“Nothing really matters, anyone can see\ Nothing really matters, nothing really matters to me.”
So said Freddie Mercury when he wrote the final lyrics to the iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” They’re catchy, an ear-candy melody, and a fittingly thematic end to the wonderful chaos that has made “Bohemian Rhapsody” the widely beloved classic it is. Those final lyrics in particular, despite having been written in 1975, have come to define a rising philosophy over the last decade within the television landscape, with the enormous popularity of two shows that have taken pop culture, especially Gen Z, by storm.
“Bojack Horseman” and “Rick and Morty” have become landmarks of pop culture of the last decade, partly because of the clever and comedic writing of each show, but also arguably for their appeal as shows that loudly express a nihilistic philosophy.
Nihilism itself is a philosophical concept that is far older than those television shows and Queen’s rock and roll ballad, stemming back to its earliest roots in the fifth century BCE in Buddhist philosophy, but it became largely popularized in the 19th and 20th centuries CE thanks to Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and others. The fundamental expression of nihilism as a philosophy is the belief, as Freddie Mercury sang, that “nothing really matters,” and that having accepted the non-existence of God or any other divine being, the core systems of values that have come to define what it means to be a human being no longer are applicable because of their past reliance upon religion for a moral code. One lives and then dies, with nothing awaiting on the other side of mortality.
Although seemingly heavily depressing and an assuredly dangerous philosophy, nihilism rose to prominence as an attractive philosophy largely as a response to the horrible atrocities of the world wars in the 20th century CE. Faced with the horrifying war crimes and human indecency, many turned to nihilism as they were unable to reconcile what they had witnessed in the wars with any belief in a just higher power and thus abandoned their faith.
Though the world wars have come and gone, the extent to which human beings realize the horrible sufferings that can be and have been imposed on one another has not been lost. Thus, nihilism in some form has remained popular for many people, none the least Generation Z, who have grown up in a world where information is widely and freely available thanks to the internet. Because of the internet, young people more so than ever before in human history have had unprecedented access to both past and current historical events, with no filter to hide the horrible occurrences of human suffering.
Hence, this is why shows like “Rick and Morty” and “Bojack Horseman” have become so popular among many young adults, who can identify with nihilistic expressions of both shows. There is no sugarcoating or hiding the awful nature of life in either show.
Instead, the characters in each experience failure but oftentimes do not learn a lesson, if there even could have been one to learn in the first place. Most of the time, there is no quick resolution to the plot that reconciles the conflict in a neat bow within the twenty minute runtime.
To many young adults, this is the way life works, and to see it expressed truthfully in entertainment is incredibly refreshing.
However, as time goes on, the question arises to how such nihilistic outlooks will inform a world soon to be inherited by these young adults in dire need of strong moral compasses. What will the world look like when those in political and cultural positions of power do not believe in any sort of greater meaning?
Only time will tell, if indeed it exists.