Of Bojack Horseman, Growth, and the Importance of Contextualisation

With the finale of Netflix’s highly anticipated TV series Bojack Horseman looming over us, now would be the perfect time to reflect on the abundant moral situations that has transpired within the show. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the story follows the titular protagonist himself, Bojack Horseman, in a fictitious yet parallel Hollywood setting. It is a popular series that ventures into a realistic, multi-faceted depiction of fame in a modern society with a witty usage of dark humour. After running since late August 2014, it will sadly close its curtain soon.

Cynicism, pessimism and dark humour

Source: Trinikid

Bojack is prone to ruination, to himself and especially others.

One of the very first things that is noticeable about Bojack is his extremely cynical nature. This is where the dark humour comes into play. He is an expert in utilising levity as a method of deflection—or rather a coping mechanism, in his case, to keep imminent disasters at bay. In doing so, he creates an efficient barrier between himself and the depravities of life. 

Bojack has been clinging to his perpetual self-victimising cycle: he slips up, realises his mistakes, but relents at the prospect of change which appears to him as insurmountable. He recognises that he stands to benefit from a system that is opposed to accountability, yet he knowingly exploits it. His pessimism has costed nearly every person that has formed a close relationship with him to be hurt by staying within his proximity for too long. Bojack is prone to ruination, to himself and especially to others. However, a dramatic shift occurs when a dear friend, Sarah-Lynn, dies under his watch. It rekindles his desperate desire to do right by those around him. 

Bojack’s nonlinear growth

Source: Time

Here he proposes a complexity as he’s not born a righteous asshole.

The question thus presents itself: Can Bojack truly trek the path of growth? 

I believe so, yes. 

In the course of six seasons, we have seen him make mistakes, achieve his life-long dreams, built (and destroyed) relationships, made even more grievous mistakes, confronted his demons and lately underwent therapy and rehab. Amongst these changes, he consistently embodies a trait is pertinent to growth: guilt and instinctive self-reflection.

What makes Bojack’s progress so engrossing lies within the way he exaggeratedly personifies a mixture of darkness that resides within most of us—the repression of feelings, the apprehension of emotional vulnerability, the depressive episodes, the refusal of help to maintain pride… Bojack has all of that pat down.

Here he proposes a complexity as he’s not born a righteous asshole. He’s faced many challenges to get to where he is now. I believe many of us can identify with his problems, or more generally with the act of struggling itself, of which Bojack shows plenty. We each have different factors that enable us to act upon our vices, and for Bojack it is his abusive past. Of course, he later realises how unhealthy such an outlook is. 

Bojack is not a sociopath, only extremely troubled. His arrogant approach to life as a result inhibits any opportunity to properly heal and move on. What he needs this whole time is a healthy outlet to confront and process his trauma; and not distractions or delaying the inevitable.

Cancel culture meets context

Source: Sofea Qistina (from Netflix)

It should be clear that my empathy is not to be mistaken for advocacy; Bojack is after all a terrible horse-being, I am not here to deny that. This article only aims to highlight the undeniable: his determination to rectify the error of his ways.

If the concept of cancel culture is applied here, then Bojack would be “cancelled” beyond a reasonable doubt. Oftentimes, cancel culture discourse fumbles with the nuances of accountability and warranted criticism. There is more to the picture than to unambiguously label somebody as ‘problematic’ and calling it a day. Yes, the rage is often certainly justified. Yes, some crimes are too severe to be excused. This is why context matters. We should ask ourselves: What is the extent of the crime? Have they made amends to those that they have hurt? Has this person learned from their mistakes? What are they doing to rectify their behaviours?  

You are free to denounce people as you see fit. What I am suggesting is not forgiveness; that decision should belong to the victim alone, and not us mere bystanders.

Luckily this is a fictional universe that is made up of fictional characters, so discerning that nuance becomes much easier. We know Bojack inside out by now, so there is not much room left to doubt the sincerity of his actions. Voluntarily putting himself through therapy and rehab is amongst the many other indicatives of his development. Though, one might argue that he is able to improve the way he does because he has yet to confront his worst mistakes. Hence the anticipation for the coming resolution; how he chooses to face the music will either eliminate or prove the uncertainties of many.

So, be sure to tune in this coming January to see the spectacular end of Bojack.

P.S. Horseman.

Written by Sofea Qistina

Cover photo credits: The Verge

Sometimes I'll start a sentence and I don't even know where it's going.

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