If you’ve ever needed proof that women in Hollywood still face the systemic misogyny that has plagued the industry for years, look no further than what’s happening with Rick & Morty, the audacious and offbeat cartoon that has emerged as Adult Swim’s signature show.
The show—which was created by Community mastermind Dan Harmon—made headlines when it announced that it was shaking up its writers room by hiring more female writers. While there hasn’t been even the slightest dip in quality (some might argue the show is running at the height of its powers), that hasn’t stopped internet trolls from mounting a disgusting campaign against new female writers Jessica Gao and Jane Becker.
The harassment has run the gamut from death and rape threats to posting Gao and Becker’s personal contact information. Dan Harmon, who spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the situation, has a very simple message to anyone who has partaken in the trolling of his writers: Don’t watch.
“These knobs, that want to protect the content they think they own—and somehow combine that with their need to be proud of something they have, which is often only their race or gender. It’s offensive to me as someone who was born male and white, and still works way harder than them, that there’s some white male [fan out there] trying to further some creepy agenda by ‘protecting’ my work,“ Harmon said.
He continued: “I’ve made no bones about the fact that I loathe these people. It fucking sucks. And the only thing I can say is if you’re lucky enough to make a show that is really good that people like, that means some bad people are going to like it too. You can’t just insist that everybody who watches your show get their head on straight … And I’m speaking for myself—I don’t want the show to have a political stance. But at the same time, individually, these [harassers] aren’t politicians and don’t represent politics”
Harmon explained that when he decided to hire female writers, he was aware that “any high-profile women get doxxed, they get harassed, they get threatened, they get slandered.”
The campaign targeting female writers on the show first popped up in the Rick & Morty subreddit and became so toxic that the thread’s moderator eventually had to step in. The online vitriol stems from the show’s recent focus on Beth and Summer, two of the show’s female characters. But as Harmon explained in his interview, writing a TV show is usually done by committee, which means blaming the female writers for the show’s new direction is erroneous from the jump. “It’s total ignorance of how writing a television show works,” Harmon said. “I want to scream at my computer: ‘You idiots, we all write the show together!’ If you can tell the difference between one writer and another on a show I’m running I’ve probably gotten so lazy that it hasn’t all been blended and refined in the usual process.”
Becker and Gao also addressed the controversy in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
"One thing that really pisses me off is when people talk about how hiring writers should be a meritocracy,” Gao said. “The people who say that have never ever thought about what that actually means and where that meritocracy comes from. Overwhelmingly, the person who is deciding who is the funniest is going to be a white guy, usually in his 30s or 40s who for sure grew up middle class or upper middle class. Someone like that is going to have very specific life experience and a specific sense of humor.”
If there’s any silver lining here, it’s that most of the commenters have stood behind the show’s female writers. In other words, don’t let the actions of a few bad seeds spoil the experience of watching what has become one of the most deliriously delightful shows on television.