BoJack Horseman, My Depression, and Being A Good Person
Some people may look at two words in that headline and get a little uncomfortable. Some may see those two words and have a little light bulb flicker in their head. Others may completely ignore it, or even wonder why I’m bothering to write something that has nothing to do with Japan, my job, nerd stuff, etc.
But then I remind myself that this is my blog and the only staff on duty is myself. And when something comes up to where I feel I can only express it through my writing, I’m going to do it.
I’ve dealt with depression for about 15 years now. No, I don’t have a paper diagnosis to present, but I think it’s just one of those things that you know: I’ve had lengthy episodes of sadness, fear that lead me to not interact with anyone because of that sadness, and then great feelings of dread from that isolation. And sometimes it does go away for a bit, but then something happens and it’ll flare up again. People who have known me for a short time may think the root cause is one instance or situation, but I can tell you this snowball’s been rolling for a while.
It’s been a most recent, and honestly more intense, flareup that’s finally made me start doing something about it. Now I’m not writing this as some sort of proud proclamation, where from here on out I wear some sort of “badge” and have it be something that defines me, as it seems so many people do in this post-tumblr-esqe age. Rather, I’m saying this to finally get it out, admit that this is a part of me, and try to find ways to work on it. And what better way to do that than use the internet megaphone.
And it’s the exact thing that depression and anxiety do that is making me scared of posting this in the first place: I’m scared that some now may only see me as “That-Depressed-Dude”; I’m scared some may not want to be around me for giving off “too many bad vibes”; I’m scared people are going to think they have to “deal with me.” It’s the “don’t care what other people think about you” culture that’s been so perplexing to me, because I’ve worried about that exact thing for so long. But if I can’t be honest with myself, than I can’t really be honest with anyone else. I simply cannot keep living on like this.
That’s why I’m going to talk about how a cartoon horse-man helped me.
BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett), previously the star of a 90s sitcom about him raising three human kids, now lives on the outskirts of fame with people only recognizing him as “That horse from that 90s show.” Spending most days binge drinking with his uninvited roommate Todd (Aaron Paul), he’s urged by his agent/on-off girlfriend Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) to get off his ass and actually do something, like write a book. After months of missed deadlines, he’s forced to hire a ghost writer named Diane Nguyen (Allison Brie), who happens to be dating his long time rival and neighbor Mr. Peanut Butter (Paul F. Tompkins). Through the making of his tell-all book, BoJack is faced with the decisions of his past and many that he makes during his time with Diane, dealing with his constant self-loathing, jealousy, loneliness and, yes, depression.
The world of BoJack is nothing short of weird, as regular people and animal-people live side-by-side. Some of the best jokes in the show come from the combination of the two to make the worst puns imaginable: Pinky Penguin the penguin who works for the book publisher Penguin (Pinky: When was the last time you saw a book? BoJack: I thought I saw someone reading one in the park the other day, but it turned out it was a takeout menu.); The seal Neal McBeal who is a Navy SEAL; A blue whale newscastor named Tom Jumbo-Grumbo who works for MSNBSea (very on-the-nose voiced by Keith Olbermann). There are many, many more background jokes and side characters that inhabit this crossbred world, but the show simply krills it with the animal kingdom puns.
The show’s also not afraid to jab at every facet of Hollywood life, from the short fame shelf life BoJack and others face (Entertainment Show Host: Pop star and child actress, Sarah Lynn, celebrates her 30th birthday this month, raising the question, “does anyone care about Sarah Lynn anymore?” After all, she is 30.), to the repeated instance of keeping the popular popular (“We got Andrew Garfield? Oh, my God, it’s the best day of my life.” You don’t say no to Spider-Man.” This movie is gonna be amazing.”). At one point, BoJack is able to get out of trouble because the whole town stops after he makes Beyonce trip on a pile of money (Tom: Irreplaceable pop icon and independent woman Beyonce has been injured.
What more can you give us? Newscastor: Details are sketchy at this point, but we do know Beyonce is a survivor, and presumably she will keep on surviving.).
But strangely enough, it’s watching these weird crossbred people in the exaggeration of a culture and town that makes them all the more relatable: BoJack is worried about whether people actually like him and if he’s “a good person inside;” Carolyn, through her climb to the top in the agency business, feels as though she’s missed out on starting a family and any intimate relationships; Mr. Peanut Butter, who’s very clearly narcissistic, is afraid that the people around him will just pack up and leave one day.
The human characters are no different: Diane left her unsupportive family to go and do what she wants, only to wonder if she’s noticed or making a difference in the world; Todd now sleeps on a couch because of his lack of responsibility, despite having a great set of skills. Simply put, everyone on this show has problems.
Now I’m not relating to BoJack as a character in the sense of being some fallen star who had it all and is now dealing with the fallout. At best I just have a badly-drawn construction paper cutout taped to the end of a flashlight and seeing if other people notice when I turn it on. Rather, I find BoJack relatable because of his relationship with depression.
There are many times during bouts of depression where you try to find validity in anything that you do. Unfortunately, many people try to find it through drugs and alcohol, which BoJack does an extraordinary amount of (but as a 1,000 lb animal, it takes a lot). Through this “search,” you’re constantly on the worry about your relationships to others that your emotions go on hyperdrive (if they aren’t already), usually in opposite directions at the same time: not going out and doing things makes you feel absolutely unwanted, and even if you do, you begin to feel like an absolute burden; situations that go counter to your ideal unleash paranoia and fury, and make you act in ways you normally would not; you shine so bright when/if you do feel positive (through artificial means or not) that it blinds you to certain realities. And if you at all become self-aware of these emotions, you start back at square one and wonder who you really are and what you’re even doing being around in the first place.
BoJack: Well, do you think I’m a good person deep down?
Diane: That’s the thing. I don’t think I believe in deep down. I kind of think all you are is just the things that you do.
BoJack: Well, that’s depressing.
BoJack begins as a damaging and manipulative character, who makes his decisions using his raw emotions at the time. And though sometimes (emphasis on the some) his decisions are not malicious, he tends to carry them out in the most destructive ways possible. It’s at the later half of the show where BoJack tries to come to terms with those decisions, tries to change and finds his acts of forgiveness unwanted, where it’s told that he, or anyone, can only really be one thing in the end: a good person.
Imaginary Diane: What seems to be the problem?
BoJack: Good grief. I’m so depressed. I just want everyone to love me, but I don’t know how to make them do it.
Imaginary Diane: You can’t force love, you blockhead. All you can do is be good to the people in your life, and keep your heart open.
BoJack: I screwed it all up. It’s too late for me, isn’t it? I don’t know.
Imaginary Diane: I’m just a crazy drug hallucination. I’ll say whatever you want me to.
BoJack: Then tell me it’s not too late.
Imaginary Diane: Well, it’s not too late. It’s never too late.
BoJack: Yeah, that’s right.
Imaginary Diane: It’s never too late to be the person you want to be. You need to choose the life you want.
It was around episodes 7 and 8, where BoJack and the show becomes more reflective, that the message really started hitting closer to home. The show constantly presents BoJack with the consequences of his actions, and although he may go deeper in a self-loathing and destructive hole because of it, it doesn’t warrant any other harm towards the people he legitimately cares about.
BoJack: You’re a good person, Diane, and that’s the most important thing.
Even if no one appreciates you, it’s important that you don’t stop being good.
Another frequent trait of depression is the consistency of blaming yourself. Sometimes this is just a personality trait, but being in the depths of depression just brings it out even more. I am no different: I would repeatedly apologize to people for being around me, adding that I had to strong-arm them into spending time together (which is very unfair to say in the first place). I would feel a great guilt every time I tried to open up to someone about my troubles. This would lead me to shelling up and inadvertently pushing them away, bringing more self-loathing and wondering why no one was or wanted to be around me. All of this would add up, amplify my imagined conversations and thoughts that other people didn’t like me, and blame myself for creating such a mess. This is the very definition of a vicious cycle.
Carolyn (to BoJack): I don’t know how you can expect anyone else to love you when you so clearly hate yourself.
Although the roots of BoJacks depression may only be applicable to himself, the reactions and feelings he has through it all was absolutely no stranger to me. When you’re going through that state, you’re just looking for something, anything, to see if you’re actually here. To see if there’s actually anyone else who sees that you’re there. And I would be selling short the people who have been there for me if I didn’t mention them here, but because my brain can be real dumb sometimes, just when I would talk or let something out it would just make me feel even worse. It’s feeling like you’re in a lose-lose whichever way you go, which BoJack faces on more than one occasion.
And that’s not to say it’s just all “in your head” and you just need to “walk it off.” It’s finally going through this help and finding out there’s probably more biology going on in the background. Sometimes there is literally nothing someone can do about it. I have no idea exactly where I may be on that scale, but regardless on what level it may be affecting my brain, it’s the thing I learned from BoJack that I need to keep holding close to my heart: I just need to be the best person I can be.
I had a discussion once with a friend one time as to our preferences of fiction or non-fiction. Having the background I do, I told him that I found a lot of fiction to be boring: I would much rather read about the experiences of real people who lived through real events than about fake people in made-up circumstances. However, he told me that you’re able to see, experience, feel and learn those same things in fiction, possibly even more so than those in the “non” category.
There’s a feeling sometimes that movies, TV shows, games or other media outside of books do not have the same gravitas as its paper-bound counterpart. While yes, I do feel that some mediums have quite a ways to go in expressing what they want, it’s simply false to say those pieces of art cannot reach people in ways books “only” can. Some people are able to intake the lessons from some mediums better than others, and I guess I’m one of those.
What I’m saying is a cartoon horse-man really helped me in dealing with some very serious issues and sometimes that’s all you need.
Will watching this show is going to “cure” someone’s depression? No. I think everyone tends to handle and treat those feelings in different ways. But what I’m saying is that BoJack Horseman is really what I needed at a certain time: it helped me in admitting who I am, how I handle things, maybe where I’m going wrong, and what I can do to maybe fix it a bit. And it’s exactly why this show helped me is why I think you need to check out this under appreciated Netflix gem. Regardless of what kind of good animal-person or person-person you might want to become. I’m going to try a little better.
UPDATE: Read my BoJack Horseman season 2 review here.