Media Parodies Media: The Bojack Horseman Story

Bojack Horseman is a Netflix Original that premiered in 2014. It’s a dark humor animation with anthropomorphic animal people navigating the shallow world of Hollywood. Somehow, I didn’t get around to this show for four years. Then I binged four seasons in an embarrassingly short time.

I was surprised by how emotionally invested I became with Bojack‘s cast of characters. Real human drama and timeless themes exist within the animated packaging featuring a talking horse.

At first, Bojack Horseman is a very nihilistic look at a ex-sitcom star’s messed up life. Booze, drugs, one night stands, many questionable decisions… it’s a fun ride to watch Bojack spiral out of control. But from the beginning the writers subtly tug at your heartstrings by fleshing out his character as well as those of the ones around him.

Bojack acts out and gets himself into trouble because, plain and simple, he’s not happy. There are the glimpses into his truly awful childhood and parents who never really wanted him, all of which ended up with Bojack becoming a washed up ex-sitcom star.

Portrayal of Media and Hollywoo(-d)

What the show does especially well is parodying the media and entertainment industries. From “A Ryan Seacrest Type”– a vapid Hollywood reporter who comments on whatever inane news has surfaced, to media-fueled squabbles over apple muffins and the insane things stars do for attention.

Amid the laughs are some really poignant digs at Hollywood in general (re-named Hollywoo after Bojack stole the D in a booze-addled stupor).

In the episode where Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd come up with the Oscar nominees, reading the whiteboard behind them was insightful and relevant. Last year’s #OscarsSoWhite scandal was put in sharp relief as they had written down “black people” and then crossed it out.

If you notice, the board also includes only female names in “Best Director” — a stark contrast to the reality. In 2018, Greta Gerwig became only the fifth female director to even be nominated for the Best Director Oscar for Lady Bird. So far the only female director to win has been Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker.

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Bojack also parodies what happens to some child stars. With Sarah Lynn, you see the stark contrast between the innocent girl on the 90’s sitcom to the coked out mess she becomes later in life.

The Human Element

Part of the reason we care so much about these characters is because of their very real struggles:

Princess Carolyn — Cutthroat in the world of being an agent/manager, but almost always at the brink of failure. She also feels unfulfilled and wishes for a family, but is possibly past the point of no return.

Todd — discovering his sexuality. I think so far this is the only time I’ve seen a character in a show discover they are “Ace.”

Diane — Just…everything about Diane. Her issues with her family and her career struggles make her a relateable, anxiety-ridden character.

Season Five

Bojack Season 5 premiered recently. There were a couple of episodes that really stood out, like the one that centered around Diane’s exploration of her ancestral routes (for a Buzzfeed-like story she was writing) and an episode that centers around Bojack giving a speech at a funeral that doesn’t cut away and is simultaneously hilarious, dark and uncomfortable.

Season 5 wasn’t my favorite, but it still represents part of a quality piece of entertainment. If you haven’t tried this series yet, it’s about time.

RE: Hollywood Scandals. Should we separate artist from art?

The floodgates have opened to scandals about sexual abuse from high level people in Hollywood.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the numbers, right? The “Casting Couch” is a dirty joke for a reason. This ousting of abusive, harassing jerks has been long awaited.

But now with this news comes the moral dilemma — can we continue to consume content knowing someone who made the film is a creep? Series have been cancelled, movies have halted production, and companies no longer want to work with those who’ve been named, but what happens when the choice is left to us?

I’ve written before on a moral dilemma surrounding the creation of a film and the final product.

I’ve also had this internal crisis with an author I once admired — Orson Scott Card. I had already read and enjoyed several of the Ender’s Game books before I found out how much a bigot the author was. It was hard to fathom how he could promote empathy and understanding in his writing, but not in real life.

Prime examples of abuse fill the shadowy corners of Hollywood classics.

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Shelley Duvall was forced to do 127 takes during that baseball bat scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Several documentaries, including one by Kubrick’s own daughter, showed Duvall intentionally bullied. Kubrick told crew members not to sympathize with her, and she skirted illness constantly due to the stress.

Duvall did not have many acting credits after her 13 month stint on The Shining, and is reportedly not in good mental health these days.

Tippi Hedren dealt with Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession and sexual abuse on The Birds and Marnie. She said he would suddenly grab her, put his hands on her and become “petulant” whenever she talked to another man. He even jumped on top of her and tried to kiss her in a limo. He tortured Hedren on set with live birds when he was supposed to use fake ones. She described the scene as brutal and relentless.

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Hitchcock threatened to ruin Hedren’s career when she wouldn’t cave to his advances.

In an interview with Variety in 2016, she explained why she opened up about the abuse in her memoir:

I wanted to let women, especially young women, know never to allow that kind of approach and to be forceful in telling people you’re not interested in having that kind of a relationship. It’s not a bad thing to say no.

Full article here

This abuse doesn’t live solely in the past. Finally, women and men are taking on their abusers in order to create change in a problematic industry.

Then there’s us. The consumers. Articles like the one below are popping up everywhere, everyone wondering: What should we do now?

 

It’s all down to personal choice at this point. If Netflix didn’t cancel House of Cards, could you still watch it? Will movies from the Weinstein Company leave a bad taste in your conscience?

What to do

Yes, it’s problematic when things we like are made by people we don’t agree with on a fundamental level. There are several things we can do, though.

  1. Talk about it.

    Don’t internalize this struggle. We have numerous forms of social media in which to share an opinion. Tag the production company. You’d be surprised who is paying attention. Also, consider writing an opinion piece for your local newspaper on the subject. Local newspapers enjoy getting public input and people will be interested in reading those words, and maybe someone can be swayed.

  2. Don’t consume the art.*

    This one can be more difficult if you are already a fan of the work. Your spending power says something. If enough people don’t pay for a movie, the box office will reflect it and production companies will take note. They will not want to work with an actor or director that the public is no longer willing to support. They like predictable cash flow.

    * a necessary side note: for the love of all that is art, do not pirate a film. If you want to see it, you pay to see it. It’s as simple as that. Use Redbox instead of going to the theater, or watch it at a friends house. I don’t care. Just don’t pirate. Thousands of people’s livelihoods depend on box office receipts, mostly people who make significantly less money than the person you have an issue with. Don’t steal their work.

  3. Consume art by artists you DO believe in.

    Use your purchasing power to support indie films, films by women and LGBT filmmakers or other poorly represented minorities. Kickstart someone’s passion project. Get voices out into the light who need to be heard. Your $10 here will make a bigger difference than your $10 on a blockbuster summer tentpole.

Your opinion matters. Keep the discussion going. It’s the best way to turn things around so future generations don’t have these stories anymore.

Sources

Tippi Hedren on Why She Went Public About Being Sexually Abused

Tippi Hedren says Hitchcock sexually assaulted her – USA Today

Orson Scott Card: Mentor, Friend, Bigot

An Ethical Guide To Consuming Content Created By Awful People Like Orson Scott Card

He’s a Creep, but Wow, What an Artist!

The Real Horror of ‘The Shining’: The Story of Shelley Duvall