Tales From The Citadel: the danger of modern society explained by Rick and Morty

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It’s very hard to find someone that has never seen an episode of Rick and Morty: thanks to Netflix, the series created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon for Adult Swim  has crossed U.S.A. boundaries, becoming the most popular animated series of the moment (challenged perhaps only by Bojack Horseman).

There are different reasons that explain the incredible success of this series, which has born as a parody of Back to the Future. First of all, we can find a multiplicity of levels: Rick and Morty twists science fiction and family sitcom, quantum physics and desecrating social irony. For this it can be appreciated both by a science graduate aand a simple guy that loves Simpsons‘ or Family Guy‘s kind of irony.

The series narrates about Rick (an old mad scientist) and his crazy adventures in various multiverses, always accompanied by Morty, his loyal nephew. Morty is an insecure child with social problems dictated by a clear stutter (that is one of the things that he shares with his grandpa). The family picture is completed by Beth (Rick’s daughter and Morty’s mother): she’s the classic female figure who has abandoned her dreams of success in order to raise her children. She desperately needs her father’s affection (he feels guilty of having abandoned her as a child). Beth’s husband is Jerry, which is the archetipe of the loser: he’s passive-aggressive and with an obvious inferiority complex. Another important character is Summer, Morty’s sister: she’s a multifaceted teenager, a dynamic character that is the real engine of the series along with Rick and Morty.

Surfing on the web you can find an incredible amount of aricles that tries to explain the deeper meanings of this series: this video edited by Will Schoder is the best that you can find:

It’s incredible to find out such references as Albert Camus’ absurdism an Nietzsche’s nihilism; neverthless in this article we want to focus in particular on an episode of the third season: Tales from the Citadel (3 x 07), that is a true and unforgiving critical image of our society.

The episode is disconnected from the series, it tells a separate story. In one of the infinite parallel realities that we have known in the series, multiple Ricks, tired of the normal life on their annoying dimensions, decided to found their own government. In this Ricks’ society there are also the Morties: they’re inferior to the Ricks and in fact they don’t have real rights. As explained by our original Rick (C-137) at the beginning of the episode, the Citadel is a metaphor of collective life, that Rick sees as a bunch of “fools and slaves of their own ideas.” And in fact every Rick, who in his own dimension was unique and special, escaping from the government and creating his own one, has lost its originality.

In the Citadel there are Cop Ricks, Worker Ricks, Noble Ricks: they’re all differentiated only by their social role (this is an incredible metaphor of modern capitalism). The Ricks and Morties are distinguished only by aesthetic (Fat Morty) or behavioural details (Morty is sad and tragic, but he shows a tough character in order to protect himself, rolling up shirt’s sleeved and exposing Elvis haircut). Morties are inferior by nature to the Ricks, and without a Rick (so without a guide, a family, without any institution) they are lost in Morty Town’s squallor, which is the metaphor of the ghetto. Here we meet a Cop Morty who no longer believes in the equality between Ricks and Morties; so he unscrupulously kills other Morties, since nobody pays attention to them.

So you have certainly understand that there aren’t too may way of living for Morties (“there is no hope for Morties in Morty Town“). A Morty can commit suicide, throwing himself into a well surrounded by legends, hoping for a better life in the afterlife (this is a macabre and ironic religious metaphor, this weel is actually a waste dump). A Morty can compromise himself in order to survive, in order to create your own living space, as the Cop Morty does.

Morties’ life has no hope; but at some point a slight hope comes: the candidate mayor to the Citadel proposed by Morties’ party. Nobody believed in him during the whole election campaign, until his vibrant speech, that is a real master of modern populism:

I don’t see a divide between Ricks and Morties.

The division I see, is the division between Ricks and Morties who like the citadel divided, and the rest of us. I see it everywhere I go. I see it everywhere I go in our schools, where they teach Morties we’re all the same because they feel threatened by what makes us unique.

I see it in our streets, where they give guns to Morties. So we’re too busy fighting each other to fight real injustice.

I see it in our factories where Ricks work for a fraction of their boss’ salary. Even though they’re identical and have the same IQ.

The citadel’s problem isn’t homeless Morties or outraged Ricks.

The citadel’s problem is the Ricks and Morties feeding on the Citadel’s dead.

But I’ve got a message for them, from the Ricks and Morties that are keeping it alive. A message. From the Ricks and Morties that believe in the Citadel, to the Ricks and Morties that don’t; you’re outnumbered.

In this speech there are many references to contemporary politics: there is the most boorish populism (opposition between “the rest of us”, people who honestly works having no results, and the others who like the citadel divided, who have more money, who steal our work, who come from another country). But there is also the topical debate on the Second Amendment of the Constitution about the right to possess a weapon: Morties (lower layers of the population) who massacre themselves and never attack Ricks (the highest and most dominant layers of the population). And the Ricks giving up their “superiority” in creating a social hierarchy.

The story of Worker Rick in the “Simple Rick” cookie factory is a glaring example of this process of de-individualization. Worker Rick is tired of being commanded by other Ricks who have “same IQ and same age“, so he kills his superior and takes Simple Rick himself as an hostage (he’s nothing but a joy tears’ distiller for the creation of cookies), in order to escape away from the Citadel, to feel himself special and free again. So we have an example of the process that leads to a massacre: it doesn’t happen for madness, but for a long chain of abuses.

This feeling of obtained freedom, this sentiment of “having broken the greatest lie” will be distilled as a new Simple Rick, before Worker Rick dies. This is perhaps the strongest and most disenchanted moment of the episode: the realization of our personal dreams in a George Orwell’s 1984 world that controls us, is only appearance, it is only a condition that in fact others have wanted for us. Happiness and pleasure are nothing but an illusion, a television commercial for the sale of biscuits (haven’t we already heard it fom Schopenauer many years ago, or am I mad?).

So what will be the resolution of such nihilism? As the Rick-TV commentator says: “You have to appreciate what we have, because it could always get worse“.  This deterministic message is the same of the italian writer Giovanni Verga, proving (in I Malavoglia) that who tries to climb the social ladder will meet, sooner or later, the blackest defeat.

This universe of dissatisfaction and compromises is thus revived by the victory in the elections of a Morty. It’s a shame that this Morty is the image of the populist leader detached from the strong powers, who comes from poor people and fights for the poor people. The episode’s final is very excting, it shows us how a populism can evolve only in a dictatorship: the new President Morty eliminates all the owners of the largest companies and banks, who “rule the Citadel before the government” (another metaphor of the contemporary capitalist government). All the political meanings are symbolized by President Morty’s last words, the ones he pronounce while leaving behind himself an infinite series of corpses and hidden truths (a tip for the true identity of President Morty: pay attention to the final song):

“This seems like a good time for a drink, and a cold calculated speech with sinister overtones. A speech about politics, about order, brotherhood, power. But speeches are for campaigning. Now is the time for action.”

This memorable episode of the third season is therefore a real warning: in our universe of uncertainties and personal dissatisfaction, we must not seek a sense of our life in religion (ironically symbolized by the moment in which Morty’s classmates attributes the merit for the change to the suicide of their friend, instead of the new President). We must not seek a sense of our own life in the compromise.

We have to appreciate the small things of life, without being fascinated by a dangerous populism, which seems the definitive and easiest answer to everything, but is in fact the end of freedom. Once again, then, the sci-fi genre becomes a wonderful tool to criticize contemporary society without the danger of censorship.

Rick and Morty is something more than just a science fiction comedy as Futurama. But do not try to explain this to its creators: they will laugh at you. Because life shouldn’t be taken seriously, and Morty C-137 says:

“Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV.”

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