BoJack Horseman, #MeToo, and the Monsters We Love
There is a human cost to all the revelations unveiled during the height of #MeToo. This is something BoJack Horseman recognized early on and excelled at.
This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s BoJack Horseman, mentions of sexual assault, and physical violence.
Back in 2014, the pilot for BoJack Horseman aired. The initial season of the show was met with lukewarm reception and for good reason. An animated show directed at adults would have some large shoes to fill, considering that it was succeeding legendary shows like Futurama and The Simpsons (particularly in its prime). But slowly, but surely, the show came into its own during the back half of its first season and then became the juggernaut we now know it to be in the seasons after. Which was thrilling because of how the show masterfully handled topics like racism, sexism, addiction, trauma, depression, and the like, while deftly weaving in timely pop culture references to tie it all together.
Of course, like all shows that run parallel to pop culture, BH soon found itself at the center of a culture shift during the re-emergence of #MeToo in 2017. But the interesting thing is that BH was already primed and ready for this conversation. Because in a world where certain media like to pretend that widespread sexual assault in a multitude of professions (but especially Hollywood) was not a thing until #MeToo gained renewed attention in 2017, BH has always been plugged in and ahead of its time.
And it all started with the curious case of Hank Hippopopalous.
Looking back, it seems like it was years ago, but we, the audience, were actually introduced to the nefarious Hank Hippopopalous during season two—which first came out in 2015. If you were paying attention, it becomes clear right away that Hippopopalous is a not-so-subtle stand-in for and an amalgamation of both Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. We are introduced to Hippopopalous through the eternally optimistic Mr. Peanutbutter (back in 1994, at the Animal Choice Awards) and informed that he is one of his heroes—which is backed up by his show the kid-friendly Hank Hippopopalous’s Dance-Pop Cosmopolis and his nonsensical rap album Hank Hippopopalous Hip-Hop Hypothesis. Of course, these projects were enough to cement him into the hearts and minds of children during this time, but then his relevance in BH’s universe is cemented by his awarding-winning talk show Hank After Dark. We, the audience, are being primed to believe that he is the good guy. But that facade quickly starts to fade when Hank sinisterly whispers to a drunken BoJack (after losing out on an award) that he’s funny, but he “can’t beat Uncle Hanky”.
As we get deeper into this season, we are soon introduced to the real face of “Uncle Hanky” and clued-in to the reach of his sinister power, when Diane casually mentions (a la Hannibal Burress) during a Q & A that Hank has allegedly assaulted a bunch of his former assistants and that this information is easily accessible. Of course, that latter part doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things because the re-emergence of such claims is pinned on Diane and she experiences some of the same things I imagine survivors of sexual assault from powerful men experienced. Death threats. And accusations of wanting money and clout. And though Diane pursues this story with the kind of righteous fury and integrity that we are used to from her, the story is eventually squashed by Manatee Fair (who, you guessed it, is owned by MBN—the same network that Hank show is on) and by Hank himself—who confronts her in person to tell her that “everyone knows who [he] is”.
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As someone who was barely a zygote at the height of Cosby’s popularity and an adult by the time that the chickens came to roost for him, hearing Hippopopalous’s threatening warnings of being America’s “Uncle” who everyone knows eerily reminded me of Cosby’s former position as America’s “Dad”, how this position gained him the love and favor and passionate defense of Black America in particular (which considering his “Pound Cake” speech, is still interesting now), and how that position alone made the sexual assault allegations leveled against him bounce off like he was made of fucking Teflon for over three decades. Not only this, but Hippopopalous also reminds Diane and us—the audience—of this power in his pivotal confrontation of her. And how he can use it to not only crush the story but silence her forever. It very much reminded me of Weinstein in that vein and his arrogant and ominous “It’s good that I’m the fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town” quote that he is famous for uttering when it was clear that his career was about to be rightfully taken down for his disgusting crimes. Because even in the face of justice, men like both Cosby and Weinstein (even now) were able to stare back at it and say “I am in control” (and who, frankly, still think that they are in control) with a smirk—because of the power granted to them by the outside world by virtue of being men.
Mind you, the Hippopopalous storyline took place in 2015, definitely before the re-emergence of #MeToo, but soon enough BH is charged with incorporating the shift that created #MeToo after the fact and this is confronted during season five (2019) both through Henry Fondle the Sex Robot and Philbert star Gina Cazador.
Fondle, in true BH fashion, is handled in the most satirical fashion. He is created by everybody’s favorite mooching-bum, Todd Chavez. And because of Chavez’s strange White Man Luck, Fondle is constantly promoted by WhatTimeIsItRightNow.com untile he becomes CEO. Remember, Fondle is a literal sex robot and as a result, he tends to say the most sexually-suggestive shit at the most inopportune of times…and still manages to climb the corporate latter. It is not until these suggestive comments are directed at and overhead by women working for the company that this behavior in confronted both internally by the company and externally by entertainment news outlets. The lesson is two-fold here: not only was it easier for a crass sex robot to rise through the corporate ladder than a living breathing woman, but it is extremely telling that not a single (cishet) man that encountered Mr. Fondle prior to his ousting thought to confront him for his sexual lewdness until a woman had to reluctantly do it. It speaks to the haphazard burden that rests on women (and other marginalized people) to “do the right thing” despite having less power and despite having to make our living in these hostile work environments.
BH then dials the injustice of this burden to eleven with the incorporation of Gina Cazador (Stephanie Beatriz) that same season.
We, the audience are introduced to Gina first as Bojack’s Philbert co-star and then later as his girlfriend at the time. And for the hottest of minutes, because this is Bojack we’re dealing with, the relationship actually goes well. And it seems as if they are a perfect, solid-ass match. Of course, because Bojack is learned in the art of self-sabotage, this perfect relationship is quickly shattered when he nearly chokes Gina to death due to a drug-induced hallucination, thanks to his new addiction to opioids (which he was put on as a result of an on-set injury). As one would expect, the two immediately break up and Bojack considers coming clean in a joint interview for Philbert because it’s the “right” thing to do. But we, the audience, know Bojack. And we know this isn’t about some moral shit. This is about Bojack’s need to constantly fuck up and then self-flagellate as a result of said fuck up—either by being repeatedly shunned and chewed out by his friends and family or, in this case, by being exposed and ridiculed on live TV. Gina, like the audience, is hip to BoJack’s insincerity and stops him, telling him that he is only doing this to absolve himself of “guilt” and adds that if he confessed in this manner, it would become the only thing that Gina would be asked about for the rest of her career and that she would never get her big break from Philbert because of it. He then opts to keep quiet and they agree to never see each other again.
Except…we see Gina for one final time during the first half of season six while she’s on set for a new movie directed by Justin Kenyon and she’s…different. She’s not the easy-going, snarky ball of sunshine we previously knew her as. Now? She’s nervous. Irritable. Doesn’t like surprises. Rash. Even, unfortunately, “demanding” and “difficult”. This new behavior earns her a reputation of being a diva and even comes up in conversation between Kenyon and director Kelsey Jannings. Initially, I was a little astonished at Gina’s stark personality change, but when I caught her nervously touching her neck, I remembered:
Through Henry Fondle and Gina Cazador, BH allowed itself to show the true cost of such trauma by becoming the perfect vehicle for #MeToo to illustrate the other side of assault and misconduct allegations, how the women who come forward about it or are open about it suffer disproportionate punishments in comparison to the men who are responsible and how they have to carry these situations in the public eye (in silence) for the foreseeable future. It was also able to accomplish this by being intentional about how the visceral nature of such violence stays with us. How the trauma sticks with you. And how that trauma can, quite frankly, change you forever…right down to the disappearance of Gina’s former, more slightly carefree, self.
There is a material cost, a human cost, to all the stories and revelations told and unveiled during the height of #MeToo and the ongoing efforts to preserve it. This is something BoJack Horseman recognized early on and because of this, it became one of the few shows able to handle misconduct story-lines with both the gravity and compassion they deserved.
I don’t know what animated show is going to be charged with the hefty task of succeeding BoJack Horseman, but I gotta tell you…they have their work cut out for them.
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