The Philosophy of Rick and Morty Show Me What You Got!

HUM 415 | Contemporary Culture | Rob Thomas, Ph.D.

This is the website for Dr. Thomas' Contemporary Culture course on the philosophy of Rick and Morty. An experiment in learning as radical as cartoons themselves, we will think seriously about philosophy (Nietzsche, Baudrillard, Deleuze), social theory (In the Dust of This Planet, Gamer Theory, Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism), and various forms of popular culture through the show Rick and Morty.

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HUM 415 | Contemporary Culture
Tuesday/Thursday, 2:10PM – 3:25 PM in HUM 582
Rob Thomas, Ph.D.
E-mail: [email protected]
Office HUM 416, Office Hour: Thursday 3:25 – 4:25 PM

This course satisfies the following requirements: Upper Division, UD-C: Arts and/or Humanities SF State Studies: Global Perspectives, Segment Three


Since 2004, an integral component of my Contemporary Culture course has been the use of science fiction film and literature as a paradigm for thinking the present. Most recently I have focused on apocalypse, zombies, disaster films, contemporary capitalism, and the Anthropocene. Suddenly, as the world around us became even more of a disaster in 2016, I faced a quandary: How do I continue teaching work in social theory and philosophy in ways that are fun and engaging, but that also give my students tools for navigating the historical present? I also faced a quandary with the assigned classroom: It’s super crummy. Also, the time of day: Not so good. So, civilization is ending faster than we thought AND the classroom kinda sucks. Here’s an idea: Let’s make the course about Rick and Morty. Let’s use Rick and Morty as a paradigm (a way of thinking-in-images, or of thinking-beside-images) for reading this historical present.


This course will think philosophy, social theory, and contemporary culture through the show Rick and Morty. Not only will we think seriously about the philosophical-existential questions the show plays with, including its fun references to popular culture, we will also think seriously about the form of Rick and Morty. Thus, in addition to studying contemporary social theory (In the Dust of this Planet), and philosophy from figures like Nietzsche, Baudrillard, Deleuze, and others, we will also think seriously about the form of cartoons, networked media, and video games. Students will be introduced to concepts like simulacra/simulation, the hyper-real, the post-cinematic, etc. In addition to select episodes of Rick and Morty, we will analyze an episode of Star Trek (“Mirror, Mirror”), study David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and other works of visual expression as the crappy classroom and course time we have been assigned allows. The course will begin with 8-bit Philosophy’s “The Philosophy of Rick and Morty.”

Below is a preliminary reading list. This list, as well as the syllabus, will be revised based on consultation with the students on the first class session. 

Books (available at the bookstore)

  • Ian Bogost, How to Do Things With Video Games
  • Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of this Planet

Assigned Essays (scans or downloads)

  • JG Ballard, “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” (optional)
  • Jean Baudrillard, “Simulacra and Simulations”
  • Alfie Bown, Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism (selections)
  • Gilles Deleuze, “Plato and the Simulacrum” (optional)
  • Mark Fisher, “Reflexive Impotence” from Capitalist Realism (optional)
  • Mauricio Lazzarato, Governing by Debt (optional)
  • Brian Massumi, “Realer than Real: The Simulacrum According to Deleuze & Guattari”
  • Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (selection)
  • Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals from The Nietzsche Reader
  • Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil from The Nietzsche Reader
  • Nietzsche, “Fragment on European Nihilism” from The Nietzsche Reader
  • Celeste Olalquiaga, The Artificial Kingdom (selections)
  • Shaviro, “What is the Post-Cinematic?”
  • Steve Shaviro, “Bodies of Fear: David Cronenberg”
  • Steve Shaviro, “Splice”
  • Mckenzie Wark, Gamer Theory (selections)


  • David Cronenberg, The Fly (USA/1986)
  • Stuart Gordon, From Beyond (USA/1986)
  • Chuck Jones, Duck Amuck (USA/1953)
  • Chris Marker, La Jétee (France/1962)
  • Vincenzo Natali, Splice (Canada/France/USA/2010)
  • Frederic Wiseman, High School (USA/1968)

TV Shows

  • Rick and Morty (select episodes)
  • Star Trek, “Mirror, Mirror”


• 8-Bit Philosophy, “The Philosophy of Rick and Morty”

Duck Amuck (1953)

From Beyond (1986)

"Mirror, Mirror" (1967)

The Fly (1986)

Rick and Morty with Cartoon Muybridge

La Jétee (1962)

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Trailer for From Beyond (1986)

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Trailer for The Fly (1986)

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La Jétee (1962)

about Dr. Thomas

I am the author of User's Guide to Pornography (forthcoming, Zer0 Books). I live in San Francisco, CA and teach in the School of Humanities and Liberal Studies at San Francisco State University.

My courses are broadly concerned with the relationship between contemporary culture and the history of Western philosophy, with particular emphasis on modernism/modernity, theories of the image, pornography, affect, global cinema, San Francisco, and political economy.

I studied with Giorgio Agamben in the seminars on The Time That Remains (Il tempo che resta) and hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the Program in Philosophy, Literature, and the Theory of Criticism at the State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton (2005), M.A. in Philosophy from SUNY, Binghamton (2004), B.A. in Liberal Arts from Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA) (1997).

I can be found online at

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