Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus and Rick and Morty
Presumably, since the beginning of time, we, as human beings, have tirelessly sought out answers toward a greater, predetermined and/or significant purpose in our lives. The question is still unanswered, but the desire remains — what is the point? The contradiction between searching for order, reason or existential purpose and the inability to find any type of purpose in an essentially meaningless and indifferent universe is what French philosopher, Albert Camus, considered “Absurd.” Any hopeful searching for concrete meanings is met with the discouraging and disheartening realization that there are no true meanings. For many of us, the idea of the world being made with no fated purpose or that any individual effort made toward changing the world will be met by a forgetful and meaningless universe that will continue to be indifferent toward our existence is a despairing notion.
Camus believed The Myth of Sisyphus to be the embodiment of the Absurdist struggle as, according to Greek Mythology, Sisyphus was a king who deceived the Gods and was sentenced to an eternity of rolling a boulder up a mountain by hand. The twist that punishment is that the boulder will only roll back down upon reaching the mountain’s summit. This left Sisyphus repeating his pointless task endlessly, eventually coming to an understanding of the emptiness of his condemned doing.
Camus believed Sisyphus was representative of humanity that is bound to an existence of meaninglessness and senselessness, and sentenced to never-ending labor with no real reward; and that is the core of the late-night satirical episodic created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s, Rick and Morty (2013) that airs on Cartoon Network-owned Adult Swim. The show is laced with many Absurdist undertones and that is represented throughout all three seasons, but in the absurdist universe depicted in Rick and Morty, the episodic model used for the show stands as an embodiment for the absurd existence mirrored in the world that we inhabit. Loosely based on characters from Back to the Future (1985), the show takes place in a universe where there are infinite realities and worlds and dimensions with extraterrestrial species and spacefaring adventures. In the show, both title characters, Rick and Morty, inhabit expendable worlds that are easily replaceable with the push of Rick’s self-created portal gun. Any species’ perception of self-importance or distinction is completely rejected by the rest of the universe’s indifference toward their existence.
For example, in the eyes of citizens of Earth — whichever Earth Rick and Morty may be on — the idea of destroying a planet and its inhabitants by the Cromulons, a species of enormous floating heads introduced in the episode, “Get Schwifty,” appears as an act of wickedness and cruelty. For the Cromulons, destroying planets and its inhabitants is a form of entertainment as they are hosts of an intergalactic game show where planets are picked and its inhabitants must create and sing a song in order to make it to the next round or be faced with watching their worlds end. Think of this episode as an episode of NBC’s America’s Got Talent, but with giant floating boulder-textured heads, with egos that are bigger than the combination Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and whoever the other interchangeable host is.
This is also an episode where the citizens of Earth questioned their religious beliefs, eventually tying a thief, a gothic woman, and a “movie talker” to a bouquet of balloons, in hopes that they will float toward their newfound “gods,” the Cromulons, for judgement and punishment.
Absurd deaths are laced throughout the series, and while death is an impactful to some of the show’s characters and storytelling, death is almost used as a punchline as the laughter comes from a character within the show or from the viewers themselves. In the episode “Anatomy Park,” a character named Alexander meets his demise as a result of a cough/sneeze from a homeless, drunk Santa Claus whose organs and body have been turned into a theme park thanks to Rick’s imagination and genius technological and scientific advancements. The episodic-essence of Rick and Morty sees its protagonists in a prolonged series of pointless and loosely connected misadventures and events, where no relationship exists between one instance and the next.
The absurdity is primarily based on the idea that despite their extraordinary interdimensional adventures — and their best attempts to make a difference in the universe — their lives are caught in a continuous cycle of random, illogical events that never fundamentally get better or changes the universe in any way. And while in actuality, many of life’s problems are not and cannot be justified within the 30-minute span of a late-night television show, Rick and Morty breaks down our individual tendency to exacerbate trivial fears and uncertainties and daily problems that will unsurprisingly be insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
In the episode “Meeseeks and Destroy,” the Meeseeks Box was created by Rick to fulfill needs that he either does not want to fulfill or is “too busy” for, and eventually the needs of his family, in a timely fashion… each one of them greeting the family and the audience, with “I’m Mr. Meeseeks!”
Rick and Morty, themselves, are the opposite of the Meeseeks character, a happy blue mythical texture-less being that is summoned from a box to complete mundane tasks that the Smith Family cannot complete on their own. Upon completion of their objective by the person who summoned it, the Meeseeks would poof into thin air, disappearing — or dying — until another one is summoned to complete new task.
Rick, Morty, and the characters in the show’s expansive universe, are not there to serve a singular purpose. They are simply brought into the world and are now fumbling around for meaning. Like Sisyphus, Rick and Morty’s lives are characterized by unproductive and stagnancy repetition, with many attempts to forge some kind of meaning for their circumstances being confronted, reminding them, and us, that it is senseless to search for meaning.
According to Camus, Sisyphus, and by the extension, mankind not entirely hopeless as Camus believed that the consciousness to “constitute [Sisyphus’] torture” acts as an instrument of victory.
“…It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end…” Camus continued, “At each of those moments when [Sisyphus] leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. [Sisyphus] is stronger than his rock…”
Sisyphus may not have been able to change the doomed situation that he was in, but he chose to accept it; and this is the same consciousness in the mind of an individual where they can claim their fate — a personal and self-motivated rebellion against the mechanical meaninglessness of the universe — and can continue to exist in the universe despite its utter pointlessness. Camus believed Sisyphus found his respite in his pointlessness task by accepting it.
This made Camus reject the idea of suicide or spirituality as he believed that only facing the Absurdity of the universe and adopting it would make someone achieve human freedom to its fullest extent. Camus endorsed that our lives will be forgotten and our existences would have been meaningless along with our accomplishments. And as opposed to melancholy, understanding those realizations can be an inspiration and comforting.
In Rick and Morty, there is a special moment that captures Camus’ understanding. In a scene from “Rixty Minutes,” Morty confronts his sister, Summer, shortly after she recently discovered that she was an unwanted pregnancy and the possible cause to her parents’, Beth and Jerry’s, disgruntled marriage. Summer begins to question whether her life has purpose, until Morty, upon hearing her distress and watching her pack her bags to run away, says “Don’t run. Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV?’ While the understanding that no one exists for a specific purpose or reason is an unnerving notion to some, there is an alleviating idea that in the absence of all-encompassing direction and fade, significance and meaning can manifest themselves in the smallest of pleasures of life, whether they are in the form of friends, family, the environment that we put ourselves in, or simply watching a late-night television show. Camus’ philosophy is not a source of helplessness, but more of a ‘lucid invitation to live and to create in the very midst of the desert.”
Camus believed that there is no reason to be serious about finding a meaning or be discouraged about discovering that there is a lack of meaning in the world and in the universe because it contains a variety of comforts and enjoyments, no matter how small they are. To simply put, and as Rick would say, “Don’t think about it.”
Rick and Morty are conscious of their meaninglessness, but they continue to carry their experiences with them, never allowing sorrow to overwhelm their lives. And by episodically emphasizing life’s fleeting nature through a series of quickly resolved, forgettable and unimportant events, Rick and Morty is a show where the attention is on the smaller, personal stories and struggles of an abnormal American family and their day-to-day lives, and the human emotions that accompany the chaotic nature of the disgruntled family. In the absurd universe, mankind is caught in between acceptance of the meaninglessness of the universe and the ability and wanting to laugh at it. Rick and Morty, despite the show’s often bitter truths and jagged realities, is primarily a comedy for true Absurdist.
In an absurd universe that is void of order, logic and meaning, we, its inhabitants, have a lot that we can laugh about because, in the end, it does not matter if the boulder rolls back down the mountain as Camus believed mankind will always find their burdens.
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