“There’s an infinite number of realities, Morty, and in a few dozen of those, I got lucky and turned everything back to normal.” (Rick and Morty Season 1 Episode 6)
Infinite possible realities mean infinite possible storylines. Rick’s portal gun is a narrative tool that allows Rick and Morty creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland to do whatever the fuck they want— while maintaining a sense of cohesion between episodes. I’d like to place Rick’s portal gun on a shelf with Chekhov’s and a bucket of red herrings— a display of iconic dramatic gadgets. Beyond its narrative use, Rick’s portal gun amps up the existential quality of Rick and Morty. Infinite realities mean we are exponentially insignificant (Wisecrack has a good video that explains existentialism in Rick and Morty more thoroughly), but I am interested in Rick’s portal gun as a blaster of “antagonistic dualisms.”
Donna Haraway’s most notable works include When Species Meet (2008) and A Cyborg Manifesto (1991). In both of these texts, Haraway uses hybridity to combat hierarchical or antagonistic dualisms. A Cyborg Manifesto exposes the false dichotomy of animal and machine: “By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics” (151).
When Species Meet includes Haraway’s The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, which takes dogs as its primary example of the tenuous boundary between human and animal:
“How would we sort things out? Canid, hominid; pet, professor; bitch, woman; animal, human; athlete, handler. One of us has a microchip injected under her neck skin for identification; the other has a photo ID California driver’s license. One of us has a written record of her ancestors for twenty generations; one of us does not know her great grandparents’ names. One of us, product of a vast genetic mixture, is called “purebred.” One of us, equally a product of a vast mixture, is called “white.” Each of these names designates a different racial discourse, and we both inherit their consequences in our flesh.” (Haraway 15)
In the second episode of the first season of Rick and Morty, advanced technology allows Morty’s dog, Snuffles (later, Snowball) to spawn a race of cyborg dogs who (in true Hegelian fashion) overthrow their human overlords. Cyborg. Dog. Rick and Morty presents a hybrid of two texts on hybridity. Snowball is a cyborg companion species.
The episode follows a typical dialectical trajectory (reaction, death struggle, enslavement and mastery).
At first, this seems to negate Haraway’s argument. Snowball’s uprising doesn’t synthesize human and animal but emphasizes the divide, strengthens the dualism. Yes, human authority is fragile and the episode reveals similarities between men and dogs, but a reversed hierarchy is still a hierarchy. Ultimately, Rick’s portal gun is able to solve the dog/human conflict:
Snowball and his race of cyborg dogs decide to “go to a new world and colonize it with a society of intelligent dogs, one that will not make the same mistakes as humanity and one where pet insurance will be mandatory.” (S1E2) They jump through a portal and presumably end up in Roiland’s “11 minutes a pop” abandoned TV series, Dog World. Interestingly, Haraway uses the term “dog world” throughout When Species Meet.
Rick’s portal gun enables characters to access the multiverse. The device itself allows both hierarchies to exist simultaneously. There can be a world in which humans are masters and a world in which dogs are masters. Rick’s portal gun is a tool for literally and symbolically transgressing boundaries between worlds. Haraway writes, “Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia.” (181) Rick and Morty finds the synthesis or resolution of Snowball’s master-slave dialectic in that heteroglossia. The hierarchical dualism is shattered because both/multiple hierarchies exist at once.
In When Species Meet, Haraway discusses the etymology of the word “companion”:
“Companion comes from the Latin cum panis, “with bread.” Messmates at table are companions.” (30)
“Messmates” becomes central to Haraway’s discussion of companion species. She ends When Species Meet, “Animals are everywhere full partners in worlding, in becoming with. Human and nonhuman animals are companion species, messmates at table, eating together, whether we know how to eat well or not. Many pithy slogans might urge us on in trying to learn more about how to flourish together in difference without the telos of a final peace.” (301) Roiland’s Dog World opens with humans and dogs eating together at a table:
The humans have a hard time swallowing dog food and Sally knocks over her bowl. They do not eat well, and yet, they eat together. They become with.
Both Haraway and Roiland respond to tropes and traditions within the science fiction genre. Haraway finds realism in science fiction; she points to the colonial discourse at its core and exposes sci fi as as social reality. Rick and Morty finds absurdity and absurdism in science fiction. Roiland’s silly made-up words (“plumbus,” Gazorpazorp”) and bizarre concepts push back against realistic CGI and believable dystopias. The overlap between Rick and Morty and Haraway’s manifestos is a “Rick’s portal gun” of sorts. It transgresses the boundary between realism and absurdism or postmodernism. At the end of Cyborg Manifesto, Haraway writes, “though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.” (28) I think I’d rather be a birdperson (but that’s an essay for another day).
Haraway, Donna Jeanne. When Species Meet. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2008.