After a mid-season hiatus, Rick and Morty returned on May 3rd with the first of five episodes to close out its fourth season. The series is as good as it’s always been — shockingly crass but also sharp, easily one of the funniest and most inventive shows on television. As a cultural object, however, there have been problems around its fans. You know, they’re terrible.
It’s been a meme for years now, fueled by a comment that went viral on Reddit. “You have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty,” the post begins, claiming that much of its humor would go over the average viewer’s head. “People who dislike Rick & Morty truly ARE idiots- of course they wouldn’t appreciate, for instance, the humour in Rick’s existential catchphrase ‘Wubba Lubba Dub Dub,’ which itself is a cryptic reference to Turgenev’s Russian epic Fathers and Sons.”
Like anything so obviously Online, it’s impossible to tell if this post is sincere or satire, but it definitely struck a chord. The fan reputation can be so prevailing that enjoying the show often feels as if you need to be at least a little self-aware in your fandom. When I asked a friend if he watched Rick and Morty a few weeks ago, he replied: “Yes, but wokely.”
Part of that reputation is earned. Rick and Morty fans have a documented history of being extremely annoying — most notably, when an episode mentioned a discontinued McDonald’s Szechuan sauce and said fans began a sustained campaign to resurrect it. (When the chain brought back the sauce for a limited time, fans were then upset that there wasn’t enough.)
But some of that reputation comes from the behind-the-scenes dynamic of the show; in the lead-up to season 2, a Hollywood Reporter interview noted that there were no women on the writing staff, and creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon made jokes about it in response.
“They make my wee-wee feel weird,” said Roiland.
“I blame them for the inflation and the recession at the same time,” Harmon continued to riff. “They don’t ask for directions, and they leave the toilet seat down.”
After chalking it up to oversight, they corrected the writers’ room homogeneity by staffing Jane Becker, Erica Rosbe, Sarah Carbiener, and Jessica Gao in one big spree for the show’s third season. Misogynistic fans reacted predictably with much whining online that quickly gave way to actual harassment, compelling Harmon to call them out. (Harmon, it should be noted, has also very publicly confronted his own gendered abuse of power.) The outrage was further proved baseless and embarrassing when Gao wrote “Pickle Rick,” one of the show’s fan-favorite episodes.
But fandoms don’t spring forth from the ether, and Rick and Morty’s status as an Adult Swim show is part of the problem. Cartoon Network’s late-night programming block notoriously did not order a show created by a woman for most of its existence, and former creative director Mike Lazzo did not handle public criticism of this fact very well. (Lazzo retired in December 2019.) It’s hard, then, to be surprised when the bulk of its audience isn’t supportive of people the network only showed interest in recently.
Like working in an excellent cafe with poor ventilation, the stench of that grease clings to you, an unpleasant reminder of what was actually a pretty nice time. It can feel strange to publicly be into a show that has some truly bad fans — but it can be done if you are delicate about it and completely abandon the hard sell. No aggressive superlatives. Don’t call it “the best / funniest / smartest show on television,” even if you have a pretty solid argument for that. No shock and / or surprise that the other party hasn’t seen it yet or doesn’t know about parts that they would really enjoy.
Instead, focus on something specific and work on your noncommittal voice, like you’re trying to sound cool in high school by showing off how much you don’t actually care. Say you like Rick and Morty because it’s weird, and you like being surprised every time you hit play or that you just love trying to spot the voices of the many guest stars that roll through or that you really like gross jokes about farts and genitalia, and you didn’t know how clever someone could be with them until you saw Rick and Morty. But say it all with a kind of shrug, like what you really want to say is “just live your truth.”
Given the state of Rick and Morty fandom, this is probably the safest approach to practicing fandom: soft sells only. You don’t have to feel bad about liking it, but you don’t need to express pride in your good taste either. Hey, do you watch Rick and Morty? I feel like you’d like it. No? Oh, cool. Would you enjoy a round of Hearthstone: Heroes of WarCraft with me instead?
It can feel annoying to have to adjust your approach to account for the bad behavior of a subset of fans, but the whole point of being a (good, not-toxic) fan of something is sharing something you like with other people, and that means being concerned with how they think and feel first, and then showing them that they might enjoy the same things as you. While bad fans don’t have to be a reason for you to give up on something you like, they are a perfectly good reason for anyone else to not pay attention.
This is the easiest way to transcend a fandom problem — by being a sort of anti-fan. Be quieter about it, less about “fandom” the concept and more about fandom as one of dozens of tiny connections you have with the things you enjoy. It’s nice to like things! It’s less nice to like them because wubba lubba dub dub is an allusion to Russian literature.
Anyway, you should watch this Rick and Morty show if you want. Dude turns himself into a pickle. He’s called Pickle Rick. It’s hilarious. No pressure, though.