Mansplaining The Bechdel Test To Rick And Morty Fans

This week saw the return of Rick & Morty to television screens and tonight the UK got it on E4 and the All4 App. Never Ricking Morty was the most self-referencing, up-its-own-arse episode yet, and it was all the better for it. It began by making the show's famous 'Story Train' structure the actual plotline of the episode, at all levels. It then also gave viewers the climactic continuity climax that many had been holding out for. With Dark Morty and Dark Poopy Butthole, an Army of Ricks, Mr Meesecks and Gazorpazorps in a final battle, that then gets snatched away, and forever labelled something that could have happened but now never will. But along the journey, we also get mention of The Bechdel Test, as a way to defeat the very story formula that Rick and Morty are fighting against.

The Bechdel Test was a joke that grew legs. Initially, part of Alison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For cartoon strip in 1985, the comic has one character say that she wouldn't see any movie that a) didn't have two named women characters who b) talk to each other and c) about something other than a man. The punchline being that the last film she had seen was Ridley Scott's Alien, seven years ago. Badumdumtish. It was a gag, making fun of that none of the then-current Hollywood material could pass that low a bar, save for a schlocky sci-fi movie ages back. It wasn't technically true, it was a joke after all. However, that so many films didn't pass even that minuscule requirement – with no reason that they wouldn't – did show how insular, limited and male-focused Hollywood was, with male as the default. It was funny because it was pretty much true.

Mansplaining The Bechdel Test To Rick And Morty Fans.
Mansplaining The Bechdel Test To Rick And Morty Fans. Art by Alison Bechdel.

The Bechdel Test was later renamed The Bechdel-Wallace Test, when Allison credited the concept to her friend Liz Wallace, thanked in the strip's opener. But 'The Bechdel Test' was snappier. It began to grow until it was mainstream enough to be featured on The Simpsons. It is not a measure of quality, in so much that plenty of great films fail it utterly, while plenty of pornography passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours but little else. But if it makes screenwriters examine why their work doesn't pass it, whether that's a deliberate artistic and storytelling decision, or just through laziness, then that should be its legacy. There has been slow improvement since, and maybe The Bechdel Test itself has been responsible for that. After all there would be far fewer, if any, movies that would ever fail a reverse-Bechdel Test. But it is such a low bar, it deliberately only pays lip service to the central ideas of diversity and equality. It also inspired tests that measure a little more from other comcis creators such as Roxane Gay's proposed six-part test or Kelly Sue DeConnick's Sexy Lamp test

In Rick & Morty, however, it's about The Bechdel Test being used as lip service, the danger of indicating that a work is worthy because it passed something as flimsy as the Bechdel Test. And so Morty finds himself telling a stilted story that has Beth and Summer fighting female giant scorpions (with bows in their hair) with menstrual blasts, without mentioning any men and being congratulated for their effort by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is intentionally awful because a) it is being told by Morty and b) it highlights the flimsiness of The Bechdel Test in the most heavy-handed way possible. But then its flimisness only underlined who bizarre it was that so many films couldn't even pass it. Hell, Rick & Morty is pretty male-focused and usually passes The Bechdel Test on a regular basis by actually including a mother and daughter in the show's main supporting cast. It's that easy. Mind you, I wonder if that was as a result of the Bechdel's Test's existence as well?

Rick And Morty screens on E4 on Thursdays at 10pm, and on the All4 App afterwards.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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