So, What's Up With All The Incest In Rick And Morty Lately?

When anthropologists from thousands of years in the future look back at this period, they're probably going to wonder about the whole incest thing. "What the hell was happening in the late 2010s, the early 2020s?" they'll probably ask themselves. Right now, we're at a place where two of the biggest shows that air on Sunday regularly and prominently feature characters having sex (or talking about having sex) with their relatives. This past weekend, I watched an episode of "House of the Dragon" where the main character hooks up with and then marries her uncle, and then shortly after I put on the new "Rick and Morty" episode where Jerry (Chris Parnell) very nearly has sex with his own mother. What am I doing with my life? How have things come to this?

Admittedly, we can't really blame the "House of the Dragon" showrunners for what happened in last week's episode. The rascally George R. R. Martin made the choice to heavily feature incest in his fantasy series, and this show is simply staying faithful to its source material. But "Rick and Morty" co-creator Dan Harmon hasn't quite escaped the internet's suspicious glare. This is an entirely original series after all; the writers have total freedom with where the stories go. So why take the stories in this direction? 

On the "Rick and Morty" subreddit, the very top comment on the post-episode discussion page is: "I am now 100% certain that Dan Harmon has an incest fetish." But let's be fair to Harmon, and re-examine the evidence. Just how often does incest get prominently featured in his shows, and how much should we judge Harmon for it?

Early seasons Rick and Morty

In the show's second ever episode, "Lawnmower Dog," Rick and Morty delve into Morty's teacher's dreams and discover that there's a sexy version of Summer in there. "Come on, old man, little boy," Summer says to them, "Let's make an inter-generational sandwich." Rick and Morty are appropriately grossed out by the situation and flee this part of the dreamscape. 

But for the most part, the incest in these first two seasons are just one-off jokes, not full-on storylines. In "Raising Gazorpazorp," Beth makes a sex joke about her son and her father alone upstairs together. In "Total Rickall," we get a flashback where Summer walks in on Morty pleasuring himself in the kitchen. The show wasn't afraid to make audiences uncomfortable with these jokes, but they never dwelled on them for particularly long. 

Rather, most of the incest going on with "Rick and Morty" was happening off-screen, in fan-art. The fascinatingly disturbing 2018 Vice article "'Rick and Morty' Incest Porn Is Tearing the Show's Fans Apart" details how the show's fan community had a growing section of Rick/Morty shippers, and how the series writers surprisingly weren't in any rush to shut this section down. "In many realities, Morty and Rick ARE in a passionate healthy romantic relationship," co-creator Justin Roiland once tweeted. "Maybe we'll do an episode about it."

But for the most part, early "Rick and Morty" was light on the subject. The turning point for the show was an episode that wasn't even a part of "Rick and Morty" at all. It was an episode of "Community" that aired while season 2 of "Rick and Morty" was being made. 

Now THIS is a man who knows how to write about incest!

On May 26, 2015, Dan Harmon's show "Community" aired an episode that took a strong stance on whether it's okay to marry your cousin, and it's not the stance you'd think. 

The episode revolves around minor character Garrett (Erik Charles Nielsen) as he gets married to brand-new character Stacy (Erin McGathy). When Jeff (Joel McHale) tries to give the best wedding toast of all time, he accidentally figures out (and reveals to everyone) that Garrett's grandmother and Stacy's grandmother are the same person. Yes, that's right: Garrett and Stacy are cousins, and they're just now finding out at the reception. 

It seems like the marriage is off, but luckily (?) Ben Chang (Ken Jeong) comes in to save the day, giving an impassioned speech about love winning out against societal taboos. And since it is technically legal in the state to marry your cousin, the couple decides to go through with the wedding. "Stacy, will you be my legally incestuous wife?" Garrett asks. Stacy says yes, and there's not a dry eye in the room. 

The episode is fully aware of how strange this resolution is, however, because it ends with a fourth wall break where the writer of the episode talks directly to the camera. Writer Briggs Hatton (which is in fact the guy's real name) tells us how passionate he is about spreading the word that "first cousins can have children without great risk of birth defect or genetic disease." 

Some more evidence collection

The post-credit scene portrays Hatton as a weird guy who the other writers reluctantly allow to write an incest-themed episodes. However, after watching the later seasons of "Rick and Morty," we can't help but wonder if Hatton was simply being used as a scapegoat. Because after the (surprisingly well-received) "Community" episode aired, the number of incest jokes on "Rick and Morty" started to skyrocket. 

"I wish incest porn had a more mainstream appeal," an alternate version of Morty says in "The Ricklantis Mixup" episode, and he may have gotten his wish. Not only did the popularity of incest porn in the real world skyrocket around this time, but it wasn't much longer until the show started throwing in jokes where Morty and Rick got to make out. Okay, so technically it wasn't them doing the act (they were possessed by aliens), but a lot of the humor of the scene comes from the gross image of an old man making out with his underage grandson.

There was also the plot of season 3's "ABCs of Beth," in which Beth's childhood friend Tommy gets trapped inside a fantasy world, and survives by creating an "endless cycle of cannibalistic incest." Then there's the joke in "A Rickconvenient Mort" about a family of aliens taking part in an orgy together. Then there's the incest baby in "Rickdependence Spray," which returns again for another episode later in the season. And then there's Beth having sex with herself (which arguably isn't incest, but it's in the same ballpark), and then there's the latest episode that revolves around Jerry (maybe) having sex with his mom. Incest is rarely presented as a good thing, of course, but the frequency might be getting a little out of hand.

But why?

The "Rick and Morty" writers have been asked about the whole incest thing a couple times already, with responses that indicate that this all has something to do with kink visibility. "I don't want to live in "Stargate" world where certain shapes aren't allowed to be drawn in the sand because we figured out how to solve our brains," Dan Harmon said. "I have a big trigger there. Anything close to kink-shaming, no matter how taboo, I can't abide the shaming."

Perhaps this is why there's such a running theme of characters having plenty of other surprising sexual kinks. We know from the snake episode that Summer has a choking fetish, just as we know from the Unity episode that Rick likes to have men who look like his father root him on as he has sex. In fact, when Summer walks in on Morty in "Total Rickall" and yells "Why in the kitchen!?" Morty responds, "I do it everywhere, don't kink-shame me." It seems like a throwaway line, but it might actually be a major theme of the show. 

Everyone in "Rick and Morty" has weird kinks, but none of them are ever really judged for it. It's presented as a normal(ish) thing, only annoying in the way the characters' insecurities about them affect other people. Beth isn't judged by the other characters for sleeping with a clone of herself, for example; it's the fact that she hides it from her husband that causes most of the drama. "Be proud of who you are," the show seems to be saying, in it's own strange way. It recalls what Harmon once said: "Why go down the path of making anybody so ashamed of their thoughts that they don't express them?"

Does Dan Harmon have an incest fetish? The final verdict

At the end of the day, the main reason for all the incest jokes on the show is pretty simple: it's a raunchy adult animated sitcom, one in which all the main characters are in the same family. Are the events of the episodes really a window into the writers' psyches, as the internet loves to speculate, or do the writers just enjoy grossing us out? If we're being fully honest with ourselves, it's probably the latter.

Something else to keep in mind: Dan Harmon has apparently taken a slight step back from the show this season, letting "younger writers who are fans of the show" have more control over everything that's going on. The fact that there are two separate incest-heavy episodes in the season where Harmon's taken a less active role points to the idea that he's not the one driving this trend. And even if Harmon was taking an active role, writing a TV show is still a very collaborative process. There's a whole team of writers behind every episode, not just the one or two people in the "written by" credits. Perhaps the internet's suspicious gaze should be aimed at those people more than it is at Harmon.

Of course, only time will tell. But unless there's a third incest-themed episode of season 6, or if the "Community" movie ends up featuring a surprise incest subplot, we should probably give Harmon the benefit of the doubt for now.