There are certain topics that I find difficult to talk about, but I’ll still make the effort because they’re worth discussing. That’s why I’ll write something about abortion or religion every now and then. These are serious, emotionally charged issues. There’s merit to discussing them.
I’m sorry, but I’ve yet to see a single discussion about “cancel culture” that has ever been productive. Some say it’s a threat to free speech and western values. Some say it’s not really a thing. I say both are wrong and both aren’t helping by making sub-par arguments.
Conversely, a liberal will cheer when Lou Dobbs gets fired, but will make endless excuses for liberal celebrities who say objectively dumb shit. It always seems to boil down whether you’re politics align with whoever or whatever is canceled. It’s arbitrary, it’s petty, and it’s absurd. I really don’t have any other way to describe it.
Now, I could rant for hours about bullshit “cancel culture” arguments. However, I’d rather do something more productive with my time. I’d also prefer not to add to the whining. The only reason I’m bringing this up is because that’s all anyone has been doing since the story about Gina Carano broke.
If you’re not up to speed, consider yourself lucky. I won’t recount the details. The long and short of it is she got fired by Disney for some stupid tweets that mentioned the holocaust. Now, I won’t give my opinion on the contents of these tweets. Again, that’s not a productive use of my time or anyone’s time, for that matter.
However, I don’t want to bring this topic up just to rant about it. Instead, I’d like to use the ongoing whining about “cancel culture” to offer some perspective about what it is, what it isn’t, and why it matters. I could try to put it into words. Thankfully, people far smarter and more talented than me already have.
The following image that I found on Twitter sums it up nicely.
If that doesn’t get the point across, please see this helpful little image detailing the paradox of tolerance by Karl Popper.
In short, being tolerant is a good thing. Protecting free speech is a good thing. However, there are lines, limits, and context. Failing to understand them will only cause more outrage and whining. The world already has too much of that. Let’s not add to it.
We live in a strange era of reboots, re-launches, and revivals. It’s brought out a lot of mixed feelings and extreme reactions from fans of all stripes. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Some people are just completely indifferent.
Regardless of how you feel about it, there’s no escaping it. The rise of streaming media and the public’s endless appetite for new content makes it as inevitable as death, taxes, and Thanos. We’ve no one to blame for this trend but ourselves is what I’m saying.
It doesn’t always go well. In fact, there have been more misses than hits. Just as fans of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” and “Roseanne.” However, some franchises are just more conducive to reboots/revivals more than others. That brings me to the latest revival effort by Hulu for a zany show called “Animaniacs.”
Now, if you were a kid or pre-teen in the 90s, there’s a very good chance you grew up watching this show. It debuted during the apex of 90s era cartoons. Alongside classic Marvel cartoons like “X-Men” and “Spider-Man,” as well as heavy-hitters like “Power Rangers,” this show epitomized wacky, goofy cartoon antics to the utmost.
Personally, I have many fond memories of this show. It was one of my favorite shows to watch when I was a kid. It was even one of those rare cartoons I could still appreciate as I got older. Teenagers could watch this show and still laugh at the jokes, alongside young kids. Some jokes were surprisingly mature.
Of all the 90s shows in need of a rivial, “Animaniacs” is probably the best suited. It’s style of comedy and antics might actually work better today than it did in the 90s. When Hulu released a trailer for the upcoming revival, I became even more convinced.
We need this show.
The world needs a little zaniness.
It needs it like it needs an anvil to the head right now.
I’ve watched the trailer at least 100 times and it still puts a smile on my face. Here it is in case you still haven’t seen it.
Now, I need to preface this by saying this encounter is one of the high points of my adult life. I had a chance to meet Mr. Paulsen, as well as Jess Harnell and Tess MacNeille, who voiced Wakko and Dot respectively, at New York Comic Con.
Having made many trips to New York Comic Coon, which I’ve documented before, I can attest that getting in line to meet celebrities of this caliber can be harrowing. The voice actors for “Animaniacs” are among the top of the heap in terms of the voice acting hierarchy. Just getting in line to meet them required a significant effort.
That meant getting to the Jacob Javits Convention Center extra early and essentially making a beeline to the celebrity booths as soon as the doors opened. Even then, it still took a while to get to these three amazing human beings.
It was still worth the effort. However, my effort included a zany twist that just made it that much more special.
In an zany fluke of luck, I just happened to get in line in front of this girl who dressed up in this amazing costume of Dot. I wish I could find the picture of it, but I cannot overstate how amazingly adorable it was. I knew as soon as she stood behind me that I was not going to be the center of Mr. Paulsen’s attention.
I was proven correct.
Shortly before the booth opened, Mr. Paulsen himself came walking out to greet the crowd. Jess and Tess were with him. We all cheered, our inner 90s kids going crazy. Then, knowing this girl’s costume was special, I tried pointing her out to Mr. Paulsen as he walked by.
It didn’t take long for him to notice. As soon as he saw this girl’s costume, his face lit up in a way that would’ve made any cartoon character from any era proud. He immediately started talking like Yakko and greeted the girl.
Yes, by the way. He greeted her by saying “Hello Nurse!”
Keep in mind, I’m standing right next to her. Mr. Paulsen is within arm’s reach of me. I came hoping for an autograph and to express my gratitude, but seeing him react to that girl’s costume felt like something so much more. The love he had for the characters and the show really revealed itself.
You just don’t get that from most celebrities, be they athletes, celebrity chefs, or voice actors. Just being there, seeing Mr. Paulsen react to the love of the fans and these characters, was such an experience. I must have smiled for a good hour or so after that.
While that girl was definitely the star of the show, I still managed to get my picture and an autograph from Mr. Paulsen. I tried to put into words how much I appreciated his work. I’m not going to lie. My voice cracked somewhat while talking to him. I probably sounded like an idiot. He still never stopped smiling.
He, Jess, and Tess were just so wonderful on so many levels. They took the time to talk to fans. At one point, Mr. Paulsen even sung his famous countries of the world song with a fan who claimed he could sing it faster. Seeing and hearing that was a spectacle in and of itself. I wish I could put into words how amazing it was. I don’t think I can.
That’s one of the many cherished memories I have of New York Comic Con. Now that “Animaniacs” is coming back, I find myself recalling it regularly. It still brings a smile to my face.
To Mr. Paulsen, as well as Jess and Tess, I doubt he’ll ever read this. I’ll still say it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Thank you for being so awesome that day.
Thank you for bring so many insaney, zany voices to this world.
Countless kids in the 90s and countless more kids today will be forever grateful for it.
Sometimes, just when you think things can’t get possibly worse, the universe finds a way to hit you in a way that reminds you otherwise. This year has been awful by so many measures. Between global pandemics and ugly politics, it really felt like 2020 couldn’t get more agonizing.
Then, we lost Chadwick Boseman.
Of all the good, pure, loving souls this year could’ve taken, this one definitely hurts. This hurts in ways that words just cannot properly articulate. I say that not just as a lifelong fan of Marvel and Marvel superhero movies or as someone who cheered the success of “Black Panther.” I say that as someone who respected the man since he showed his heart and acting talents as Jackie Robinson in “42.”
I’ll say it again. This hurts. When I saw this report, I didn’t want to believe it. I thought it had to be a mistake or some elaborate troll job. Sadly, it wasn’t. When the official announcement came down, I was in genuine shock.
I’m honestly at a loss for words here. Not since the death of Stan Lee have I been in such utter disbelief. I’d been bracing for Stan’s passing, given his advanced age. I never imagined that someone like Chadwick Boseman, a man of only 43 who seemed to have a bright career ahead of him, passing away. The fact he was able to keep working as he fought cancer is a further testament to his greatness.
For someone like Boseman, who set himself apart as such a paragon of how great Hollywood could be, it just isn’t fair. Absolutely nothing about this is fair. This man brought to life a character who resonated with millions. He rose to stardom for all the right reasons, making all the right choices, even as his own body failed him.
His loss will be felt for generations to come. Someone like Chadwick Boseman doesn’t come around often. At a time when Hollywood seems to be lacking in respectable role models, losing Boseman stings even more. I don’t know what else I can say, other than he will be missed a great deal. The world is an objectively worse place without him.
At the risk of ending this video on too much of a downer, here’s a clip of my favorite moment from Boseman. Now that he’s gone, these moments are all the more precious.
In general, I try not to comment on “cancel culture.” It’s not because I don’t have an opinion. I just think it’s a waste of time, for the most part. I’ve never seen it lead to a productive conversation on anything. Most of the time, it just amounts to people publicly whining about something they find offensive to a point where others cave, if only to stop the whining.
I am not a fan of this, to put it mildly.
Every time I see it trend, I want to bash my head on my computer screen while telling some of these people to grow thicker skin.
The world is a chaotic, ugly, offensive place. We can only do so much to change it. No matter how much change we manage to implement, it won’t change the past or the context in which it transpired. That’s especially true if the people others are trying to cancel are long dead.
Now, as much as I despite the term and what it represents, I also understand that it’s not as simple as its critics make it out to be. At times, I find the people who whine about cancel culture to be just as insufferable. Their whining can basically be boiled down to, “Other people want to cancel the stuff I like and it hurts my feelings!” That’s just as pathetic as wanting to blackball a celebrity for old tweets from 2009.
Both efforts are equally absurd.
Both efforts do nothing to make the world a safer, more tolerant, more inclusive place.
Most of the time, I find the effects of “cancel culture” to be inconsistent, at best. People will complain about the lack of diversity in media, politics, business, and certain industries, but those same people can’t be bothered to vote or support the things that reflect those preferences. They always revert to whining.
People on both sides of the political spectrum will do this. The same people who laugh at those who complain about a video game character being too sexy while whine just as much because Brie Larson said something that hurt their feelings. They’ll claim their efforts are not contributing to cancel culture, but it’s the same damn concept.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of decent human beings with thick skin and a good sense of humor, cancel culture is still a thing. People are going to condemn celebrities and public figures for things they said or did years ago. We saw it with Kevin Hart, which cost him a chance to host the Oscars. We’re seeing that now with celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman, who once did skits involving blackface.
In addition to people, the urge to cancel all things offensive has extended to art. Movies like “Gone With The Wind,” which definitely had some offensive imagery, was removed from streaming recently. Shows like “Paw Patrol,” which is geared towards children, was seen as too offensive at a time when police brutality is a hot topic.
Now, I’m not going to justify old tweets or outrage about movies from a different era. I know there’s nothing I can say to change the minds of those who are so offended by statutes, celebrities, or the names of football teams that they want them all canceled. There’s also nothing I can say to change the minds who think it’s part of some elaborate censorship effort meant to destroy freedom.
Instead, I’d like to ask a few simple questions for both sides to consider.
What exactly does canceling something achieve in the long run?
At what point does canceling something amount to censorship?
Why is canceling something more viable than simply growing thicker skin?
At what point does context stop mattering for something that’s offensive?
How does condemning the ugly history of the past make the present or future any better?
What right do you have to be offended by the feelings and preferences of someone else?
I won’t claim these are easy questions to answer, but to those who are behind or protesting certain cancel-this hashtags, I hope they offer perspective. Like it or not, cancel culture isn’t going away anytime soon. People are always going to be offended by something or someone.
You can rewrite every textbook or novel that ever reflected outdated attitudes.
It won’t change what happened in the past. It won’t prevent people from being assholes in the future. If anything, it sends the message that people are too weak, stupid, or traumatized to handle certain ideas. That, in my opinion, is the most offensive thing of all.
Every controversy seems absurd when you look at it with enough hindsight. Think of all the big social and political controversies going on right now. From mansplaining and safe spaces to all-female movie remakes to sexy Super Bowl Halftime shows, there’s no shortage of outrage and moral panics. In general, I try to avoid contributing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected to some extent.
Even if the issues feel genuinely serious, it’s worth taking a step back and maintaining a certain perspective. What seems serious now won’t always end up being that serious in the grand scheme of things. Things like the Cuban Missile Crisis were serious. The impact of playing Dungeons and Dragons don’t even come close. For the most part, these controversies become obscure footnotes in the history of pop culture.
In the interest of preserving a balanced perspective, I find it helpful to think back to Elvis’ hips. For anyone under the age of 50, I’m sure that sounds strange, but make no mistake. At one point in time, Elvis’ hips were the most controversial thing in the world.
It’s hard to imagine now, given the accessibility of sexy music videos and internet porn, but there was a time when Elvis Presley shaking his hips on live TV was the most scandalous thing in the free world. People at the time deemed his dancing too sexual and obscene. There was serious, genuine concern that this was just too shocking and lurid for innocent eyes to see.
Granted, this took place in 1956. The world was a very different place in 1956. However, that’s not exactly an ancient time period. There are plenty of people alive today who were alive in 1956. They lived through that controversy. They might have even watched that fateful episode of the Ed Sullivan show where Elvis dared to shake his hips in too sexy a way. Now, compared to a standard Beyoncé video, it almost seems quaint.
Even if it sounds absurd now, take a moment to appreciate the context of this controversy. There was a time when people genuinely thought Elvis shaking his hips was too obscene. These same people genuinely thought such overt sexuality would do serious damage to society.
Now, look at everything we deem too obscene, controversial, or damaging today. How much of it will seem just as absurd as the sexiness of Elvis’ hips several decades from now? We may think that our standards have been fully refined, but history has shown time and again that this rarely holds. What is obscene today may be mundane tomorrow and obscene again a decade from now.
Controversies are fleeting, petty, and often build on a foundation of absurdity.
People are often irrational, following emotions over logic while claiming every emotion is perfectly logical.
Trends are unpredictable and fleeting. In 1956 it was Elvis’ hips. In 2003 it was Janet Jackson’s nipple. Who knows what it’ll be this year or in the years that follows?
With time and perspective, it rarely ends up being as serious as we thought. Even if it was, people and society adapt. That’s what we have to do, as a species. We might make fools of ourselves along the way, getting worked up over something that ended up being so petty and contrived. The best we can do is laugh and learn from it.
Think about that the next time someone complains about a halftime show or a music video. Remember Elvis’ hips and the perspective they offer. It’s every bit as powerful as his music.
Back in 2012, Tupac Shakur appeared in concert at Coachella in 2012. That’s quite a feat, considering he died in 1996. The Tupac at the concert was just a hologram, but even his digital presence helped make that concert an experience to remember.
As this technology improves, it’ll get to a point where a rendering of a celebrity isn’t just indistinguishable from the real celebrity. It’ll be capable of saying, doing, and acting in any way a studio or producer would want. While that has some dangerous possibilities for political ads and porn, it could also completely change the entertainment industry.
That Tupac hologram I mentioned earlier was basically just a recording synched to a projection. Even though Samuel L. Jackson was de-aged in “Captain Marvel,” the actor still had to be there to give him the necessary voice, mannerisms, and attitude. He couldn’t have been a hologram and be believable. The technology just isn’t there yet.
It will get there, though. There doesn’t need to be some huge leap in computer technology or artificial intelligence to make an entirely digital celebrity. It’s just a matter of processing power, data crunching, and better hardware. It will happen. It might even happen within the next couple decades. That raises another key question.
Who will be the first digitally immortal celebrity?
By digitally immortal, I don’t just mean recordings set to holograms or faces projected onto body doubles. A truly digitally immortal celebrity will be capable of starring in new movies and TV shows long after their dead. They’ll be able to make new music and perform it, albeit through a hologram. While their bodies might be gone, they’ll never stop contributing to pop culture.
That definitely has some legal implications. I doubt any studio could get away with creating a digital rendering of Carrie Fisher to star in a new movie. However, I suspect one celebrity will eventually license their figure and likeness so that they can keep being celebrities, long after they’re dead. Maybe they’ll do it so their families can be fincianlly set for life. Maybe they’ll do it because they never want to leave the public eye.
Whatever their reasons, someone will eventually do this. It’s just a question of who.
Will it be Taylor Swift?
Will it be Tom Cruise?
Will it be Jennifer Lopez?
Will it be Samuel L. Jackson?
It’s hard to say. If I had to bet money, I’d put it on Samuel L. Jackson. Knowing Disney and their vast resources, I’d be shocked if they weren’t investing in this technology this instant. Bankable celebrities are an increasingly precious commodity in the entertainment world. The incentives are there. It’s just a matter of time and a matter of whom.
Personally, I’d love to hear Samuel L. Jackson call people motherfuckers for generations to come. That’s just me.
Some people are just born with an innate talent to entertain. Others simply stop giving a damn at some point in their lives and say what needs to be said with a mix of hilarious wit and brutal honesty. If every this concept took a human form, it would look and sound like Ricky Gervais.
In case you didn’t see it, Mr. Gervais hosted the 2020 Golden Globes for the fifth and final time, presumably. As he’s done before, he teased, offended, and insulted the entire landscape of Hollywood with his trademark British charm and intoxicating smile. It was politically incorrect, over-the-top, and beautiful on every level.
It also reminded everyone in Hollywood that, at the end of the day, they’re still a bunch of rich, entitled fame whores with an inflated sense of importance. For most people who will never be rich or famous on that level, it was nothing short of refreshing. If you’re not convinced, see for yourself.
Thank you, Mr. Gervais. What you said needed to be said. I doubt anyone could’ve said it any better or funnier than you.
In a perfect world, human sexuality wouldn’t be so political. From a biological and societal standpoint, the fundamentals are simple.
Two people meet.
They gauge one another’s interest.
They decide to engage in an intimate relationship.
Together, they make a mutual effort to enjoy the fruits of that relationship.
Ideally, an expression of sexuality is a mutual exchange between two people seeking an intimate connection. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a heterosexual relationship, a homosexual relationship, or something more elaborate. So long as those involved are willing, considerate, and open, everyone shares in the benefits.
Sadly, we don’t live in that perfect world. Like it or not, human sexuality is one of the most politically charged topics anyone can discuss. It’s connected to hot button issues like abortion, sexual assault, domestic violence, child welfare, poverty, crime, human trafficking, and even religion. Considering its role in propagating our species, it’s understandable why discussions about about it get heated.
That said, some of those discussions are political for all the wrong reasons. A few are even built on a foundation of absurdities that only serve to distort our perspectives on human sexuality and not in a good way. One of those discussions involve the idea of a woman “owning her sexuality.”
This idea isn’t new, but it has become a more common refrain in recent years, often in conjunction with media depictions of female sexuality. It’s become a slogan, of sorts, for whenever a female celebrity or fictional character does something that’s sexually empowering. Depending on where someone is on the political spectrum, they’ll either cheer or scorn their actions.
However, what constitutes “sexual empowerment” is poorly defined and exceedingly inconsistent. In some cases, empowerment involves a woman being more sexual than society at large deems appropriate. In other cases, empowerment involves a woman being less sexual or less feminine. Here are just a few examples.
Regardless of what form it takes, the empowerment is framed as women either reclaiming or owning their sexual selves. What it means is often vague, but it usually carries a particular set of connotations.
To own one’s sexuality is to break a set of unspoken rules, give the finger to an unjust system, and forge your own sexual path. It’s like that moment in every great sports movie where the underdog beats the odds and triumphs over their evil opponents. In that triumph, their notion of what constitutes a fair and just expression of human sexuality is vindicated. All others are somehow flawed.
I concede that this is a gross generalization, but it’s the most common narrative I see whenever there’s a story about a woman owning her sexuality. It’s built around the assumption that female sexuality is always the underdog and to own it, a woman needs to somehow seize it from the clutches of repressive, misogynistic men.
In that sense, I don’t blame women for wanting to embrace their sexual selves in an environment that treats their sexuality as tool for political issues or marketing. Like men, they have feelings and desires. They have every right to pursue them with the same passion as anyone else. When it comes to “owning” it, though, the terminology tends to obscure that pursuit.
The fact that “owning” your sexuality can mean so many different things ensures it ultimately means very little. It has become one of those vague, catch-all terms that’s supposed to mark something as meaningful, progressive, or enlightened. In many cases, it comes down to people using sexuality to provoke a reaction, garner attention, or protest an injustice.
While I’m in favor of protesting sexual injustices, the fact that “owning your sexuality” is such an ambiguous act makes it a poor form of protest. All it does is assert that you can make choices about how you express your sexuality and you’re willing to endure the criticism. That doesn’t say anything about the injustice itself.
If anything, the very concept of owning your sexuality raises more questions than answers. To own something implies possession. The fact that a woman owning her sexuality is so celebrated implies that the woman didn’t possess it in the first place. If that’s the case, then when was it taken from her? At what point did she not own it? What did she have to overcome in order to get it back?
In that context, a woman owning her sexuality is no different than willingly enduring extra criticism and aggressive slut shaming. Can it be excessive? It certainly can be. Is it the same as someone putting their life and their body at risk in order to express their sexuality? I would argue that it isn’t.
I know my opinion may not count for much on this issue since I’m a heterosexual man. I concede that there’s only so much I can understand about the female experience. At the same time, I feel inclined to point out that men are human too. Men are also burdened by various taboos and double standards. As such, a man “owning his sexuality” is subject to entirely different standards.
The fact that those standards are so different implies that there’s little substance behind the concept. If a woman can act overtly sexual in one instance and exercise extreme modesty, yet claim to own her sexuality in both cases, then where does the ownership come in? At what point is it any different than just making choices and living with them?
If there is no difference, then the concept is ultimately pointless.
Imagine that you’re young, low on money, and in need of a quick buck. You do a few side-gigs, like drive a taxi or do some yard work. You make some money up front. You’re grateful for it. You wish you didn’t have to do it, but you still did and you’re ready to move forward with your life.
Now, imagine that same work you did ended up making someone else a boatload of money that continues to flow in, even though you’ve long since finished your part. Maybe while mowing the lawn, you discovered a priceless artifact under a tree stump. Maybe while driving a taxi, your car became the site of an infamous crime. Anyone with a white 1993 Ford Bronco SUV can attest to that.
With those ideas in mind, let’s talk about Mia Kalifa. If you don’t know who that is, just ask any straight man with an internet connection and a suspiciously large supply of tissue boxes. You might not get an honest answer, but rest assured, she’s a known public figure and not just because she has over 15 million followers on Instagram.
For someone who was that successful in an industry that’s already exceedingly crowded by an abundance of content, that just doesn’t seem to add up. Most working people make more than $12,000 in a year, even if they’re paid minimum wage. They even get to keep their clothes on. What’s going on here?
There is a context to that story. By her own admission, she was in the industry for about three months. She only got paid a flat rate of about $1,000 for each scene she did and, given how few she ended up doing, it’s still more than minimum wage. She basically made $12,000 for approximately two weeks of work. Ignoring, for the moment, that the work involved making porn, it’s not a terrible rate.
However, what stands out most about her story is that she continues to generate money for the companies that initially paid her. To this day, those scenes she shot still generate traffic for popular sites like PornHub and that traffic still makes its parent company, MindGeek, some additional profit.
Most people don’t know, or want to know for that matter, that the most popular porn sites and studios are owned by MindGeek. Think of any site your significant other won’t admit to visiting. Chances are, they own it. They’re basically the Amazon of porn. They’re so big that there really isn’t a close second.
It’s because they’re so big that Ms. Kalifa’s story isn’t unique. Most people who enter the porn industry, be they male or female, have to go through MindGeek in some form or another. They’re basically a monopoly and because of that, they can get away with shady practices, such as underpaying workers or short-changing them with fine print.
It’s not a situation unique to porn. Other elements of the entertainment industry have used similar practices for years. The music industry has plenty of examples of successful artists who sell millions of albums, but still go bankrupt because most of that money went to the companies they worked for rather than the artists themselves.
Think of any industry that involves performing or creating some kind of art. There’s a good chance that there are cases where someone creates something that becomes successful, but the creators themselves don’t profit from it. Only the companies profit.
Again, there’s a context to that. In industries like music, the top one percent of performers earn over three-quarters of the revenue. Most creative endeavors fail to turn a profit. As someone trying hard to break into the publishing industry, I can attest to how common failure and rejection are. These industries, as shady as their practices might be, need to make a profit and that often requires enduring many losses.
That’s exactly why Mia Kalifa’s story matters. It doesn’t just shed light on the less glamorous aspects of the porn industry. It highlights how the actual people behind popular media don’t reap as much of the benefits as we think. For porn stars, current and former, that’s made even harder by the stigma and taboos surrounding the industry. Ms. Kalifa endured those unpleasant elements more than most.
Given the dirty nature of the business, few politicians or advocates will loudly proclaim they want to help the people in the porn industry. The last few years have been very difficult for anyone in the sex industry. Laws are making sex work more restrictive and more dangerous to everyone involved. Performers will end up with the stigma, but the companies will get most of the profits.
To some extent, what happened to Mia Kalifa’s career is a microcosm of what’s happening to entertainment in general. We’re currently in an era where big companies are acquiring as much intellectual property as possible. Companies, be they major movie studios or porn producers, have a vested interest in controlling the content at the cost of the performers.
Since so few entertainment products turn a profit, these companies have too much incentive to short-change performers and creators. There’s no law that requires companies to give performers a small percentage of future earnings. There’s no law that stops them from exploiting the content created by performers, even if those same performers don’t want to be associated with the work anymore.
Given the money and influence of these companies, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, Mia Kalifa did us all a service by making people aware of this very flawed system. The fact that she did this while fully clothed and being brutally honest in a world that lives in alternative facts might be her best performance to date.
The world can be a harsh, unforgiving place. The extent of that harshness often depends on circumstances, attitude, and even blind luck. Most people, no matter how rich or successful they are, learn that lesson at some point in their lives. It’s rarely pleasant and often leaves scars that don’t heal.
Even with those scars, many cling to a hopeful, wide-eyed idealism about how much better the world could be. Moreover, that world is worth pursuing at every turn. TV shows, movies, music, and literature convinces us that it can be done and still have plenty of room for commercials, ads, and movie trailers. Nearly every great narrative tries to sell us on some unique kind of world-healing happy ending.
Then, there’s the strange and exceedingly depressing world of “Bojack Horseman.” If ever there was a show that went out of its way to kill happy endings with the force of a billion gut punches, it’s this one. Think of all our most cherished ideals from popular media, social movements, and ideology, in general. “Bojack Horseman” finds a way to crush it all while still being funny, albeit in its own dark way.
I promise it’s funnier than you think.
I say that as someone who has watched “Bojack Horseman” since the first season, but I find myself appreciating its dark themes more and more lately. However, it’s not just because the harshness of the real world is a lot harder to hide in the era of the internet and social media.
Recently, I had a chance to re-watch the past couple seasons. In doing so, I noticed just how much our collective worldview is built around our hope for a happy ending. Almost every character on the show, from Bojack Horseman to Diane Nguyen to Princess Caroline to Mr. Peanutbutter, is driven to achieve some idealized ending for themselves.
For Diane, she seeks to become a successful writer who exacts meaningful change through her work.
For Princess Caroline, she seeks to be an accomplished, independent woman who has it all, both in terms of career and family.
For Mr. Peanutbutter, he seeks to make everyone around him happy and pursue every new project with wide-eyed passion.
For the titular character, Bojack Horseman, pursuing that ending is more complicated. Through him, the harshness of reality seems to hit everyone and everything he comes across. It’s not always through his actions, which are often selfish, reckless, and downright deplorable. His story, which helps drive the show from the beginning, reveals how pursuing idealism can leave us vulnerable at best and destroyed at worst.
To understand how the show does this, it’s necessary to understand what makes this show both unique and appealing. If you only watch the first few episodes, then “Bojack Horseman” doesn’t come off as all that deep. It just seems like a story about a narcissistic washed-up actor who happens to be an anthropomorphic horse in a world full of various human/animal hybrids.
After a while, though, you start to appreciate how Bojack reflects the ugly reality of self-centered celebrities. Whether they’re at the height of their popularity or have been out of work for years, they live in a world that basically requires them to be utterly self-absorbed and completely detached from reality. Living in that world tends to obscure what reality is and provides one too many mechanisms for escaping it.
In the show that made him famous, “Horsin’ Around,” everything was skewed. Every problem was solved within a half-hour. Everyone was happy by the end of the episode. Bojack seems at his happiest and most fulfilled when the cameras are rolling and the show is on. Behind the scenes, which is where most of the show takes place, the ugliness of his reality takes hold.
Without the show, that ugliness consumes him. Over time, it wears on him, causing him to seek that idealized ending that his show often espoused. Throughout multiple seasons, it leads him down many paths. At the same time, others like Diane, Princess Carolyn, and Todd Chavez attempt paths of their own.
From this foundation, any number of ideals can take hold. In Hollywood, or “Hollywoo” as it comes to be called in the show for hilarious reasons, an entire industry is built around telling stories or crafting media that either champion those ideals or distract people from reality. For someone like Bojack, who gets crushed by reality harder than most, it’s the worst place for him to be.
Bojack, and his colorful cast of supporting characters, either embrace or get sucked into this fanciful world. Throughout the show, they get put into positions where they can pursue their dreams, achieve what they think will make them happy, and even are allowed to succeed in some instance. If this were any other show, then that would be the happy ending that both the characters and the audience expect.
“Bojack Horseman” is different in that it goes out of its way to expose the flaws in those idealized endings. The creator of the show, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, has even gone on record as saying that he doesn’t believe in “endings,” at least in the way that TV, movies, and popular media present it. In a 2015 interview, he said this about endings.
Well, I don’t believe in endings. I think you can fall in love and get married and you can have a wonderful wedding, but then you still have to wake up the next morning and you’re still you. Like, you can have the worst day of your life, but then the next day won’t be the worst day of your life. And I think it works in a positive and a negative, that all these things that happen are moments in time. And that because of the narrative we’ve experienced, we’ve kind of internalized this idea that we’re working toward some great ending, and that if we put all our ducks in a row we’ll be rewarded, and everything will finally make sense. But the answer is that everything doesn’t make sense, at least as far as I’ve found. Maybe you’ll interview someone else today who’s like “I’ve figured it out, here’s the answer!” But I don’t know the answer, and so I think it would be disingenuous to tell our audience “Here’s the answer!” It’s a struggle, and we’re all trying to figure it out, and these characters are trying to figure it out for themselves.
This sentiment plays out time and again over the course of the show. On more than one occasion, Bojack seems like he’s on the verge of achieving that happy ending and turning those ideals into reality.
He thinks getting cast in his dream role as Secretariat will give him that ending, but it doesn’t.
He thinks being nominated for an Oscar will give him that ending, but it doesn’t.
At every turn, reality catches up to him. Whether it’s his many vices, his habitual selfishness, or his terrible choices, it always comes back to haunt him. Even when that happy ending seems achievable, it always becomes mired in complications that Bojack can’t always control. The same complications often impact other characters seeking their own happy endings, as well. For some, it ends up being downright tragic.
At times, the show paints a grim picture about even attempting to pursue a happy ending. Even when Bojack has insights into the process, it’s never as easy as his old TV show makes it out to be. However, the fact he and others around him keep pursuing that ending says a lot about everyone’s need to achieve something greater.
Even in a world without talking horsemen, that’s something a lot of people can relate to. Most of us build our lives around hopes and aspirations that we’ll forge our own happy ending. There may even be moments when we feel like we achieve it, whether it’s graduating high school, getting married, having children, or finally beating level 147 in Candy Crush.
However, even after those moments, the credits don’t roll. Things don’t end. The things that led you to that moment only work to the extent that they led you to that one singular moment. Life still continues and the happiness fades. Bojack experiences this at greater extremes, some of which are downright absurd, but people in the real world experience it too throughout their lives.
I can personally attest to this. When I finally finished high school, I thought that was like slaying the final boss in an impossibly hard video game. I felt the same way after graduating college, getting my first girlfriend, or publishing my first book. If the credits started rolling at that moment, it would’ve made for a great ending.
Unfortunately, life just doesn’t work like that. “Bojack Horseman” belabors that every chance it gets while still managing to inject some meaningful comedy along the way. It’s a lesson worth learning, especially for Bojack. It’s one he’ll probably keep learning in future seasons. Chances are, we’ll all learn with him along the way.
In many respects, the one who best summed up this sentiment isn’t Bojack himself. In Season 3, it’s Diane who lays out the harsh reality that everyone in the real and fictional world struggles to accept.
“It’s not about being happy, that is the thing. I’m just trying to get through each day. I can’t keep asking myself ‘Am I happy?’ It just makes me more miserable. I don’t know If I believe in it, real lasting happiness. All those perky, well-adjusted people you see in movies and TV shows? I don’t think they exist.”
It sounds depressing, but that’s par for the course with “Bojack Horseman.” Reality is often depressing, but it’s not utterly untenable because happy endings are impossible. There are many points in the show that try to make that case. Even Bojack himself tries to make that case, albeit in his own twisted way.
I would even argue that the show’s brutal attack on the very concept of idealized happy endings is uplifting, in and of itself. By making the case that all the happy endings we see in the idealized versions of fiction are flawed, it shows how futile and counterproductive it is to pursue them. The real world is harsh and brutal, but you can find moments of happiness along the way. They’re not endings. They’re just part of life.