”, has just recently along with Justin Roiland created a brand new animation that blends science fiction with black comedy. It follows the chaotic adventures of Rick, an alcoholic rough-personated scientist and his grandson Morty, a timid boy who semi-willingly goes along the madcap dimensional adventures instigated by his grandfather. The storylines are filled with gore, death and tragedy. The humor is quite dark, and the stories don´t always have happy endings. It is in the same mode storytelling as a slew of cartoons meant for adult audiences such as “Drawn Together” and “South Park”. However, when one looks beyond the gore filled scenes, one can see that “Rick and Morty” is a show that explores deeper themes as well. For instance, “Rick and Morty” is one of the few television shows that depict rape culture properly, without buying into myths of victim-blaming or simplifying ideas about who is a rape victim or who can be a predator.
The pilot of “Rick and Morty” show cast the series as filled with dark humor that joked about death, violence and trauma. The plots consisted of Rick dragging his fourteen year old grandson to all sorts of terrible dimensions, much to the rest families dismay. Mortys family consists of the dimwitted, insecure but goodhearted Jerry (his father) who Rick loves to belittle. Beth, Morty´s veterinarian mum and Ricks daughter. And Summer, Morty´s sister who wants to join in on her brothers and grandfathers misbegotten adventures. Rick and Morty’s travels are often dangerous, violent places that are filled with all sorts of peculiar creatures. The main selling point was its bleak sense of humor; however as the first season progressed it increased it´s serious world building and in the process was able to actually say some important things about violence.
In the first seasons fifth episode, “Meeseks and Destroy”, Morty asks Rick to allow him to decide what kind of adventure to have, since up until then, Rick had been the one who called all the shots. They make a deal that if Morty is able to handle the adventure he picks he will be allowed to choose every fifth adventure. They travel to a world that resembles the generic fantasy scenario, where Morty decides to help a poverty stricken village. In a reference to “Jack and the bean stock”, Morty and Rick climb up a bean stock and accidentally get the first giant they encounter killed. After being released from murder charges for the accidental Giant-slaughter, Rick and Morty end up at a tavern in the groundside village where things take a dark turn. Frustrated Rick goes off to gamble and Morty goes to use the restroom. There he meets a soft-spoken jellybean-shaped man who offers advice to Morty, which Morty initially appreciates. Suddenly, the benignly, supportive Jellybeanman begins getting uncomfortable close to Morty. The encounter proceeds into an uncomfortable scene where the Jellybeanman attempts to rape Morty, accusing Morty, all the while, of being a “tease”. Morty fights the Jellybeanman off, and, after the encounter, walks back out to meet Rick.
The scene is played straight; it is not used for black comedy in the slightest. This is not only remarkable because the show itself tends to poke fun at dark subjects, but also because rape jokes in today’s television shows while full of such references to sexual assault rarely show the trauma which “Rick and Morty” conveys in this brief scene. Shows such as “Two broke girls” and “Robot Chicken” tend to use rape as a throw away punch line and shock value. Casual jokes are made at both female and male survivors dispense. The problem, particularly with rape jokes, is that they tend to minimalize the violence of rape, and tend to more often fall into common victim-blaming, misogynistic language (or homophobic, if the joke is about male rape). The problem with such jokes are that they take a huge global issue (one in three women and one in six men have experienced sexual violence world wide) and treat it without any caution or seriousness. But in “Rick and Morty” the attempted rape of Morty is treated seriously; the writers cleverly decide to let the scene be gritty.
“Rick and Morty”, having the Jellybeanman accuse Morty of being a tease, underline the continued instance in media of making victim-blaming jokes and the writers highlight how rapists themselves use victim-blaming to further their abuse.
After escaping the restroom assault of the Jellybeanman Morty silently tells Rick he wants to go home. Rick sees the Jellybean man leave the restroom and figures out what happens. Then an incredible piece of writing takes place; Rick doesn´t pressure Morty into telling him what happened. He doesn´t blame Morty in any way. He does what many survivors have claimed is the best thing to do; he doesn´t say anything, but let´s Morty know that he´s there for him. Rick shows Morty the cash he´s won gambling and tells Morty they can end thier adventure and giving Rick praise for the choice of adventure. Having Rick not pressure or blame Morty is incredible and a good moral to send: give abuse survivors space but also make sure they know you´re there for them. The episode however does give into some fantasies; in the end of the episode, when Rick and Morty are leaving the world, Rick quickly shoots (and kills) the jellybeanman, unbeknown to the already departed Morty.
The show also dwells into deconstructing rape culture myths. In episode six, “Ricks Potion #9”, Morty is shown pining after his crush, Jessica. He´s gloomy for not having a date to the schools dance, and is obsessed with the idea of Jessica. Utterly love struck the boy turns to Rick for help. His grandfather tries to ignore Morty, but after Morty has a protracted outburst about how he always helps Rick and never gets anything back, Rick gives in and hands his nephew a potion made from animals DNAs that will make Jessica fall forever in love with Morty, wanting to mate with Morty for life. While the potion is a success, it turns out its success spreads through bodily fluids and therefore becomes an epidemic due to flu season.
Everyone at Morty´s school dance becomes infected and aggressively falls into a deep love/lust with Morty. Students and teachers alike start to fight over Morty, creating a fairly funny scenario. Rick turns up to help Morty via one of Ricks favorite mode of transport, his spaceships. While the whole world becomes more and more infected, Rick desperately tries out different potions to find a cure. Unfortunately this just leads to everybody on earth turning into horrible looking monsters.
When Morty starts to complain that Rick is being irresponsible, Rick then says to Morty: “All I wanted was for you to hand me a screwdriver! But instead you had me buckle down and…make you a…roofie…juice serum, so you can roofie that poor girl at your school. Are you kidding me, Morty?! You’re really gonna try to take the high road on this one? Y’know your-you’re a little creep, Morty! Your-you’re just a little creepy creep person!”. This speech brilliantly points out the ethical problems with love potions, and points out the predatory nature of Morty’s request. (Though our western society has come to give some acknowledgement to the horrid problem of drugging and raping; as the Finnish-Swede journalist Johanna Koljonen has said: “The problem then lies in that we then believe that only nasty, horrible men could do such things. The reality is that even so-called sweet, nice boys and men could be rapists”.)
Having instigated a drugging for assaultive, forced physicality Morty shows us the everyman and sympathetic protagonist, the nice guy, attempting sexual violence while denying, with the common thoughts of our society, what it is. This critique of the offensive action, and its insidious ideological justification, is a brave, important move for a television show. When asked why they rape, a lot of men express the opinion that they felt entitled. Morty, in his weakness, felt entitled as well. He may be a “nice boy”, but he has bought into societies misogynistic views and therefore did something horrible. Morty of course admits to Rick that he was wrong, which happens less in real life, but the fact that a show actually depicted a common mental state that any man (the “Privileged Person”) could have and then points out how this mentality devastates the women and girls (and actually the entire society, which this action comes to destroy) is straight out fantastic to see. This sense of entitlement of a “Privileged Person” for the “lesser person” of the “Oppressed Body” is a problem, and it should be more often addressed in these ways.
The show is also a great example of understanding that anyone could be a victim to sexual violence. Mortys dad, Jerry, gets held at gun point by a woman in the season finale. She tries to force him to have sex, but is rescued by Beth at the last minute. Beth even calls the woman “a rapist”. When Beth says she couldn´t have guessed from the woman’s looks that she was a rapist, Jerry angrily points out that it´s nonsense to assume you can tell such things from ones looks. It is true; looks are deceiving, and the sad truth is that rape culture is deeply ingrained within our society. This means that while men are taught that they may be entitled to a woman´s body, women are taught that men are always eager for sex. Therefore anyone, regardless of gender or race or age, can be a rapist. Both Jerry, Morty and Jessica were nearly raped in the show; and the perpetrators were both male and female. “Rick and Morty” is clear in its message that rape is rape.
Rape is often an shoddily used tool for drama or a lazy source of comedy on television, but “Rick and Morty” is able to avoid most of the insensitive tropes foisted upon us by the pop media.
“Rick and Morty” is careful with this subject, showing a full understanding that when discussing sexual violence it is important to respect the sufferer of the assault and consider the personhood of the survivor in our interactions with them.
Lastly, while bringing the subject up, it is about time that we as a culture actually talk about the culture that creates predators and gives them a set of rationalizations for their brutality , instead of minimizing them and stripping them of their justifications of violence .