What is absurdism, anyway?
With the rise of networks like Adult Swim and the internet in general, absurdism has become a staple in modern comedy. Think of shows like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, The Eric Andre Show , and perhaps the most popular example, Rick and Morty.
The video essay below by Mikasacus examines this trend—and the meaning of life—using Rick and Morty as a prime example.
First thing's first: if you're not watching Rick and Morty, do it. Now. There are two seasons already available on Hulu and even online at adultswim.com that are required viewing for anyone interested in science fiction, animation, or bawdy humor. If you refuse to watch, or just don't have time, here's a brief synopsis: think Back to The Future on drugs. What kind of drugs? All of them.
Rick Sanchez is a scientist who just may be the smartest person in the world. He lives with his daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter, and grandson, the titular Morty. Together, Rick and Morty travel across dimensions and parallel universes working their way out of problems they've created through a litany of zany shenanigans. Video essayist Mikasacus argues that these adventures may have a deeper meaning, however: they are either a means of searching for the meaning of life or a distraction from finding it.
This is where absurdism comes into play. Contrary to popular belief, the term is not just some blanket categorization for gross-out, experimental humor. In philosophy, "the absurd" refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the inability to find any. In this context, absurd does not mean "logically impossible," but rather, "humanly impossible."
Now, Rick accepts the fact that, even though he is the smartest person who has ever lived, his actions have little to no consequence. In the words of Mikasacus, "Life is cruel and nothing of what happens is meaningful. Life is meaningless. No matter what happens to him, the universe will keep on moving without blinking an eye." For this reason, Rick is a pretty depressed dude. He turns to drugs, alcohol, and weird extraterrestrial sexual delights to numb himself to humanity's core conflict.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Jerry, Rick's bumbling son-in-law. In every episode, he's searching for a way to improve himself and find his purpose in life. Unfortunately, that is what philosophers would refer to as "humanly impossible." He is the absurdist philosophy all wrapped up into one character.
Okay, so the whole wave is a little bleak. With Rick and Morty, however, creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland just may have found the perfect medium to explore it.
Philosopher Albert Camus once tried to answer the very question which the show revolves around: "What is the meaning of life?" He found that "life has no meaning except for the meaning we give to it." For Rick, the only thing he cares about in a universe that clearly doesn't give a shit about him is his family. Hopefully, that's something we can all appreciate.