Top 10 Nihilist Cartoon Characters of All Time
- by Subversify Staff
- Posted on 5 February, 2020
If human beings have accepted that “Life is meaningless, without purpose or value,” then it’s reasonable to believe that in “Toontown” the same antisocial conclusion has prevailed.
“Nothing really matters and morals are a social construct.”
Given the prevalence of cynicism among cartoon characters, some of whom embrace the label of “stinker”, or “loony” (or in the words of Roger Rabbit, “A laugh can be a very powerful thing…Sometimes in life it’s the only weapon we have!”) it’s easy to believe that some cartoon characters have given up all hope and embraced the nihilist philosophy.
While some modern cartoons might proudly wear the label “nihilistic” as a rejection of religious or political dogmas, you might be surprised at how many old school cartoons made our list of the Top 10 Nihilist Cartoons of All Time for embodying the same “dark triad” principles – if not outright singing about it, just like a toon. (Er…is that considered an offensive slur?)
Definition of Nihilist
“a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless…”
10. Bender – Mechanical Misanthropist
While Sideshow Bob started the funny sociopath trend, Bender (also from the greater Simpsons universe) was the first character to intentionally rebel against all human morality – seeing us as an inferior species, unworthy of robotic respect.
Few can argue that Bender’s fondness of thieving, robosexual sex, and constantly betraying his friends does earn him a Top 10 spot. While it could be argued that Bender has shown signs of having a conscience, or at least some sympathy for “lesser creatures”, let’s not forget that the only reason Bender ever helps a brother out is if it benefits “Me, Bender!” in some way.
Bender Nihilist Quote:
“My life, and by extension everyone else’s, is meaningless. Anything less than immortality is a complete waste of time. I’m so embarrassed. I wish everybody else was dead.”
The Worst Things Bender Has Ever Done:
- Stole from poor people
- Enslaved a planet of humans and tortured them
- Opened his own casino with black and hookers
9. Count Duckula
Count Duckula may seem tame compared to other antihero ducks such as the capitalist Scrooge, the shell-shocked Donald, or the bitter-as-sin Magicara de Spell. But what’s truly remarkable about Duckula was his cerebral rebellion.
Not only was he a vegetarian vampire, but he resented all the traditions of “Darkness”, “Gloom” and well, everything “Goth” that a vampire should be drawn to. Duckula also established a reputation for being selfish, egotistical and frankly everything a hero is not supposed to be.
Flirtations with being a good guy or bad guy were brief. His efforts to be humanitarian failed, leaving him frustrated with the mentality of the people he saved. His battles with Danger Mouse displayed Duckula’s capacity to blackmail and bully others for selfish purposes. After abandoning evil, he settled on a rather conspicuous ambition as far as morals go – being famous and working in show business.
Perhaps the only sense of value nihilists get out of life is the thrill of their fifteen minutes of fame. Duckula had it…once. We can only imagine how low he’s sunk in moral culpability ever since Vegetarian Non-Goth Vampires went out of style.
Duckula Nihilist Quote:
“You know something, Nanny? This cereal tastes more like cardboard every morning.”
“I haven’t paid the electricity bill from the last time you brought me back to life.”
“Nanny I don’t like this game anymore! I wanna go home and play with my teddy bear.”
The Worst Things Duckula Has Ever Done:
- Been a total d-bag to his staff
- Blackmailed his way into show business
- Preached his vegetarianism without being asked
8. Ren & Stimpy – Multi-Dimensional Trolls
Perhaps what made Ren and Stimpy so nihilistic and indeed, so dangerous to conservative audiences in 1991, was how they toyed with the pliable minds of children, teens, and young adults. Youth is a time when morals and ethics are being taught, a time of confusion and experimentation.
Ren and Stimpy questioned good taste (practically inventing poop humor for the modern age), disrespected authority figures, and committed acts of violence – but admittedly to people or things that deserved it.
While Ren has shown occasional moments of sympathy (such as kindness to Egg Yokio), and Stimpy does frequently try to bring the psychotic Ren back into reality, the duo’s enabling tendencies towards each other are legendary. Their antics got them banned from TV, even before Beavis and Butt-Head were a thing.
Beavis and Butthead also lack self-awareness in their stupid, hormone-driven antics, whereas Ren and Stimpy, we had to believe, simply rejected society’s mores because most people were “eeeediots.”
Ren and Stimpy Nihilist Quote:
“I… I was nice today. Nice to those insipid little monkeys, answering their stupid letters. My hands… DIRTY! THE DIRT WON’T COME OFF! President…What a joke. President…President of what? His fan club! How they love him! Look at him, lying there asleep. The idol of millions. He’s a fool! Blind, silly little fool. How easily I could end the farce… with these hands! These DIRTY hands!”
The Worst Things Ren and Stimpy Have Ever Done:
- Ren tried to kill Stimpy for being more popular than him
- Ren beat the shit of George Liquor with an oar
- Ren impregnated Stimpy
7. Rick Sanchez – Regretful Nihilist
Much has already been written about Rick Sanchez’ amoral sensibilities and total lack of conscience, particularly in the way he treats Morty, Jerry, and well, basically anyone he meets – and presumably burps on.
What’s surprising about Rick, however, when you pay closer attention to a second viewing of Rick and Morty, is how he shows regret from many of his mistakes. He drowns his sorrow in alcohol, assuming the world is screwed (because of what’s already happened) – so there’s no sense in trying anymore.
But at least for now, there’s liquor, mermaid puss, and pickle bodies!
Rick’s behavior is so conspicuously post-moral, some of us have to believe the conspiracy theory that Rick Sanchez is ultimately tormenting a pre-teenage version of himself – and hence isn’t quite as nihilistic as everyone thinks.
Still, forcing your young and innocent relative to shove giant seeds up his ass earns you a #7 spot.
Rick Sanchez Nihilist Quote:
“Take it easy. This is a blessing in disguise. Fuck Earth. You realize our planet’s name means “dirt”, right? We’ll find a new world. Computer, how many planets in the Milky Way are at least 90 percent similar to Earth?”
The Worst Things Rick Sanchez Has Ever Done:
- Committed mass genocide against a variety of aliens
- Abandoned his family, who were like the only people who ever loved him or something
- Let Morty have a sex with a sentient alien/robot toy that eventually birthed his mutant child
6. Lucy van Pelt – Intellectual Bully
Lucy van Pelt’s unrepentant bullying preceded and possibly exceeded the worst behavior from Dolph, Kearney, Jimbo and Nelson Muntz. What’s particularly interesting about Lucy though, is how she intellectualizes her abusive behavior as accomplishing a greater good.
She takes special delight in tormenting Charlie Brown, with all the subtlety of Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket. First, she observing Chuck’s passive resistance to society’s mores, criticizes his naivete and follows up with a whack to the face.
Then, when offering the outcast Chuck a chance to join society and embrace conformity – she suddenly pulls the football away at the last minute, giving the poor bald kid yet another painful and amoral lesson in life.
There is no rational explanation on why Lucy is such a brainy and unapologetic villain – except that she was always Charles Schultz’s vision of pint-sized nihilism – perhaps he even saw her as a symbol of the “communists” that the World War II generation feared so much.
Lucy van Pelt Nihilist Quote:
“It’s your own fault! You’re just too wishy-washy! People who talk too much deserve to be insulted! They deserve to have other people walk away from them! Talking too much is an unforgivable social sin – absolutely unforgivable! The only way to deal with people who talk too much is to let them know just how boring they really are.”
The Worst Things Lucy van Pelt Has Ever Done:
- Repeatedly beat the shit out of Charlie Brown for mostly illogical reasons
- Verbally abused her “psychiatric patients”
- Pulled away the blasted football time and time again all the while berating poor Chuck and mocking his stubborn optimism in humankind
5. Eric Cartman – Lawful Psychopath
By now we all know what Eric Cartman has done, whether it’s constantly insulting women and minorities, or straight-up murdering kids who wrong him. His creators admitted they were using the Archie Bunker archetype – an immovable, amoral force of nature that teaches society the importance of not failing at life.
But what’s amazing about Cartman is how he usually never breaks the law directly – but usurps a seemingly innocent legal cause for a more sinister agenda. There’s something very Stalin-esque about how Cartman uses people, falsely gives people hope, achieves his aims, and then destroys the object of his hatred for personal vengeance.
That Cartman actually finds ways to legally torment do-gooders until he slowly incinerates their values, essentially rotting them from the inside out, is a testament to his Machiavellian brain. He is “chaotic lawful”, in his D&D alignment, making him a particularly menacing villain.
The only reason this Omen-like prepubescent nihilist isn’t ranked higher on our list is because he’s a fake kid in an adults-only show. Unlike, surprisingly, some of our final four who were far more subversive in a blink-and-you-missed-it kind of way.
Eric Cartman Nihilist Quote:
“Love is like taking a dump, Butters.”
The Worst Things Eric Cartman Has Ever Done:
- Killed Scott Tenorman’s parents and put them in chili
- Faked a disability to win at the Special Olympics, faked Tourettes Syndrome just for the swear words
- Insulted Kyle’s mom
4. Woody Woodpecker – Funny Sadist
Woody Woodpecker may well have been the original Cartman, a psychopathic bird that took special delight in tormenting his neighbors for no particular reason. At least Eric Cartman has a better excuse – he was petty.
Woody originally debuted in 1940 and had a thing for mentally torturing pandas. In fact, the damn thing was so stalker-ish in his funny sadism, the first cartoon ended with Woody being sent away to a psychiatric hospital.
He continued on his reign of terror, outdoing Bugs Bunny and even the Big Bad Wolf of Tex Avery fame, by going on the offensive against people he disliked, more or less because of what species they were – and posthumous apologies to poor Wally Walrus for that.
By 1946, Woody’s act was severely toned down to be more “Disney” style in design and comedy stylings. Woody’s madcap behavior however inspired a host of other mischievous cartoons, including much later the Animaniacs, the Warner Brothers and Sister.
The Warner Brothers (and Sister), copied Woody’s aggressive world-traveling trolling, to a much greater extent than even Bugs Bunny, since Bugs’ hunting rivals were asking for it. But Woody and his students of “oppressive comedy” conquered lands, conquered enemies, time-traveled, world-hopped, and harassed everyone they met as a preemptive strike.
One difference. Whereas the Warners (and Sister) clearly had a conscience, Woody Woodpecker never actually seemed apologetic for any of his wild trolling days. In fact, the only reason he cleaned up his act was to make more money. After all, what else matters in life but he who has the last Heh-Heh-Heh-HEHHH-Heh?
Woody Woodpecker Nihilist Quote:
“Everybody thinks I’m crazy. / Yesiree, that’s me, that’s me. / That’s what I’m cracked up to be. / I chop a hole in every tree. / Knock on wood. / Well, knock on wood. / So, I’m crazy, so what? / What can I do? / So are you!”
The Worst Things Woody Woodpecker Has Ever Done:
- Assaulted his barbershop customer with a razor
- Pecked the shit of his randomly chosen enemies with that rapid-fire beak
- Mangled his nemesis with a hammer, golf club, steam roller, explosives, etc.
3. Garfield – Self-Worshiping Hedonist
Garfield is perhaps the most subversive of all nihilistic cartoon characters because it’s not obvious at first glance how dangerous he is, as a supposedly sympathetic protagonist – who is actually purrrrr evil and unrepentant hedonism wrapped in a furry, lovable feline body.
Garfield embodies the worst characteristic of cats: selfish, hedonistic, and narcissistic, at least when it comes to observing the suffering of others. His only redemption is that he’s a fascist dictator trapped in a fat lasagne-swigging kitty body, and that he also enjoys being pampered, waited on, and snuggled by the viewer.
In fact, Garfield seems amused when his friends suffer. He bullies his owner Jon, plots to hurt Odie and Nermal, constantly insults his girlfriend, and generally hates all of humanity. He would spare an innocent person from pain, only to the extent that they could do something for him – bring him candy, feed him lasagne, or protect him from another Monday.
Garfield’s orange nemesis Heathcliff may have been comparable in terms of moral ambiguity since Heathcliff also loved to fight and inflict pain on others. But whereas Heathcliff was a tough survivalist and a military general defending his turf, Garfield was an intellectual nihilist and a supervillain in terms of compromised morals and ethics.
Garfield even admitted his deviant genes, in the graphic novel Garfield’s Nine Lives, when he remembered previous lives as a pillaging cat viking and a primal demon-cat that literally butchered his owner to shreds.
That Garfield was also a cute and powerless cat, while being the most irredeemable character in modern “family” fiction was the greatest literary trick Bastet ever pulled off – and it was a credit to Jim Davis’ subversive mind.
Garfield Nihilist Quote:
“Odie, let’s talk effort versus return here. You know, you can still lead a pointless life without all that running around. All I do is eat and sleep. Eat and sleep. Eat and sleep. There must be more to a cat’s life than that. But I hope not.”
The Worst Things Garfield Has Ever Done:
- Ruined Jon’s eggs by sitting on them and then stuffing them into his owner’s mouth
- Tried to mail Nermal across the world and hopefully kill him in the process
- Tortures the mailman without consent
2. Peter Griffin – Monster Dad
We could do the safe thing and give Stewie Griffin some more attention for his self-admittedly evil existence – his tendency to murder and torture and disregard the lives of people he doesn’t care about.
But what’s surprising is the fact that few people have recognized how inherently evil Peter Griffin is – and how his willful lack of a conscious or any sense of moral responsibility – directly trains his children to be funny criminals just like him.
Peter Griffin apologists may cite the man’s mental handicap as an excuse for his brazenly callous behavior, but if we’re judging from his cutaway flashback gags as evidence, Griffin has never displayed any true remorse for defying every unspoken rule in human civility.
What makes him a nihilist is not the fact that he’s violent and abusive by accident, since the lovable oaf Homer Simpson has committed the same sins in that regard. Rather, it’s the strategizing that Peter does to violate every moral code and make sure that his children relearn the same “nothing matters so you might as well destroy society” mentality.
He’s a reverse Roger Rabbit – a rascal who you love to hate and one bound only by a loony (insane) system of conscience: he will only break moral and ethical codes, not to mention the laws of gravity and time-travel, but only if it’s funny.
Whether by accident, or for a gag, or even out of curiosity, Peter endorses terrorist violence, cheats on his wife, hides dead bodies, verbally and emotionally abuses his children, enables his best friend’s rapist behavior, and then lectures people about their lack of morals – which is not so much a delusion, as it is a prerogative, an air of entitlement. He believes he can do anything – because nothing matters in a cartoon.
Peter is a satire of white privilege and that’s what makes him such a subversive and nihilist champion.
Peter Griffin Nihilist Quote:
“I guess we’ve learned that no matter who you are or where you come from, life is a terrible thing.”
The Worst Things Peter Griffin Has Ever Done:
- Murders a number of throwaway characters for laughs
- Apparently possesses child porn
- Commits treason via Petoria
1. Mad Madam Mim – Literally, a Sexy Terrorist
The truth is, most “evil” cartoon characters are easy to pathologize. Some are unflinching corporatists, from the highly successful Monty Burns to the unsuccessful but still similarly inclined Plankton. Some have delusions of grandeur, such as Skeletor or Megatron, or Jafar and Scar on the Disney side of things.
Some go to the depths of hell and moral ambiguity to save their family and maintain their high social status, in the case of Angelica from Rugrats, Peggy Hill from King of the Hill, or even Earl of Lemongrab from Adventure Time, who considers the whole world his family, whom he has full authority to punish by sentencing them to ten years in the dungeon.
Some characters operate in a spirit of vengeance and lash out at perceived threats because of their paranoia, in the cases of Judge Frollo, Maleficent, Judge Doom, Lady Tremaine, or Demona from Gargoyles.
Some villains are also quite possibly misunderstood, in the cases of Gaston, a typical chauvinist hunter but to his credit, one against bestiality, or Ursula who is practically a used car dealer who hasn’t heard of lemon laws. Even those antiheroes who occasionally flirt with antisocial personality disorder, such as Princess Bean and her clearly imaginary amoral friends (Disenchanted) or the Daria and Janes of the world, clearly avoid going full dark side. They avoid the road to perdition because of their friends, their families, a basic love of one’s fellow humans – at least the ones that are nice.
Then there’s Mad Madam Mim.
Mad Madam Mim was, from any vantage point, a domestic terrorist, a shapeshifting murderer with an absurdist view of life, one that could only be rivaled by comic book villains, such as the Joker.
But whereas we assume Joker had a tragic origin story, Mad Madam Mim delights in her villainy, singing songs about how much she hates the world. There is true happiness and optimism in the way she spreads evil and pestilence, as if to remind the Merlins and Warts of the world that all values are baseless and that the only thing “true” in this world of knowledge is that you must flee from the monster that is trying to devour you.
Mim’s delirious pessimism and radical skepticism never come across as delusional or angry – merely mischievous and indifferent to the existence of others. Other people are her toys, her play things to terrorize. She has no real loyalty, nor does she believe in any philosophy or purpose.
Her only real motivation is an impulse to destroy society, using her magic to morph into different carnivorous animals so that she can literally settle an argument with some trespassers.
Mad Madam Mim spends the entirety in Sword in the Stone seducing a little virgin boy and then trying to viciously devour him. At the end of the sequence, thoroughly defeated by the better magic practicer, she rebels at the thought of Merlin nursing her back to health with “horrible wholesome sunshine.”
What an insult, she thinks. She only has contempt for the same society that tolerates her and actually wants to help treat her wounds.
She lures you in with a sweet siren’s song, giving you a glimpse of your dream come true, right before she kills you. Mad Madam Mim is the most nihilistic villain in cartoon history, not because she doesn’t care, but because she cares so much about your suffering – and whether it was truly the nightmare you deserve.
Mad Madam Mim Nihilist Quote:
“Sounds like someone’s sick. How lovely. I do hope it’s serious. Something dreadful.”
“I hate sunshine! I hate horrible, wholesome sunshine! I hate it! I hate it! I hate, hate, hate, HAAATE…!”
The Worst Things Mad Madam Mim Has Ever Done:
- Tried to Merlin
- Cheated in a magic duel…including breaking her own rules of no purple dragons
- Apparently Invents rules just to break them
- Pretty sure she showed way too much cleavage to an innocent kid, whom she then tried to eat
That’s it! Feel a little more righteous yet after contemplating the depths of cartoon villainy? Maybe you’ll hug your likable heroes a little harder tonight, now that you’ve seen the worst of the worst!
If human beings have accepted that “Life is meaningless, without purpose or value,” then it’s reasonable to believe that in “Toontown” the same antisocial conclusion has prevailed. “Nothing really matters and morals are a social construct.” Given the prevalence of cynicism among cartoon characters, some of whom embrace the label of “stinker”, or “loony” (or…