Silly Party Politics: A Diverse Panel of White Men in Bow Ties

In his article on how politics, surrealism, and satire interact in British alt-comedy TV shows of the 1970s, Ian Wilkie presents the question if within the Pythonesque humour the “satirical message was undermined by the surrealist and absurdist comic overtones or whether the cartoonish capering underscored the absurdity of the institutions targeted in the comic onslaughts.” [1] The same question remains relevant in contemporary TV shows dealing with contemporary social and political issues, such as BoJack Horseman (Raphael Bob-Waksberg, 2014-2020, USA).

BoJack Horseman is an adult animated sitcom characterized by and praised for its accurate and nuanced portrayal of darker themes and personal issues such as depression, substance abuse, sexism, racism, human rights, and family values. The show’s serious thematic preoccupations are superficially contrasted by surrealist and absurdist elements of visual animation style, characterization, and situations presented onscreen. The characters range from humans to anthropomorphized horses, cats, owls, deer, dogs, and whales. The situational problems, the characters’ reactions to the problems, and their solutions often favour an absence or modification of logic over realism. While Wilkie in his writing refers to comedy existing in a distinctive spatial and temporal context, his question remains: does surrealist humour counteract or complement the comedy’s social and political commentary?

 

A ‘Men’s Abortion Panel’ scene in BoJack Horseman shows a conversation taking place on live news TV. The scene featuring a ‘diverse panel: white men in bow ties’ lays bare some ridiculous contexts and elements of the abortion debate, such as the absurdity of the argument from one of the men: “And I can say this with confidence because I will never have to make that decision, so I’m unbiased.” By emphasizing the absurdity of these one-sided arguments, BoJack clearly positions itself on the opposite side of the debate. Despite the three members of the panel being the least surrealist element of the scene, the absurdity of the TV presenter being a whale, as well as the wording of his introduction to the panel “Has the concept of women having choices gone too far?” complements the absurdity of the following debate and its arguments. What is more, the three men’s realist physical appearance relative to the rest of the show provides a space for the escalation of absurdity, as their arguments for their beliefs become increasingly more unrealistic and absurd.

 

In his analysis of satirical power of the Pythonesque humour, Wilkie concludes that it is “more like lampoon than pure satire. It is too weird and zany to contain real invective that bites or to hold up a truthful mirror to society that calls anyone to account.” [2] In contrast, I believe that BoJack’s explicit handling of discriminating views that often lack cohesion and logic is only emphasized by its surrealist absence of everyday logic, at least in the abortion panel scene.

 

 

Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z47F2tBCPA0

 

Bibliography:

[1] Ian Wilkie (2019), ‘Very silly party politics: surrealism and satire in the “Pythonesque”, Comedy Studies, 10(2), 218.

[2] Ian Wilkie (2019), ‘Very silly party politics: surrealism and satire in the “Pythonesque”, Comedy Studies, 10(2), 215.

3 comments

  1. I agree with everything you have said. It is as if by situating the absurd arguments that are made in everyday life in the contexts so far removed from everyday life we notice how well they fit into that universe and therefore how ridiculous it is that they come from ours. The fact that they coherently exist in an illogical world, shows how incoherent they should be in a logical one.

  2. Animated dark comedies such as Moral Orel and BoJack Horseman have normalised adult animation to speak more to adult topics- such as abortion, drug abuse, loss of innocence, mental health, etc. I definitely agree that unlike with Python, Bojack’s satire holds true due to its surrealism. Perhaps that is because, like with the Simpson’s and Trump, reality can be seen through these cartoons. It allows for slight escapism which allows it to address the topics in a lighter way than it is in reality.

  3. I completely agree. That said, I feel I am somewhat biased because I’m already a fan of Bojack Horseman. I’ve found that it is very difficult to get friends into that show, precisely because they feel the surrealist elements clash with its darker themes; intimate drama, and political satire. I think the abortion panel scene would work without the surrealism. Even though I personally don’t think the surrealism detracts from the scene, it does ultimately put-off at least some viewers.

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