This week it was reported that Justin Roiland, the co-creator and star of the smash-hit animated sitcom Rick and Morty, is facing two felony domestic charges in Orange County related to an incident in January 2020. According to court records, Roiland is charged with “domestic battery with corporal injury” and one count of “false imprisonment by menace, violence, fraud, and/or deceit.” Some documents related to the incident are sealed, meaning the full details of his case aren’t publicly available — but if convicted, Roiland could face several years in prison.
Shortly following this news, several women online accused Roiland of online harassment. And not just harassment, but bona fide creep behavior.
In one message, Roiland asks a sixteen-year-old girl, “Why are you such jailbait? What’s wrong with you in that regard? You should grow older you dumb biiiitch.” As the conversation continues, Roiland nicknames the girl “jailbait,” expressing a desire to meet up with her. Though not all of the messages that have gone viral constitute “grooming,” they are firmly at the intersection of “vile” and “pathetic.” If you’re familiar with the series To Catch A Predator, they might feel familiar to you: the cringe-inducing attempts of an adult fumbling as he tries to sexually exploit a minor.
A person who goes by the name of “Arlo” on Twitter posted screenshots of a WhatsApp conversation where Roiland responds to an admission of sexual trauma with, “Not gonna lie… I have kinks around what you said, but I am also so SO focused on my partner’s pleasure. Often above my own.” Arlo’s age at the time of their conversation isn’t clear from their social media presence alone, so we can’t be sure that this is another case of Roiland being inappropriate toward a minor. And while what they posted isn’t so much a “sustained manipulation” — again, a hallmark of grooming — it’s still an offensive, flaccid and wholly inappropriate attempt at seduction.
Yet there’s been surprisingly little discourse arising from the controversies. Plenty of entertainment outlets have reported on it; there has been some Twitter chatter (“I always knew he had weird vibes,” “All men are pedophiles,” etc.) and assorted TikToks and YouTube recaps, but otherwise, not much.
Spelunking deeper into the online world, I didn’t see many impassioned Rick and Morty fans leaping to his defense. There were no sprawling Substack essays about imperfect victims and abuses of power. Few “hot takes” from alt-media micro-celebrities. There was some drama, it seems, on /r/h3h3productions, YouTuber Ethan Klein’s subreddit — a big thread titled “to all the people on this subreddit who victim blamed me for coming out about my rape by justin roiland, i am so thankful to the other victims i have connected with, thankful especially to the victim that helped bring this case to light.” There are several smaller threads surfacing supposed “evidence” of Roiland’s ephebophilia, like this one. But even these conversations aren’t active, at least as these things typically go. Lots of people posting “Yikes,” but not many walls of texts defending or debasing him.
Not only that: tellingly, the discussion has been confined to one relatively niche online community. It’s not that nobody cares that Roiland might be sexually pursuing teenagers— people care — it just hasn’t been a media spectacle. By the time this article is published, we may have forgotten anything that happened at all. Justin who?
But why the muted response? Do people love Rick and Morty too much? Is it because Roiland is “too big to cancel?” It seems unlikely: most people didn’t even know his name a week ago. The Rick and Morty fandom hasn’t been particularly rabid in their defense of him either, so the relative silence doesn’t feel like the work of a powerful swarm of superfans defending the castle.
The prevailing attitude around the whole thing seems to be: yeah, yeah, the guy who created Rick and Morty, arguably the most obnoxious television series of all time, with arguably one of the least likable fandoms, is a creep — keep it moving.
The people who care about Roiland are “cancellation hobbyists,” intimately involved with the controversy, and reporters. It doesn’t feel right to say cancellations have run their course, though, or at least that doesn’t feel like the right scope. This exhaustion has permeated beyond the boundaries of cancellations. I’ve started to see it everywhere. After what feels like seven full years of “hot-take inflation,” I sense we’re hurtling toward a discourse recession. Even depression. We’ve burned almost every witch we can burn — can we change the channel yet?
A “take depression” doesn’t mean that people will no longer be publicly humiliated or that we won’t delight in the occasional national controversy. These are time-honored pastimes; people are bound to mess up big, legally, or just by way of humiliation. But I suspect that the mob is tired. Not hibernating per se, just recalibrating.
I foresee the return of a Nineties kind of outrage: we’ll still have our violent video games and Monica Lewinskys, but we’ve milked the cancellation cow dry. At least for now.