The Philosophy Of Szechuan Sauce: Rick And Morty, Absurdism, And The Meaninglessness Of Existence
Although it’s a show inspired by Saturday morning cartoons, Rick and Morty is deep. Philosophical ideas like existentialism, absurdism and Szechuan Sauce are entrenched in the show’s themes, narratives and characters—like a robot who despairs because its only role and reason for existence is to pass butter.
Or Morty’s nihilistic outlook that nobody belongs and we’re all going to die. “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere.” Morty notes in episode Rixty Minutes. Or the general absurdist humor found in the show’s portrayal of a multiverse where chaos, cruelty and insignificance are abundant.
In a recent video from YouTube channel Wisecrack, they look at the show’s use of absurdism and how it acts as a foundation for the show’s humor and viewpoint.
The video, called The Philosophy of Szechuan Sauce, brings in the ideas of French philosopher and proponent of absurdism Albert Camus. He likened our existence, an irrational and meaningless one, to the idea of thanklessly and continuously pushing a boulder up a hill only for it to fall back down again. So we push it back up, and it falls down, up, down, up, down—and this goes on endlessly and infinitely.
How Absurdism And Szechuan Sauce Intertwine
Absurdism at it’s best – ‘You can alter anything you want about a totally fabricated origin story.’
The vid also notes how the transition from the selfless sacrifice Rick makes at the end of season two, to the way the beginning of season three undoes this wholeheartedly—where we’re also intro’d to Rick’s Szechuan sauce series arc—is what really defines Rick and Morty as an absurdist work.
The way that the show does this, Wisecrack notes, is that it seemingly provides us with meaning (spoiler alert) like Rick’s fake origin story about his wife and daughter being killed, only to then pull it away from us—the rug of meaning whipped from beneath our feet—and almost mock us for being willing to believe it.
So, for instance, every time we see Rick open up and begin to behave normally or with affection for his family, a twist comes along, sending him back down the path of cynicism, misanthropy and absurdism. Like the twist at the end of the Rick and Morty season 3 premiere, which sees Rick become even darker in his motivations then we’ve ever seen him before.
Of course this is crucial for the integrity of the show, we need Rick to be Rick for it to work and not turn into some doting grandfather, but it also plays to the hopelessness of absurdism.
As Wisecrack’s Jared notes in the video, “It’s not just that Rick and Morty evades meaning, the writers seem to get a perverse joy in playing with our desire to search for hope and meaning. As if Camus was making his point in the style of an internet troll.”
Trolling And The Quest For Meaninglessness
The moment at the end of season 2 when Rick had an authentic heartfelt moment (almost).
This trolling is perfectly realised at the end of season 3 episode one, The Rickshank Redemption. Because we learn that what’s driving Rick isn’t a quest to be with his family or avenge the death of his wife and child, or to seek retribution against the Galactic Federation, but instead it’s to get his hands, once more, on the limited edition McDonald’s Szechuan sauce.
“The show, undercutting even the most promising sense to give Rick a sense of morality doubles down by suggesting that Rick’s entire series arc will be his quest for a forgotten promotional food item.” explains the video, then pointing out. “But is this what really drives Rick? No, all that Rick’s love of Szechuan sauce means is that it means nothing. The quest for Szechuan sauce isn’t creating meaning, it’s a reflection of the absurdity of being driven by, well, anything…the quest for McNugget sauce is meaningful only in that it’s a joke about meaninglessness.”
Rick, notes Wisecrack, is what Camus would define as an absurd hero, a figure who understands and finds happiness (or, in Rick’s case, perhaps enjoyment is a better word) in the pointlessness of it all. So, you see, that Szechuan Sauce represents more than just a reference to a long-gone McDonald’s promotional dip, it’s a symbol of the purposelessness of existence, Morty. It’s a symbol of absurdism.
The Philosophy of Get Schwifty & Absurdism
Rick’s monologue on the Mulan dipping sauce, a perfect example of absurdism in the show.
It’s not the first time Wisecrack has looked at the philosophy of Rick and Morty, either. It’s previously looked at the The Philosophy of Get Schwifty, noting how the episode is an exploration of logical fallacies and their use in society. And also looked at The Philosophy of Rick and Morty on the whole, looking at how the series in general explores philosophical concepts.
Right, with all that chin-stroking, why not get some light relief by watching Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland do his Rick and Morty voices, and roast the moderator in the process, at Comic Con back in 2014.
See below (while wryly stroking your chin).
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