Rick and Morty is an animated adult television series centered on an alcoholic scientific genius, Rick Sanchez, and his naïve fourteen year-old grandson, Morty. The show takes little for granted as the two embark on preposterous adventures to alien planets and through alternate dimensions. Like many of today’s adult cartoons the show’s creators, Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, rely on absurdist humor, supplemented with nihilistic comments, to entertain and amuse their primarily male audience. Despite challenging most of what we know to be true about the physical universe the show appears to leave western societal norms completely intact. In “Raising a Gazorpazorp,” an episode centered on gender norms, the show creates humor by relying on viewers’ assumptions of gender stereotypes and compulsory heterosexuality in order to create humor.
In the episode Rick and his older granddaughter, Summer, find themselves on Gazorpazorp, a planet that initially appears to be inhabited exclusively by aggressive predatorily sexual male aliens and reproducing sex robots. Rick’s only explanation is that the planet evolved to replace females with “birthing machines,” but that the subsequent lack of distraction allowed men to focus on war and bomb each other back to barbarism. There is only one type of alien, but they are assumed to be male and then prescribed exaggerations of traditional heterosexual male tropes such as an overtly healthy libido, aggression, and strength. Despite being in an all male environment the possibility of the society being homosexual is never addressed. These gender and sexuality norms are used as a comedic reflection on our own society. For example Rick demands that Summer wear a burqa, lest she be raped and killed, and says, “The least you could do is be ashamed of your gender.” The scene and Rick’s explicit sexism throughout act as a foil on our own gender preconceptions, but rely on gender and sex norms to arrive at the punch line.
Rick’s initial prediction proves wrong as the characters soon discover the planet is ruled by women who isolated themselves from the dangerously aggressive men centuries ago. The women live in what might be described as an extreme version of Mary Astell’s suggested “blessed abode.” They have withdrawn from men, emphasize education and personal betterment, and the women appear to be celibate. The women do not appear to have reject Astell’s societal vices, however, as the aliens have long legs, large breasts, and elaborate clothes to accompany their additional sets of arms. Nonetheless the females use robots to reproduce and are removed from traditional roles of domesticity.
The humor in this scene, however, comes from exaggerating female tendencies and norms usually experienced by men. For example the women greet each other with, “I am here if you need to talk,” the courthouse steps read “sis semper calumniam” translating roughly to you are always wrong, and a girl is charged with the crime of having “terrible bangs.” Because the plot of Rick and Morty is essentially inconsequential the show relies on these small jokes for entertainment; these small jokes in turn rely on ingrained western male ideas about femininity.
In these scenes Rick and Morty also relies on contemporary beliefs that there exists a strict divide between female friendships and female intimacies rather than the lesbian spectrum described by Adrienne Rich. Realizing this divide herself Sharon Marcus writes, “I now grasped that our contemporary opposition between hetero- and homosexuality did not exist for Victorians” (19). Despite being a recent idea this distinction is immediately assumed and applied to this fictional planet simply because the brief glimpses of relationships between women shows closeness but never implies a sexual nature. It is interesting to note that a planet where attractive female aliens did engage in homosexual behaviors is by no means “out of bounds” for the show’s writers, but it is likely that the women of Gazorpazorp would have sacrificed their intelligence and societal advancements to become a male fantasy. To include both lesbianism and intellect would take the viewer out of his comfort zone and destroy the intended humor.
While the genders on Gazorpazorp were separated both in behavior and geography they remained heterosexual. The only mention of homosexuality is made by Summer as she argues that gender “equality” on Earth is necessary because, “On Earth a certain percentage of our males are born gay, which is why my clothes are better than all of yours.” Flawed reasoning aside, this line can be unpacked to better understand how notions of sexuality are reinforced. First this small comment certainly reinforces gay stereotypes. Judith Butler cautions against this claiming a homosexual identity can constrain and legislate in dangerous ways; she writes, “The political problem is not to establish the specificity of lesbian sexuality over and against its derivativeness, but to turn the homophobic construction of the bad copy against the framework that privileges heterosexuality as origin” (310). Though small Summer’s quote certainly does fit in the larger narrative of typifying homosexuals.
Secondly the wording used implies that males being born gay are in some way unnatural. While slight and likely not noticed by the casual viewer this idea that heterosexual attraction is natural and a byproduct of evolution, and therefore queerness is unnatural, is also societally produced. Jonathan Katz writes, “Kraft-Ebing hypothesized an inborn ‘sexual instinct’ for relations with the ‘opposite sex’ the inherent ‘purpose’ of which was to foster procreation” (234). Although the idea was new in the late nineteenth, it is so commonplace now that the show uses it throughout the Gazorpazorp scenes to reinforce heterosexuality, and the viewer, myself included, fails to notice the assumptions that are made.
While in a traditional television show a character’s own views of gender might be changed by visiting such a planet, the postmodern show makes it clear that nothing has changed as Rick is still sexist. He even says, “After all that stuff we just did nothing really mattered. There was no point to it.” This is essentially what every joke was revealing. Despite depicting a female dominated society the show was able to entertain, ironically, by using dated gender stereotypes embedded in viewer’s minds to make their jokes. It is the viewer’s own sexism rather than a sexist message that completes the jokes. While underlying, the norms are still enforced and, in a society where new age media plays a pivotal role in how we explain and understand the world, these reinforcements are just as damaging as and less rejected than traditional oppressive content.
Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Routledge. 1993.
Evans, Thomas. “Wubba Lubba Dub Dub! : The Pursuit of Happiness in Rick and Morty.” Under Construction at Keele. Keel University. Volume 2 Issue 1. 2015. Web. 3 February 2015.
Katz, Jonathan Ned. “The Invention of Heterosexuality.” Socialist Review 20. 1990.
Marcus, Sharon. Between Women: Friendship, Desire and Marriage in Victorian England. Princeton University Press. 2007.
“Raising Gazorpazorp.” Rick and Morty. Adult Swim. 10 March 2014. Television.