How Depressed T.V. show Characters Make us Comfortable with Misery.

Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty — a suicidal alcoholic with nihilist views on life and he sees exploitation and bitterness everywhere he goes.

Homer Simpson, Rick Sanchez, Bojack Horseman, even Rachel from friends. All are characters that are relatable in their failures and mishaps. Are they good for us? No. They make it okay to feel horrible.

In his book, 12 Rules For Life, Professor of Psychology Jordan Peterson and person that has experience with clinical depression says friends that are bitter against the world want to limit the distance between you and them, to ask you to join them in their misery. Many people don’t want to be actually helped. Many people are so far down below, there is not much to save. Many people, if you try to save them, you’re doing bad for both of you.

According to Peterson, some of us will still want to save the miserable. Not to help them, but to feel better about ourselves.

“I had been humiliated, so I wanted to humiliate; I had been treated like a rag, so I wanted to show my power [by asking to help you out of your suffering.]” — Fiodor Dostoïevski

We hold the same philosophy when we watch shows that give us comfort in mediocrity and miserableness.

You may act like you are helping a miserable person by listening to their venting to wine, but both of you know, that to solve the problem at hand, you need a lot more than ranting. You both know you are just being comfortable in each other’s misery and hatred to the world and to how things “work”.

it’s like looking in the mirror, but feeling relief from it, and laughter!

You are engaging in Idle Talk. You do not solve things because it takes more effort, but you want to feel less lonely and be helpless with someone and be bitter. You do not take responsibility. But you want the reward of social inclusion, to defer the pain of exclusion.

It takes a certain type of bravery to watch shows about people who are better than you. Because you must endure envy, and that’s what pushes you to take responsibility.

It takes laziness and bitterness to watch shows about miserable failures, people embarrassing themselves, navigating more and more problems in their life, ranging from Adult cartoons to Cartoon Network’s Dexter’s Lab.

Beth from Rick and Morty, via Tumblr.

it’s easier to look virtuous with someone destructive.

No wonder we have characters like Homer Simpson and Fry from Futurama and Bob’s Burgers and Jerry and Rick from Rick and Morty and Daria from Daria and Archer from Archer, and the list goes on.

That’s what comedy is really about: Laughing at someone else’s misery, one that’s similar to our collective miseries. And there’s weird comfort in that. When we watch shows like that as a group and we all laugh, we agree to our weaknesses and flaws, so we love it.

We bathe under the sun together in the collective agreement of our weaknesses, without realizing that this doesn’t make us stronger. In fact, it numbs us down until we leave the T.V. room and go back to face the burdens of life individually and alone.

If you watch The Simpsons as a group, and you see homer down a jar of mayonnaise and vodka then says: “That’s a problem for Future Homer. Man, I don’t envy that guy!” You all laugh.

Almost as if there is subliminal agreement amongst you: “Yes, we are helpless, all of us, most of the time. And I don’t have to strive for anything now that everyone feels the same as me inside.” You agree with the people you are sitting with about your vulnerabilities, and you are comfortable in your helplessness for a few minutes as the show lingers on.

In the show, the toxic and miserable man somehow still gets the wife and is the hero of the world and his family in every episode. Every episode of the Simpsons allures to the failure within us that longs for stillness and acceptance for its ugliness.

But it’s not just the Simpsons, you can think about the “lovable characters” in Adventure Time, Friends, or movies like Ladybird. Heck, even in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (although I didn’t watch it much.)

We love to see patheticness being loved, especially when that’s not what happens in the real world. That’s the curse of humanity with self-imposed original sin.

Feeling like shit, Bojack Horseman.

The laughter, the deep and fast exhaust of air, is a relief. Your inner insecurities, the ones you know very well most of everyone, are universal and forgivable now. Much like the point of the story of Christ. But you are the opposite of Christ, remember? You sin. But you long for forgiveness, you to yourself and others to you.

This is what these shows explore.

It is a relief because we are comfortable that this person is a hero and we can rest now because our mediocrity is accepted and down is easier than up. The less effort the better, hence laughter.

But the fun doesn’t last, reality slaps us again with a new task. A Responsibility. And a problem. Our weakness isn’t welcomed anymore.

We have to push ourselves out of our desired laziness and take responsibility, that’s the opposite of relief, that’s the hard part. And fighting that comfort in misery is the human condition.

Reality tells us to go back moving a boulder up the hill and watch it slide back to the bottom.

But is it true? No. Is it dangerous? It’s not.

We’re actually not inherently weak and doomed to settle for weakness, quite the opposite. But it’s good to acknowledge weakness first.

Sometimes, we need to feel good about ourselves first to start making our lives better. Everything is about compound interest, and we are likely not to overeat on cookies again if we feel like our bodies are already something worthy of protection and making better.

We are better off trying to compound a 1 or 2 rather than a 0. It’s the whole basis of life. So we need to start somewhere: That we are worth it and we shouldn’t commit suicide. Watching “low-life” characters helps establish just that.

There is nothing wrong with agreeing on our misery. We are goofy beings, for a lack of a better word. We are messy and silly. That doesn’t make us any less smart and amazing as a species. It’s no problem to start to see the good in our weakness in order for us to feel like we have something valuable and aim for its survival.

Imagine if we thought that we are dirty, selfish, and weak from the beginning. There is nothing to strive for. If so, we’d say humanity might as well be dead.



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Nabil Houari

Nabil Houari

Utopianist, in the lines between fiction and reality. I’m a social science researcher & I blog on lifestyle and mental health.