“Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV.”
Morty Smith says this to his sister Summer in season one, episode eight of “Rick and Morty,” referencing the show itself along with its nihilistic and existential premise.
“Rick and Morty” — a television show on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon — centers not only around the strange and absurd misadventures of an alcoholic scientist and his mediocre-minded grandson, but also around the human tendency to seek meaning in life and the frustrating failure to find it.
About one million people between the ages of 18 and 49 watched the April 1 season three premiere. And the absurdist-based writing is what drives millennials to the show. With dark humor surrounding existential dread and grave apathy, it’s no wonder the show has become a hit among young adults.
But why are young adults seeking a show that mocks sentimentality, explores the arbitrary nature of human social systems and cracks nonsensical and often morbid jokes?
Millennials — the largest generation in U.S. history — account for 92 million Americans. Growing up in the land of opportunity, American millennials believed they would have jobs if they invested all of their time and money into college.
But that simply isn’t the case — according to a Goldman Sachs report on millennials, 23 percent of 18- to 31-year-olds lived in their own household and were married as of 2012, down 33 percent from 1968. The report also shows that there are lower employment levels and less income for younger people compared to previous generations — and student loans eat up much of millennials’ incomes.
If you’ve been watching the news for the past 15 to 20 years, you’ve noticed more aggravated instances of terrorism, social injustice and nuclear warfare threats. And being the first generation raised with the internet literally in our pockets, we can easily watch, read and share traumatic national and even global conflicts 24/7 — which can become taxing on mental health.
So in a time of little financial stability and turbulent foreign relations, millennials are gravitating toward nonsensical, absurd humor and poignantly grim humor — like “Rick and Morty” — to help cope with events largely outside their control.
We see this same silly yet disturbingly dark humor all over the internet — from memes about wanting the “sweet release of death” to self-deprecating posts joking about how insignificant and small one is in the grand scheme of the infinite universe.
And if you think this explanation is silly, just look at the Dadaist art movement that blossomed following World War I, and then the Neo-Dadaist movement in the 1950s and ‘60s. The movements — created to combat traditional bourgeois art — expressed people’s disillusionment with the world after a time of political and economic turmoil.
While “Rick and Morty” exhibits traits seen in Neo-Dadaism, the show mainly wrestles with the idea of humans trying to seek their life’s purpose. The show’s dialogue is quite possibly its most nihilistic aspect, often laden with existential realizations or breakdowns.
In season one’s fifth episode, Rick shows the family a Meeseeks Box — a contraption that materializes a blue creature every time the button is pushed. The blue creature — otherwise known as a Meeseeks — exists solely to help a human with a simple task, and then disappears shortly after the task has been completed, almost like a genie.
Beth uses a Meeseeks to become a more “complete woman,” Summer uses one to become more popular at school and Jerry asks one to help him get two strokes off of his golf game. Beth and Summers’ Meeseeks help them achieve their goals, but Jerry’s Meeseeks fails in helping Jerry lower his golf score. This not only lengthens his Meeseeks’ existence, but lengthens it so long that the Meeseeks becomes aware of its own existence.
“Existence is pain to a Meeseeks, Jerry, and we will do anything to alleviate that pain,” his Meeseeks says.
Meeseeks are a reflection of our own self-realization — once we are aware of our own existence, life starts to become more complicated, and some would even say painful. Harmon and Roiland have a way of subtly working these thought-provoking, philosophical concepts in between juvenile and often crude humor to create the perfect show for a millennial to escape into.
And even if not every character on the show believes life is meaningless, they all can agree — as can most people I know — that life is not easy. Jerry, who is content with not knowing his life’s purpose and lives an average life, is depicted as the whiny and naive father. The show juxtaposes nihilistic Rick — Jerry’s father-in-law — with blissfully unaware Jerry, almost as if Rick took the red pill from “The Matrix” while Jerry took the blue pill.
“Rick and Morty” obviously favors Rick’s outlook on life, but still gives Jerry the opportunity to explain himself, such as in shouted words from episode seven of season one — “Life is effort, and I’ll stop when I die.”