The New Lyceum provides analysis of current affairs that affect the body politic. It does so out of a belief that man is reasonable – he can come to understand truth through rational discourse.

Why Wisecrack Isn't Wise

Why Wisecrack Isn't Wise

During the third season of Rick and Morty I stumbled onto Wisecrack’s weekly breakdown of each episode. For those who may be unfamiliar, Wisecrack is a YouTube channel devoted to making philosophy and literature more accessible by filtering it through the lens of pop culture and comedy. This mission  initially drew me to their content, but the more I watched, the more realized that I was becoming wise in the way reading the dictionary or encyclopedia makes one wise, and the more I realized this, the more I began to feel as if I was doing just that. The flaw I see in Wisecrack’s formula is that it presents philosophical ideas and concepts without commentary, making it seem as if all are equally true and it is simply left up to the viewer to pick and choose what fits their worldview the best.  

A typical Wisecrack video, whether analyzing a movie or TV show will give a brief summary, followed by commentary discussing how a certain philosophy or concept relates to the what is being discussed. For example, when analyzing The Wolf of Wall Street, the presenter discusses issues pertaining to human greed and excess, along with humans’ ability to learn nothing, since “by consuming the movie, [the audience] puts money in the pockets of the man who went to jail for stealing their money.”

“What exactly is wrong with presenting ideas in this manner,” many would contend, “it teaches people these concepts in a way that is familiar and enjoyable, making allies where there would normally be bystanders?” I would usually sympathize with such a sentiment, but ideas are dangerous things, a la Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, where the main characters, influenced by their boarding school teacher’s lessons on Nietzsche’s philosophy, commit murder as an intellectual exercise.

In the case of a show like Rick and Morty, which is rife with nihilistic and existentialist overtones, the fact that breakdowns of each episode presented the philosophies of Sartre, Nietzsche, and Camus with a lighthearted and comic attitude covers up the darkness which accompanies these philosophies. Concepts such as the indifference of the universe, the creation of one’s own meaning to life, and the denial of the existence of God, if true, should fill viewers with the same existential dread which these philosophers succumbed to. In treating these philosophies with the same tone as one would talk about the weather, those at Wisecrack are not only diminishing the gravity these ideas possess, but also give them an attractiveness which would not exist if the ideas were presented with the sobriety with which they deserve.

Even when discussing other philosophies such as different versions of Social Contract Theory, this tone remains, while only presenting a simplified understanding of Hobbes and Rousseau, without any further commentary other than a pithy sign-off asking “who’s right?” By leaving the discussion at that (as is the case with much of their content) Wisecrack inadvertently boils down philosophy to the question of “who’s right,” without ever addressing the fact that someone will be wrong. By leaving that question as open-ended as Wisecrack seems to, it opens the door to a soft-relativism, by which one is left to their own personal preferences to choose which philosophical system is right.

One may again contend that “this is how we in fact live, people will be wrong but we have the freedom to be wrong,” and I would agree we do have the freedom to be wrong, but there are also consequences of being wrong. In philosophy however, the consequences are seemingly not apparent. I say seemingly, because for many, philosophy is just the asking of silly questions like “what is red,” or “what if all of this is a simulation?” But the questions of “what ought I do,” and “what is good,” affect our daily lives and every choice we make. If Wisecrack were truly wise, it would take a break from the colloquial comedy and treat the ideas they promulgate with the severity with which they were intended to be discussed. I believe if this were to happen, the viewers would catch a glimpse of what philosophy is truly about, the pursuit of truth, not simply the dissemination of ideas.

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