BoJack Horseman is brilliant social commentary. Prima facie, the show is an animated representation of the insanely flashy film industry that we know as Hollywood. But what soon transpires is a raw, unabashed and explicit — in every sense of the word — commentary of the society we live in, down to its individual units: you and I.
If you ask someone who’s watched the show, they’d probably summarise what it’s about with the story of the depressed protagonist with toxic behaviour and a nihilistic view of life and world. But what no one talks about is its ruthlessly honest reflection of the kind of world we live in. A world that runs on narratives that are either crafted by the powerful elite through mass media or those that run their course among the fickle masses. A world that is built on façades and masks, both on macro levels (institutions, industries and the media) and micro levels (friends, families, neighbours and ourselves).
Fickle Masses and Media Manipulation
BoJack Horseman takes a dig at conformists who fall prey to just about anything that their screens tell them: the passive consumers of media. Starting from the second episode, where BoJack was ripped apart on MSNBSea for not having “respected dibs” that a Navy SEAL (literally a seal) had on a pack of muffins, the show goes on to spoof America’s skewed political system, Hollywood scandals, gun laws and just about everything that is or was of social relevance at the time of the show’s creation.
But most importantly, the interpretation and reinterpretation of these events made by the media for its audience was clearly represented. How many times have we questioned the news that reaches us? Behind the veils of credibility and playing the watchdog function is an industry that tries to make profits just like any other industry. And voilà! We now have news woven to create drama, entertain and get attention. Not news reported to inform citizens.
You don’t have to go anywhere beyond the second episode to understand the role media play in packaging incidents with dramatic words, music and scripted lines to hit high TRP ratings. Add some celebrity controversy and you have the perfect recipe for another week of restless trivial screaming that we all seem to love watching.
Trivialities and drama have a greater audience over real issues that affect people. We see that when a reporter is cut off just as she was about to talk about an “important education bill” and is interrupted to show some visuals of BoJack’s car leaving his garage. The choice a news organisation makes when stuck between a TRP-worthy drama and genuine issues that affect people’s lives at the grassroots of our society says a lot about the quality of the organisation.
Fast forward to season 6 and one can see this choice being made — though it is fair to mention that GirlCroosh isn’t exactly a news outlet. Diane’s job at GirlCroosh begins to get meaningful for her when she begins to report people’s genuine problems, which never figure in mainstream media. But her idealistic and meaningful work is trashed when her boss kills her stories, deeming them realistic and serious. She is sent to bring back feel-good content instead.
As much as I dislike clichés, truer words were not spoken (which could be said for a thousand other statements throughout the show’s run-time) than when BoJack says, “Everybody just wants to hear what they already believe. Not the truth.”
Corporate Consolidation and Power Concentration
Diane’s boss wasn’t exactly to be blamed for her insensitivity to Diane’s work. Her reporting began to shed light on the shadiness of a corporate behemoth, Whitewhale Consolidated Interests. On following up on the story, she discovers that Whitewhale simply swallows just about any company or organisation that seems to go against or competes with its narratives or market position. To give an example, a women-led start-up that manufactures dolls that do not represent “unrealistic beauty standards” was bought by Whitewhale. When Diane attempts to reveal the hidden agenda, the very organisation she works for is bought by the giant conglomerate as she is on the field. It begins to dawn upon her that she too is a pawn, after all, in an extensive game fixed by Whitewhale.
‘The dangers of an omnipresent conglomerate’ isn’t a completely innovative plot. Mr. Robot touches on this idea too, describing the elite as “the top one per cent of the one per cent.” Both these cases resonate with the Marxist idea that those who own the means of production own the epoch. Extending this to the mass communication theory of controlling the flow of information to control the minds of people, one can deduce that those who own the means of information dissemination decide what a given epoch thinks and talks about (hi there, Chomsky!).
We often fail to realise the magnitude of influence our screens have on our psyche. Walt Disney has played the moral-infusing, value-promoting agent forever. It’s not news that we are products of our thoughts and our thoughts are influenced by the kind of information we are exposed to. Walt Disney was the world’s largest media conglomerate until recently, single-handedly controlling the majority of values, ideas and morals that pervade our screens and therefore our lives. There are many research papers published on the imperialistic nature of Walt Disney, pervading cultures and beyond.
As for BoJack Horseman’s clever spoof, I’m not the first to point out the uncanny resemblance between Jeremiah Whitewhale’s moustache and Walt Disney’s. But the show takes it up a notch by incorporating the old-school Disney animation style in Whitewhale’s little video, which he shows Diane and her partner Guy as a show of power and dominance.
Fans also point their fingers at Jeff Bezos while talking about Whitewhale’s abuse of power and its slimy methods of not just monopolising but also evading criminal laws. There are regular reports of Amazon indulging in ruthless methods to kill competition. Alleged theft of intellectual property and confidential information of other companies, acquisition of companies that develop technology similar to their own, attacking small book publishers like a “cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle”, undesirable work environment, cutting employees’ health benefits, manipulating the story and absolving themselves of responsibility of the death of an employee. Phew! At this point I’m not really sure if I’m talking about Amazon or Whitewhale Consolidated Interests.
BoJack Horseman goes so far as to say that the rich can legalise murder by influencing law making and thus get away with it. Did someone say Mr. Bezos tried to buy the Seattle City Council?
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.