BoJack Horseman and the Modern West
Depression, suicide, anxiety, drug overdoses, and a “loneliness epidemic” all indicate that the United States, and much of the Western world, is consumed by a mental health crisis. There seems to be a lack of meaning for many people in the contemporary West. In essence, our modern world is best exemplified by the Netflix show BoJack Horseman, about a washed-up anthropomorphic horse who wishes to return to social relevance, but is consumed by his uncontrolled appetites and self-gratification.
The loneliness epidemic mainly affects young people since traditional forms of belonging and community have declined in postmodern societies. The young have been unmoored from the anchor of tradition and belonging to an impersonal, primarily digital, world. Moreover, our contemporary culture claims that the meaning of life is, as Dr. Thomas Woods has explained, to be “a self-absorbed nobody fixated on gratifying your appetites.” The modern world has placed the ego, the self, as the meaning of everything. All that matters is the self’s desires and to gratify these desires in whatever way necessary. Morality has no place, for the great sin of modernity is to judge, and there are no objective values.
Furthermore, the self views any complications and inconvenience as an injustice, since every individual is owed comfort and easy access to all desires being fulfilled. In the modern self, there is the idea that the individual is an autonomous being who constructs his own reality and just happens to share the world with others.
In other words, the self has somehow become oppressed, and the radicals must destroy those oppressive hierarchies of sex, gender, class, and race that produce inequality and prevent the individual from achieving absolute freedom. That is why the cultural left began the process, in the 1960s, of deconstructing our social and cultural institutions. That deconstructionist view, together with significant socio-economic changes, led to the collapse of traditional forms of belonging in our age. But, inevitably, the individual cannot satisfy all of his wishes. He cannot lead a life of absolute comfort without struggle and suffering. It is, quite simply, impossible.
At this point, postmodernity is a world of BoJack Horsemans. In the show, Horseman cannot escape his emptiness, no matter how much he tries. He seeks meaning, often without being conscious of it, by promiscuity, drugs, large parties, and wasteful misuse of money. For some reason, he mistreats everyone around him. He is incapable of loving people and sabotages himself constantly on both a personal and professional level. For the most part, he extends his own misery to others everywhere he goes. Horseman cannot escape the horrible realization that he is not, in fact, a good person. Furthermore, he shares the victim mentality of our times; it is not his fault he is how he is. There is nothing to be done. It is his mother’s fault or any other myriad of people. Horseman is only a victim of the world.
Additionally, many of the people Horseman interacts with during the show are no better. At one point, a former friend he betrayed refuses to forgive BoJack before he dies so that BoJack will be tormented for the rest of his life. Forgiveness is inexistent in that world. BoJack, in the end, doesn’t ever entirely escape from hell. He cannot escape his own ego. BoJack is the archetype of the modern world’s refusal to engage in moral reflection, of degrading man to the level of a mere animal. I doubt it is a coincidence that in the world of BoJack Horseman, humans and animals are almost the same.
There is, however, another way of looking at humanity. The Ancients believed that happiness and meaning were not something internal and subjective, but something that came from outside was objective and required moral training. More than that, there is the Christian way. Christianity teaches that man is a union of matter and spirit. He is not just an animal without self-control. Man has God-given reason. He is something higher in the hierarchy of nature; man is responsible for training himself in virtue and seeking God. Dr. Woods also said, “If [man] will not engage in intellectual activity or serious moral reckoning when it comes to his own behavior, then what is the point of his being human in the first place? If one’s guiding principle is to do whatever brings immediate pleasure, one is in a sense no different from a beast.”
Our culture’s vacuum is one in which we have forgotten the human person. We are a very proud age; we assume that the world owes us prosperity and comfort and that our ego transforms and builds our reality. We fall into despair when it doesn’t happen that way and encounter evil or suffering. We have forgotten the tragedy of the human condition, our fallen state, original sin, and all those inconvenient facts. Since BoJack Horseman looks only to the self and believes that things are made only for the gratification of whatever desire possesses you at present. When that ego clashes with a fallen world, it leads to depression and nihilism. That view of modern man leaves no place for the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Still less does it leave space for hope, faith, and love. We can, as a culture, aspire to be something greater than ourselves. We can listen to older voices and institutions calling on us to be better, to value life, and treat people as persons, not objects. We can rise above postmodern culture’s mediocrity and conformity. In the end, Pope Benedict XVI said said best, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”