Of all the episodes of Rick and Morty that bend serious sci-fi to a casual comedic audience, ‘Get Schwifty’ sticks out the most. A giant head appears from the dark recesses of outer space and causes major geological disasters immediately before it issues one command to the people of earth: “SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT.” The allusion to climate change is made immediately by a tv news reporter who is swiftly told to “not make this political.” The entire fate of the earth and its inhabitants now depends on showing the giant space heads, the Cromulons, what we got. It’s so simple and thrusts upon us so suddenly that there is no time to collectively discern how to react. The Cromulon heads are calling on us, demanding to give them what they want.
Now, turning earth into a game-show for the amusement of some cosmic being is not a new idea. South Park did it years ago. What makes this episode unique is the response from Rick and the songs he and Morty must play for the Cromulons. The reaction of their hometown in reverting to cultish religious despotism is instructive enough, but the song that eventually appeases the Cromulons is what deserves a further look. Too many have narrowed in on Rick’s first song and its coarse, jubilant celebration of sex when interpreting the message for a proper reaction to the imminent doom of climate change. ‘Get Schwift’ is after all the title of the episode and it’s the only new phrase that Rick conjures up, making it easy to meme-ify. “Don’t panic” the phrase seems to impress on us, let it all out, let out the instinctual improv skills harboring within you and dance away. Show those aliens how we party down here and good things will eventually happen that demonstrate how life on earth is worth living.
The song ‘Get Schwifty’ is not the performance that wins the day though. Rick’s quick thinking and previous knowledge of the Cromulons only buys earth more time to come up with a better performance that will later win them over. He and Morty then go into the studio to craft a song for the upcoming competition between planets for the Cromulon’s entertainment. The song they perform, after some lessons and morals are learned about working together and trusting your betters, has only two lines: “Head bent over! Raised up posterior!” This song sung with gusto, together with some inspired breakdancing from an Obama-like president, is what pleases the Cromulons – going so far as to convince the them to end the interplanetary reality tv show altogether. They found the secret formula for what the Cromulons wanted the most.
I had to give this one some thought. After much rumination, nudged along by the sheer joy of repeating the episode’s lines in my head all day long, it started to make sense. When the Cromulons speak they only use imperatives. They are all powerful beings that can whisk away earth to a planetary stage in the blink of an eye. Their commands are explicitly taken as the word of god by Rick’s fellow townspeople, going so far as to throw away the old Christian god and establish a new one based around the actual head in the sky that seems to be controlling the weather. Nuclear weapons meant to blast humans out of the cosmic musical performance are met with simple “BOOOOO NOT COOL.”
Before I go on you must watch this clip of the Cromulon’s line. There is something so delightfully hilarious about the delivery of this line that I haven’t been able to shake it from my head. It’s so quick and nonchalant but it’s spoken with such authority. It’s as if a divine voice that fills the receiver’s heart with a paralyzing terror and the utmost necessity rolls right off the tongue of a wiry preteen experimenting with language for the first time. The young upstart quick to judge is after all what will carry the future.
Once Rick and Morty and the President break out into their song we hear the two lines, “Head bent over! Raised up posterior!” The head referred to could be a way of sympathizing with the Cromulons and their lack of a body. As giant all-powerful heads in the sky, the Cromulons are looking down at earth and the other planets and simply observing for their own pleasure. Extrapolated for us humans and our ability to view all manner of cosmic scenes through satellites this could apply to us too. We look up into the sky for our source of inspiration but perhaps this is wrong. “Head bent over!” Look down! We already have the same viewpoint as the Cromulons. Instead of waffling about with our heads tilted toward the clouds and deep space, look down at the earth.
As Rick and Morty DJ for their audience they match Cromulons in their manner of speaking: they give orders just as the Cromulons do. “Head bent over! Raised up posterior!” could also be a description of their own appearance, as if Rick and Morty were showing the Cromulons ‘what they got’ by mimicking their simple language in a kind of call-and-response dialogue. “Head bent over!” would then be the response of deference to the might of the Cromulons – giving them exactly what they want: deference. But this deference comes in language that he Cormulons can understand, a simple posture for a simple command.
The Cromulons don’t give one of their farts about the devotion that the townspeople show. The entire reaction of the town is a mere sideshow to the main event that Rick and Morty and the President will put on. When they believe they have done wrong and angered the giant heads in the sky they raise their heads up and pray, even comically punishing sinners by sending them up into the sky with balloons. In total contradistinction, Rick and Morty ring out: “Head bent over!”
That brings us to the second part of their song, “Raised up posterior!” This is the exact opposite of the prayer position. Stand erect and face the task at hand. Straightening your back gives off a sign of resolve, the kind of posture that commands respect. Good posture coming from a responder creates a sense of assurance that the one being addressed is capable of meeting a challenge without wavering. In the eleventh hour a trio of humans can still get down and dance with confidence. Their song describes the proper pose for responding to such a challenge.
Casually, this straight body does not match up with a head bent over. “Head bent over! Raised up posterior!” is an awkward pose that doesn’t lend well to dance, much less dialogue. It exists within a creative tension that demonstrates deference to power beyond one’s control but resolve in the face of it.
‘Get Schwifty’ brings a few vastly important threads together into a cartoon that last less than 30 minutes. I haven’t touched on everything, including Ice-T’s intentionally tacked-on sub-plot about “caring.” What it demonstrates at its core is how game-shows and pop-music belong together with presidential politics and military strategy when facing the nearly unfathomable catastrophes of climate change. But then it goes one step further. I can’t say for sure but I feel like not enough people have picked up on the message of “Head bent over! Raised up posterior!” Bowing one’s head in the face of a power scarcely imaginable is not a sign of weakness. Knowing when to display deference can be a path towards resolution. But its important that whatever the outcome we keep a stiff posture that exudes a feeling of confidence (especially to the young) suggesting that when we hear the command “SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT” we can answer.