There are nearly eight billion people on Earth. Most of them will never love you.
What does it mean when the television characters that move you are terrible people? After watching the most recent episode of Rick and Morty and rewatching both seasons of Bojack Horseman, I decided to ask myself why. And the answer is simple and kind of tragic: it is easily to feel emotionally connected to characters who hate themselves especially if your own self-esteem is paper-weighted by a lump of self-loathing and a half-bottle of cheap chardonnay. Don’t know what that feels like? I tried, badly, to do the math on it.
Throughout your life, you most likely had at least one parent, maybe two. But there was never any guarantee that they would or could love you, and it’s entirely possible (nay, probable), that they hated you for ruining their youth and blamed you for the end of their wild exploratory mid-years, even if they never told you. Your parents were cool once and you’re the reason they’re not anymore. If you had siblings, those might love you, but it’s entirely possible that they hate you, or a mix; so, at bare minimum, we’re still down to zero guaranteed blood relatives that will sob uncontrollably when you’re grisly murder is perpetrated. But for the sake of this exercise, let’s estimate high and assume that you had two parents and one sibling that loved you.
Grandparents are sometimes dead, and aunts and uncles might love you, but it’s also true that grandparents and creepy uncles love you but only enough to buy you tube socks and give you advice you never asked for, so the love you knew as a child might have really just been an obligation you tried to avoid by hiding in your room and watching Reading Rainbow. But for the sake of this exercise, let’s meet in the middle with the quantity of grandparents and say that two were alive, and two actually loved you more than the requisite amount for getting into heaven. I’ll throw you an aunt. The tally is at 6 people who probably loved you.
Levar Burton. He probably loved you. He probably still loves you. There you go. We have seven.
Then, there’s lovers. Everyone falls in love. You’ve probably been in love with someone who didn’t really love you. Maybe you were in a relationship with someone who didn’t really love you, either. Maybe you got lucky, and one person really truly loved who you were before you realized how stupid it was to have a good thing and wiped your ass with that relationship. So, we’re at 8.
Now, let’s do the math on that.
There are 7.3 billion people on the planet. That’s enough to guarantee you can walk down at least 90% of the streets in America without anybody loving you. You can shop at every Walmart in the United States and run into more furries dressed in full suits than people who will love you. McDonald’s serves around 6.4 million burgers a day to people who could care less if you lived or died. If you laid 7.3 billion people down head to foot, it might create a human bridge large enough to span the empty crevasse in your soul.
You are loved by 0.00000011% people. In science terms, that’s 1.10×10-7%, or what the rest of us mathematical plebeians call “really fucking tiny.”
Self-loathing settles in the bottom of an alcohol bottle like furry orange juice concentrate. It spirals down your gullet during the last fateful swig and pounds you in the skull until the next morning. When the sweet sweet numb takes over your body, you start to feel normal again. The loathing is there, present, often forefront, but it’s somehow manageable. For Rick, that means being absolutely narcissistically certain that you are the center of everyone’s universe, and often convincing others of the same. For Bojack Horseman, it’s a sabotaging loved ones so they stay in your personal hell, and taking advantage of younger insecure or damaged people who rely on your leadership.
“Sometimes when you’re an adult, the right thing isn’t always the best thing.”
Why do people make decisions that we know are awful selfish decisions? On the eleventh episode of Bojack’s second season, Bojack hit his new lowest low when, rejected by old flame Charlotte (a married deer-woman), he gives in to the urges of her teenage daughter, Penny. It’s not like Bojack loved Charlotte. She only represented a decision Bojack wished he made decades earlier when he was still finding his way in show business, a decision he only wishes he made in hindsight after decades of being a washed up alcoholic nobody. There are thousands of well-paid celebrities that desire little more than to move out to the country, and many of them resultantly have homes in various countrysides and on ranches as escapes. Bojack is not quite as successful.
As is typical for someone afflicted by drunken narcissism and paranoid self-loathing, Bojack assigns enormous meaning to happy events that others find insignificant, because he’s locked on to those as singular moments of satisfaction. The balloon lanterns are an example of this. Charlotte remembers that night positively but without much emotional attachment, whereas Bojack attempted to repeat the romance of that memory with Penny. It worked on her, probably because she’s seventeen. Although Bojack rejected her advances several times, he eventually succumbed to his own fantasy. Charlotte had rejected him, but Penny looked just like her, and her face and embrace could service his impossible dream. He was too foolish to understand that going through with it wouldn’t change the outcome of his life; inevitably, it would mean the end of one desire and the beginning of another, and another, and another.
Obviously, he was deservedly punished. He didn’t just successfully seduce the teen daughter of his host. He made a strong and pointed attempt to shirk his contracted duties and abandon the world he had chosen, and then he insulted the kindness of his host. He decided to live a fantasy instead of accepting his reality because fantasies hurt less and real change is hard. In S01E11, Bojack came face to face with the truth that he’s a terrible human/horse being. In S02E11 he proved it.
If Bojack is low, Rick and Morty’s Rick is licking the moss at rock bottom, especially in the second season’s third episode. Rick shows genuine distaste for every living thing that exists, including versions of himself in alternate dimensions. He seems like that dangerously entertaining combination of sociopath and super-genius, only his sociopathy is likely caused by his perpetual drunkenness. At several points throughout the series he demonstrates an unwillingness to protect or consider the needs and interests of Morty and Summer, and father Jerry already has him pegged as freeloader taking advantage of mother Beth’s abandonment issues caused by Rick’s extended absence during her youth. For any person abandoning a wife and child, including one burying their feelings with interplanetary drugs and booze, there is a deep well of soul-eating guilt that forms stalactites in the mind. They might be rock solid, but they’re there, impenetrable, unavoidable reminders of unforgivable selfishness, penetrating the tender grey matter.
Rick has a long and carefully cultivated personality of party lust, perpetual contempt, greed, and negligence that allows him to escape culpability with others while dulling the pain of the the prickly stalactites in himself. He occasionally has moments of what seems like genuine caring followed immediately by a rubber-band snap back to himself. For example, after the controlled explosion of a town, Rick nervously asks about the welfare of his grandkids, then immediately notes his empty drink. But for the most part, Rick remains opportunistic, especially when face-to-face with the recently assimilated culture that is his ex-girlfriend, Unity.
Like Unity notices, Rick sucks people into the whirlpool of his life. Unlike Unity, though, Rick can’t force the people he “unifies” to stay. Eventually, they get sick of his self-serving antics and abandon him. After spending an episode juxtaposing Summer and Morty’s misplaced empathy for the assimilated aliens with Rick’s never-ending stream of creepy kinks, they eventually abandon him; shortly after that, Unity does too, but because she realizes she can’t have any real sense of self while so heavily intoxicated and serviceable to Rick’s never-ending stream of sexually absurd whims. What happens next remains one of the most emotionally jarring moments the show has yet had. Rick, defeated after having been forced to face himself, resurrects and gently comforts a deformed blob before murdering it; he then turns the laser on himself. His suicide was a very near miss. It was Rick’s most candid and self-aware moment on the show this far. The show ended like most unbearably toxic relationships do: without satisfactory closure.
“Look alive, bright eyes, it’s the morning and somebody loves you!”
Can people change? Bojack’s rock bottom moment gave him enough sense to make try. In S02E12, Bojack finally opened his heart by admitting his appreciation for Todd and acknowledging the role Todd plays in his life. He also reveals that asking Todd to stay with him was one of the only times he made an intentional decision that made him feel good. Alcoholic depressives earn few of those. The season ends with Bojack accepting a new truth about self-improvement: “Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part.” There’s hope for the horseman yet.
Only time will tell what will happen to Rick. In all likelihood, he’ll drink the pain away and forget his near-miss, until the next time he’s buried in the bowels of depression and ready to end, and again.
What will happen to you? It’s hard to say. You’re probably a terrible person, and unless you become an enormously wealthy philanthropist, the quantity of love you receive from the world will remain infinitesimally small. You’ll do what I do. Sit at home alone, face buried in your OKCupid app, waiting for something to change. Want a drink?