Power to the Pets: Colonization in the Eyes of Swift and Adult Swim
Some may have heard the tale that every cat wants to destroy their owner, but that they’re just smart enough to know that they don’t have the means and are better off scratching furniture. But what if they did have the means? Both Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Adult Swim‘s popular cartoon, Rick and Morty, explore this idea, showing just how coincidental the ability to rule is, while also, directly or indirectly, presenting the analysis of the colonization of those who are seen as lesser.
In the first season the show Rick and Morty, an episode called “Lawnmower Dog” includes a comical view on what life would be like if the owner/pet dynamic was flipped on its head. The episode opens with Jerry, the father of the family, punishing the family pet, Snuffles, when he has an accident on the floor, rubbing his face in it and calling him stupid. Rick, Jerry’s father-in-law and a high-functioning alcoholic scientist (just your everyday guy), creates a helmet to make Snuffles smarter at the request of Jerry. However, the helmet eventually led to Snuffles’ gain of extreme intelligence, causing him to rename himself as “Snowball” and claim a revenge-motivated superiority over humanity.
Swift’s Part IV of Gulliver’s Travels illustrates a parallel relationship, swapping out dogs for a common “pet” at the time, horses, or “Houyhnhnms”. In this case they weren’t given any sort of device to claim their power but are simply a part of a world where the tables have turned, and a derivative of humans called “Yahoos” act as servants.
“I thought the whole point of having a dog was to feel superior, Jerry.”Rick Sanchez, “Lawnmower Dog.” Rick and Morty, season 1, episode 2, Cartoon Network, 9 Dec. 2013.
Swift might say, “I thought the whole point of having colonies was to feel superior, Brits.”
Knocking Humanity Off of Its Pedestal
Swift began to exploit the destructive nature of colonization immediately, by creating the “Yahoos” as a disgusting creature that Gulliver initially described as an “ugly monster” saying that he had “never beheld in all [his] travels so disagreeable an animal” (Swift, 2383). But they were technically just humans, exactly like Gulliver, and this is where Swift begins his satirical exposé of colonization. Gulliver even begins to realize this and describe himself as a Yahoo, even though it is universally an insult that the Houyhnhnms use (Hawes, 204).
This serves the two purposes: calling the British hypocrites, as they see the natives they colonize as lesser, even though they are humans just the same, and also highlighting the vices–the repulsive traits of the Yahoos– in humanity in general.
In “Lawnmower Dog”, the vices and hypocrisy of humanity are highlighted through Snowball’s rage towards his owners-turned-slaves. He turns on Jerry, questioning him about neutering dogs and the idea of selective dog breeding and how it often leads to health problems.
Similarly, Gulliver explained how humans castrated horses in order “to render them more servile” (Swift, pg. 2393). This could be seen as an exposure of the violent nature of humanity, but also parallels the “castration” or “neutering” of the culture of the natives that were conquered and often forced to assimilate to British societal norms.
The question that Swift is directly trying to convey through his satire is: What makes England superior? They had the war power and the money, sure, but the racism and brutality that accompanied colonization is not justified by the pure fact that they are British, white, and Christian.
Knocking the Conquerors Off of Their Pedestal
Another useful perspective is viewing the Houyhnhnms as natives who have revolted and the Yahoos as British conquerors-turned-natives; this view is easy to imagine as horses typically take a servile role in reality. Near the end of Part IV of Gulliver’s Travels, the Houyhnhnms have an assembly that Gulliver attends. There, the Houyhnhnms have a discussion about how they are again visiting the idea of eradicating all of the Yahoo race. Surprisingly, the Master suggests that Yahoos can be of use if they are made calmer, using Gulliver to show that there are redeeming qualities of humanity. Gulliver had told the Master stories of the war and bloodshed that humanity often chooses, but the Master still chose another, more moral, route.
Indirectly following Swift’s lead, Snowball reaches a similar conclusion. In this case, Morty is seen as a sort of Gulliver, or a prime specimen of humanity, and is pampered by Snowball, who believes that Morty was the kindest out of the entire family. When Morty is on his death bed (due to some typical Rick and Morty-like circumstances), Snowball states that he would do anything to save him. When asked the question: “Do you think they would’ve done this for us?”, Snowball states a final thought, “We are not them.” and decides to leave humanity be.
Swift’s work shows that in this case, the servile creature who has taken control actually shows more morality–or humanity– than humanity itself. In result, he is conveying that the British have less humanity in comparison to the natives they harass. Rick and Morty reiterates this even more directly, by having Snuffles literally state that the dogs, the servile creatures, have more humanity than their old owners. The overall message here is that through the act of colonization, the colonizer–the British, in Swift’s case, –loses humanity through its apathy towards other groups that are deserving of the same amount of respect.
A Call to Action….Or Not
Throughout Part IV, Gulliver slowly disillusions himself with humanity, on the edge of hating mankind in general (Knowles, pg. 124). Finally, Swift gives us the misanthropic ending we all expect when Gulliver returns to his home, disgusted by his family who he now sees as Yahoos. By writing this, Swift is calling people to action through his satire, urging British society to see the colonizing, “superior” government as what he sees it: a bunch of Yahoos who have little to no redeeming qualities.
In contrast, following a typical Rick and Morty storyline, the humans see no error in their ways and will probably continue to treat their pets as having a lower intelligence, making no improvements, which also reflects a rather misanthropic view on human progress. Essentially, Swift calls for change while Rick and Morty assumes there will be none, while keeping a comical, to the point ending.
Plante, Corey. “’Rick and Morty’s Most Heartwarming Early Episode Is One of Its Best.” Inverse, 23 Oct. 2019, https://www.inverse.com/article/60196-rick-and-morty-lawnmower-dog-review-scary-terry.
Swift, J. (1999). Gulliver’s Travels. In K. J. David Damrosch (Ed.), The Longman Anthology of British Literature (Fourth ed., Vol. 1C, pp. 2381-2426). Pearson.
Hawes, Clement. “Three Times Round the Globe: Gulliver and Colonial Discourse.” Cultural Critique, no. 18, 1991, pp. 187–214. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1354099.
Knowles, Ronald. Gulliver’s Travels: The Politics of Satire. Twayne’s Masterwork Series 158. New York, NY: Twayne Publishers, 1996. 169pp.
“Lawnmower Dog.” Rick and Morty, season 1, episode 2, Cartoon Network, 9 Dec. 2013.
Fig.1 Mumford, Dan. “RICK & MORTY – YOU SHALL NOW CALL ME SNOWBALL”. Central Illustration Agency
Fig. 2 @covenhovennyc. “Snuffles Renaming.” Twitter, 5 Jan. 2016, twitter.com/covenhovennyc/status/684424077197586432
Fig. 3 @orintello. “Where Are My Testicles, Summer.” Imgur, 21 Aug. 2016, imgur.com/gallery/xOcpvUM.
Fig. 4 Meserve, Adria. “Gulliver’s Travels: Part 9: In the land of the houyhnhnms”, Dramas from BBC Learning English, BBC UK, http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/features/drama/gulliver-ep9
Fig. 5 @RickandMortyPod. “We Are Not Them” Twitter, 27 Jan. 2018, https://twitter.com/rickandmortypod/status/957519804281303045