With uncertainty and unrest brewing around the globe because of COVID-19, it’s understandable to feel anxious about the future. The pandemic has everyone, even highly developed countries like Japan, Singapore and the United States, scrambling for a semblance of order and control with next steps that can keep citizens and the economy intact. Lifestyles and practices will change from retail stores updating their point of sales system to schools exploring a blended mix of online and classroom learning.
The transition to a new normal can cause strong emotions of fear and depression, triggering bouts of existential crisis and questions on how to keep living. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), finding ways to cope with stress will make a person and the community stronger. Stories have been known to bring comfort to an individual by offering a reprieve from reality and serving as a mechanism to explore one’s emotions and thoughts. Take a look at what animated sci-fi sitcom Rick and Morty has to say about existential crisis and living through the anxiety.
There’s more to this brainchild of creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland than the misadventures of mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his gullibly fretful grandson Morty Smith. At its surface, Rick and Morty acts as a cynical and savage show with titular character Rick wreaking havoc in multiple dimensions without care nor concern for the consequences. He triggers apocalyptic endings for some universes while dropping life-altering truth bombs in others. His jadedness and boredom brought by his intelligence fuel his DGAF attitude and perpetual drive to be drunk all the time. You can say his existential crisis has propelled him to a dark spiral of looking for stimulation and escaping reality.
However, as a contrast to the nihilistic tendencies of Rick, the show is not afraid to contradict and offer alternatives to his unacceptable behavior. This subversion is best portrayed in Season 3’s final episode ‘The Rickchurian Mortydate’ where Rick’s daughter Beth is undergoing an identity crisis if she’s the real Beth or not. In the prior episode, Rick offered to clone Beth to give her a chance to escape the mundanities of motherhood and suburban life by traveling the universe. Her clone will stay and tend to the domestic life left behind. Beth’s choice is never revealed leading to the dilemma of the Beth that stayed.
Faced with no answer to her question, domestic Beth understandably undergoes an existential crisis. Despite reassurances from Rick that she is not a clone, it was through reminiscing with Jerry, her simple and hard to like husband, that Beth comes to terms with her circumstances. Psychologists call this radical acceptance, the embracing of reality wholeheartedly. Beth accepted her situation, both the good and the bad, and didn’t anymore dwell with the what-ifs and infinite choices of infinite universes. Instead of being bogged down with despair, she decided to create her meaning and find happiness in the situation she is facing.
In the succeeding episodes, viewers can see her relationship improving with her children as well as choosing to get back together with Jerry. This choice thwarted Rick’s goal of erasing Jerry from the family to serve as the sole authority. Meeting reality in reality’s terms frees up the mental and emotional space spent fighting what can’t be changed nor controlled. People, much like Beth, can use their energy into finding meaning in their current situation.
The pandemic has thrown everyone in a state of turmoil and helplessness. If feelings are left unchecked, they can easily aggravate one’s mental health. By taking a page from Beth Sanchez’s book and practicing radical acceptance, you too can thrive and find meaning in this tumultuous reality.