Does life imitate art or does art imitate life?
Animation as we know it has been a source of entertainment mainly aimed towards children from its conception. However, with shows like Family Guy, Rick and Morty, and BoJack Horseman, the show we’ll be exploring in this article, we have a prime example of the immediate intimacy that art and animation offers.
Why do we enjoy animated media?
The answer is pure escapism. Animation and art at times can present the world through a divergent and light-hearted lens. This may be the reason this form of media is often used to entertain children, as it helps broaden their imagination and critical thinking skills.
Now, what happens when this form is utilised for deeper and much more profound storytelling?
BoJack Horseman. This Netflix animated television series aired from 2014 to 2020 with six successful seasons. It differed from most adult cartoons by exploring topics such as anxiety, depression, bereavement, alcoholism, substance abuse, emotional negligence, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide. In recent years, with the rise of social media and the deaths of celebrities dying of substance abuse, these issues being displayed in a form that usually is divergent and light-hearted strikes an unfamiliar chord in the audience that may not have been cognizant.
Moreover, as mentioned previously with the untimely deaths of celebrities due to substance abuse such as Lil Peep (Gustav Elijah Åhr), Juice WRLD (Jarad A. Higgins), Amy Winehouse, and unfortunately many others there is an apparent opioid epidemic that is claiming the lives of people from different economic backgrounds. We hear of these stories and may often dismiss them as we see celebrities in a different lens from our own, yet when we follow the lives of BoJack and his associates, it provides humility to the celebrity life. Season five of BoJack Horseman dives deep into the negative effects of opioids on the psyche with BoJack developing a dependency for them which destroys his relationship with his co-star and girlfriend at the time, Gina Cazador who BoJack strangles when experiencing an opioid-induced hallucination (OIH). This event, along with a string of previous misdemeanours and wrongdoings on BoJack’s behalf triggers him to admit to a rehabilitation centre. We also see in later episodes that Gina suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when filming a scene that causes her to walk off set in a fragmented state. Woefully, this is not the only character that BoJack induces PTSD to, we see in season three that Penny Carson, a seventeen-year-old character that fifty-year-old BoJack almosts sleeps with also experiences PTSD and panic attacks when she sees BoJack at her university campus.
BoJack leaves rehab in the last season of the show, where he has to face the consequences of his actions publically. After the public watches an explosive interview of BoJack that turns their opinions sour, BoJack regresses to his toxic coping mechanisms of alcohol and attempts suicide by drunkenly drowning in a pool. However, he is found before this can occur and gets sent to prison for a little over a year. We see that his friends have moved on without him, all of them suffering from their struggles. The season finale ends on this bittersweet note, we are happy that Princess Carolyn found the love she felt she lacked, the same case with Diane Nguyen, Todd Chavez finding his place in the world and Mr Peanutbutter finding contentment in his own company. Yet, we the audience also desire for BoJack to have his happy ending, but that is life, nothing is ever perfect, a message the show portrays time and time again.
So, does life imitate art or art imitate life?
Why was BoJack Horseman, an animated series able to display these prevalent yet taboo issues in the most humane way? Perhaps it was the form they used, animation offering a divergent level of intimacy through a light-hearted lens; did this subvert our expectations? Whatever the answer is, BoJack Horseman is an essential watch for us to dig deeper into our own mental health.
The founder and curator of Hyper Enigma.
Kashala is an undergraduate student studying Creative writing and Screenwriting in the UK. She is an avid admirer of all arts and culture, especially that of the African Diaspora.