Rick and Morty and Thomas Nagel’s ‘The Absurd’ (Stewart Clark)

In Thomas Nagel’s ‘The Absurd’, he notes that “it is often remarked that nothing we do will matter in a million years.” [1] This sort of existential thinking from Nagel immediately draws me to the witty but sometimes disturbing cartoon series Rick and Morty (Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, 2013).

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(The Smith Family from Rick and Morty)

Rick and Morty is a series fundamentally concerned with life’s absurdities. The general premise of the show sees Rick travel between different dimensions and regularly take his grandson Morty with him. The series reveals the thousands of other realities in the universe and forces its characters to contemplate their own existence and relevance.

Rixty Minutes is an episode from Rick and Morty where Nagel’s viewpoints are particularly prominent. In the episode, Rick provides the family with cable television and virtual reality headsets, which showcase alternate lives of the family from numerous alternate realities. Summer is devastated and threatens to run away when her parents explain to her how worthless she actually is and how many ‘better’ alternate versions there are of her. Nagel argues that “one may try to escape the position by seeking broader ultimate concerns… Those seeking to supply their lives with meaning usually envision a role or function in something larger than themselves. They therefore seek fulfilment in service to society.” [2] Morty talks his sister out of running away by explaining that “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?” [3] This line from Morty not only paints a dark representation of reality but reflects Nagel’s argument of the fact that the absurd makes people want gratification in accomplishing something in their life but, ultimately, very few people do. Morty’s statement is poignant in suggesting that we should all forget about trying to achieve something and enjoy life while it lasts.

 

 

 

[1] Thomas Nagel, “The Absurd,” The Journal of Philosophy 68:20 (1971), p. 716.

[2] Ibid., p. 720.

[3] Rick and Morty, ‘Rixty Minutes’ (Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, 2013). 

4 comments

  1. Great example for what Nagel speaks on. This clip also ties into what Frued says in “On Humor” about the relationship between the humorist and the world. Morty here, although younger than Summer, acts the part of the grown-up, and tells Summer to not take the world seriously.

  2. The existentialist line of thinking in Rick and Morty goes hand in hand with Nagel’s, and I think you’ve illustrated that well here. There’s also a second connection between the two as Rick and Morty’s protagonist treats extraordinary surroundings with the same indifference as one might treat mundane human life – however, his companion Morty does not (at first). It’s interesting that most of the show’s conflict and humour comes from the relationship between these opposite views towards reality.

  3. “Rick and Morty” is an excellent example of both absurdist humour and the metaphysical concept of the absurd, especially the episode you have chosen to talk about which deals with alternate realities and existentialism (specifically the meaning of life). I also like the quotes from Nagel that you incorporated into your analysis.

  4. I like how you were able to specifically tie in this episode to the absurd. When you tie the scene where Summer tries to run away in with Nagel’s quote about trying to serve society I believe that it perfectly lines up; but when Morty convinces her to stay and come watch tv with them, he is getting her to go back to the environment where she was told she wasn’t wanted, which could be seen as being absurd.

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