10 Times Rick & Morty Dealt With Real Issues
No one expects a cartoon on Adult Swim to tackle serious issues like racism and mental health, but Rick And Morty challenges that stereotype.
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Content Warning: This article contains mention of violence, substance abuse, sexual assault and suicide.
Over the course of the show, Rick And Morty hasn’t shied away from getting political or philosophical, even if some fans vocally object. Audiences may have a hard time accepting that an animated sci-fi show about a 14-year-old and his genius grandpa could have anything to say about racism, abortion, or abuse of political power – even those this is one of the reasons why Rick And Morty is Adult Swim’s best show.
But in between fun-filled, self-contained adventures in outer space, the writers have worked real issues into the plotlines either metaphorically or outright, leading viewers to confront the very harsh realities that don’t escape even the most fantastical worlds.
10 Systemic Racism In The Police Force
Rick And Morty gave their two cents on the social issue in a metaphorical sense in Season 3 episode, “The Ricklantis Mixup.” The Citadel of Ricks is full of political unrest. Mortys, in this episode, act as a placeholder for people of color. When newly graduated Cop Rick is placed with his new partner in the episode’s B-story, he says that he didn’t expect it to be a Morty. They drive through crowds of Mortys protesting for representation and rights, and Cop Morty has a callous, jaded attitude toward them.
He uses “Morty speech” when he’s on the street trying to solve a robbery and uses excessive force with them, even murdering a house of Mortys at one point. The phrase, “Same old story: Mortys killing Mortys” is used throughout the episode. Additionally, in “Rickdependence Spray,” Morty shoots the caged sperm monster and yells, “He had a gun!” He’s instantly believed, even though the monster has no arms.
9 Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice
The subtle hints at political allegory started as early as Season 1, in “Raising Gazorpazorp.” Rick offers to terminate the breeding robot’s pregnancy, and Morty stops him, saying that whatever is inside the robot is part of him, and he has a responsibility to it. This episode also touches on the challenges of teenage pregnancy, and how many times teenagers aren’t equipped to make decisions for another living being.
Morty panicked when he saw Morty Jr.’s violent tendencies and decided to lie to him about the outside world. The issue comes back around in Season 5’s “Ricksdependence Spray,” when the president refuses to destroy the giant egg even when he’s told that it will result in a giant incest baby. His reason? The egg was fertilized on American soil and “this is an election cycle.”
8 Depression & Suicide
Rick seems self-assured, even arrogant, on the outside, but every so often viewers glimpse into the mind of the smartest man in the universe. When he’s alone, with only himself for company, Rick is miserable and hates himself. He often says that the reason there are so many close calls on adventures is that he thinks he should die.
In “The Old Man And The Seat” Tony’s death shakes Rick, and he realizes he really is as lonely as Tony said. He even heartbreakingly considers taking his own life with a laser to the head, only to pull away at the last second. In that same season’s finale, “Rickturn of the Jerri” Rick is so disappointed at how he handled Beth and her clone and feels so unwanted by the family, that he collapses onto the garage work table in sadness.
7 Hate Speech & PC
In the Season 4 opener, “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat,” the show introduced Hologram Ricks. Hologram Ricks’ main goal was to get Morty to collect his Rick’s DNA sample and make a clone of him, but he also checks Morty’s speech throughout the episode, poking at the issue of overusing “Politically Correct” talk.
“You’re better than that kind of language,” is something he chides Morty with. He talks about PC language with a hologram and pushes the idea of their respective importance. When Morty uses the death crystal, he counters, “I see you appear to be holding a death crystal that’s guiding your decisions more than I am. I just want to remind you that some people can’t hold anything and can never die, so that’s a little offensive.”
Alcoholism definitely plays a large role in Smith and Sanchez’s questionable parenting. Rick has a chronic alcohol addiction. The first time fans see him, he’s belligerently drunk and dragging Morty out on an adventure. Beth regularly turns to a red wine bottle when she’s stressed. It’s the first thing she does after shooting one of Rick’s closest friends, Mr. Poopybutthole.
Alcohol negatively impacts the family in a lot of ways. Beth gives Summer a black eye on picture day, and Morty has to solve an entire Saw-style puzzle created by a drunken Rick during the Vindicators mission. The kids are constantly disillusioned by and lose respect for the people that they’re supposed to look up to, reflecting the experience of many children who grow up with family members with addiction.
5 Political Abuse Of Power
Rick truly has a problem with authority. Obviously, the President of the United States represents some of his least favorite things about society. But, on a larger scale, he represents much of the corruption and abuse of power that takes place in modern-day democracy. The show’s President becomes so obsessed with Rick and Morty that he uses government money, resources, and firepower to outdo them or take them down.
Every step of the way, he condescends to them, even after Morty accurately points out that the President is a public servant, and works for the people. In other parts of the galaxy, Evil Morty shows viewers that a smile and a heartfelt speech can cover up bad intentions and a plan for full-scale dictatorship.
Rick and Morty has touched on inherent gender discrimination in a few different ways. In “Raising Gazorpazorp,” Rick’s first idea is that the aliens created the sex robot because they “evolved past the need for females” and solely needed to reproduce. But, the show’s twist that undermines his belief is that it’s actually the women that evolved past the need for men and use the robots to collect material for progeny.
Summer has to work harder to be Rick’s sidekick, even though she’s technically older and shares many traits with Rick. When she has ideas about the sperm monsters in “Rickdependence Spray,” she’s ignored. Almost immediately, however, a man in the room rephrases her idea and is met with praise and recognition. Beth sarcastically tells her, “You became a woman today.”
In a universe that allows for infinite realities and clones, sometimes the concepts of life and death can get muddied. In the pilot, when Rick needs Morty to help them escape, he gives Morty a gun and tells him it’s like a videogame, and the aliens aren’t real people. But, when Morty shoots one, he begins talking about his wife and family, humanizing (ironically) his death.
Viewers sometimes forget that Morty later has to grapple with his own death, as he sees his corpse and has to bury it in the backyard and then pretend to carry on like normal. The idea that there are multiple timelines where an innocuous event can result in death also really speaks to the fragility of life itself.
2 Environmentalism & Activism
“Rickconvenient Mort” did a good job of highlighting the slippery slope of environmentalism. At the root, Planetina discovers that what’s really killing the planet is humans and their callous mistreatment of natural resources. But, while Planetina’s heart is in the right place, killing the people who are killing the planet is more supervillain than hero.
In the same way, villainizing and attacking people for ignorance of environmental consequences doesn’t solve the problems. People can become so wrapped up in their mission that they lose sight of their original goal. If Planetina were to eradicate anyone mistreating the planet, there wouldn’t be anyone left to live on it.
1 Sexual Assault
Rick And Morty doesn’t directly address this topic, but they allude to it more than once. The more obvious reference was in “Meseeks and Destroy,” when King Jelly Bean corners Morty in the bathroom and forces himself on him. When Morty emerges, he’s shaken and teary-eyed. He no longer wants to finish the adventure that he got to plan, and just wants his grandpa to take him home. Satisfyingly, viewers get to see Jelly Bean get his just desserts when Rick (in one of his better moments) blasts him on his way through the portal.
The more subtle reference is a little more up to interpretation. In “Anatomy Park,” there’s a scene that mostly gets forgotten about when Ethan comes to confront Summer about not texting him back. When Jacob tries to find where his anger is coming from, he cries and says, “My brother took me fishing once…in the bushes. He made me feel like a girl – he made me a girl!” It’s never fully revealed what he was talking about, but it definitely leads into the traumatic territory from his reaction to it.