Much to the disappointment of a few vocal “Rick and Morty” fans, merely tuning in to the explicit excursions of sardonic scientist Rick Sanchez and his dimwit grandson Morty does not demonstrate intellectual superiority.
As a rule, it’s best to disregard anyone who feels the need to establish themselves as smart based on their taste in sitcoms.
Still, that “Rick and Morty” has garnered such a following is noteworthy. And it’s worth exploring why some people watch the animated series. The answer, however, is unlikely to flatter.
To be sure, watching “Rick and Morty” is an exercise in existential levity leveraged against cosmic indifference. Here, an appreciation for sarcasm, wit and dark humor goes a long way toward dividing the world into groupies and the uninterested.
In this vein, references to Schrodinger’s cat, sci-fi cinema and philosophy, which pervade the series, are tempting examples of requisite intelligence. But despite such cultural allusions, the animated sitcom is popular because it’s made for a general audience.
The high-brow references enhance Rick’s witticisms and the show’s general motif of how meaning is constructed in a meaningless multiverse, while parodying scientism.
In any case, if “Rick and Morty” does attract brainy fans, it’s likely due to the program’s affinity for colorful language.
In 2015, psychologists Kristen Jay and Timothy Jay of Marist College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts found that “the ability to generate taboo language is not an index of overall language poverty.”
Plainly, swearing signals a richer vocabulary, which tends to indicate higher intelligence. So Stephen Fry, the English writer and actor, was correct to say that “the sort of person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest is just fucking lunatic.”
Interestingly, the high-brow intimations, which suffuse “Rick and Morty,” are not what attracts supposedly intelligent fans. That honor belongs more to the explicit nature of the show’s banter. Still, there’s reason to remain suspicious of the notion that “Rick and Morty” devotees are, necessarily, a smart bunch.
To reiterate, the series is popular because it’s made for a general audience. Notice, however, the democratization of information and its effect on discourse. Unfortunately, people assume that because facts are instantly available, expertise is cheap.
Of course, a mature approach reveals that facts and knowledge are not identical. Yes, facts are needed to create knowledge. But facts alone are not enough. Knowledge requires context and experience — neither of which are supplied by “Rick and Morty.”
Even those without a large reservoir of facts, context or experience delight in the show’s subversive humor.
And the fans who point to their taste for the animated series as evidence of their mental supremacy are darling specimens of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where the less competent overestimate their competence.
Recall Bertrand Russell’s quip that “the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and the wiser people so full of doubts.” To put it bluntly, anyone who is “certain” that taste in entertainment indicates brilliance is, amusingly, rather dull.
Sure, “Rick and Morty” is infused with allusions of the salient sort. Yet, recognizing germane references does not make a genius.
If the show was as emblematic of intellect as some would have us believe, the science would fail to become a caricature (at the expense of our amusement, no doubt).
Yet, “Rick and Morty” is not honest to science — and we don’t expect it to be. In the same way, it’s the height of folly to expect a penchant for animated distractions to be suggestive of anything other than a profitable marriage between leisure and the talents of co-creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon.
Christopher Salazar PZ ’20 is a philosophy major from La Verne, California. He’s not one to proselytize, but he considers whiskey on the rocks sacrilege.