What came first, the chicken or the artificial insemination?
Animals say the funniest things! Or would, if they could. Which in BoJack Horseman, they can. Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s Netflix original comedy series has garnered admiration for its unflinchingly dark – yet hilarious – twist on the opulent Hollywood lifestyle. It’s almost as crazy as the creator’s name. This cartoon is so meta it breaks the rules for breaking the rules by breaking the fourth wall. It takes things so literally, despite the absurd context, that the word ‘literally’ is literally said in every single episode, usually by the misanthropic (or should that be misanthropomorphic?) titular character BoJack Horseman – voiced by Arrested Development icon Will Arnett – whose cynical, tirelessly critical commentary gives the show its lifeblood. For all the dark truths, risqué jokes (Bill Cosby, rectal cancer, drug addiction etc.), and downer endings, however, BoJack Horseman has a surprisingly sentimental core. This emotional sensitivity extends beyond the human spectrum to encompass the whole animal kingdom.
Horseman’s writing team are so on point with their character development that they totally humanise individuals who have practically no redeeming qualities and who technically aren’t even human, deftly creating sympathy for those who truly deserve none. By tackling hot button topics like ageism or misogyny with silly caricatures of bovines and bugs and birds, the show makes powerful statements while also reinforcing the idea people are not the only ones who feel; they are not unique in their suffering. Unlike jaded 90s superstar BoJack Horseman, whose progress in life is perpetually stunted by his destructive behaviour, there are many creatures in the show whose roles are defined by the species they were born into: slugs are slow, seals are in the navy, cows are waitresses who pump milk out of their own boobs to serve to customers. Even BoJack himself, despite his heightened self-awareness as the main character, has been unsuccessfully jockeying his entire life to transcend the expectations of his birth. No matter what he does he will always be a dark horse at heart.
Season two of BoJack Horseman was just added to the Netflix Original stable last week. More ambitious than the first, and with an even greater abundance of puns, the series also pushes its animal welfare stance to bold new levels. Most overt is episode five, Chickens, which presents a satirical take on the fast food industry (namely KFC and Chick Fil-A) while also condemning factory farming and, to a lesser extent, organic free-range farming too. Two main contradictions are examined in regards to chicken consumption. The first is the concept of ‘humane slaughter’ of sentient beings that desire to live – how can such methods as throat slitting, neck cracking, suffocation or machine grinding (all done while the animal is fully conscious) be considered in any way ethical, regardless of how the animal lived its life beforehand? Secondly, why do humans differentiate between certain animals when choosing what to eat and what to pet? The juxtaposition is even more potent in the alternate world of the show, in which most of the population are anthropomorphised animals.
During the lampooning intro, the ‘Gentle Farms’ owner (a rooster himself) chuckles as his son asks him to explain the difference between them and the chickens they raise for food. The answer he gives is that ‘food’ chickens are not the same as ‘friend’ chickens, because before they were even born the future fried bucket fillers have their fates decided for them – they have a sell by date from the moment of their forced, artificial conception. Hopefully viewers will understand that this is actually an expression of the bizarre social constructs surrounding all animals, not just egg laying birds. For example, pigs are as intelligent as dogs, with the same social needs, yet Westerners support their mass butchery daily while condemning as barbarians those who chop up a few hundred canines at the Yulin festival once a year.
Big corporations don’t want you making these logical connections, so they bombard you with advertisements to tantalise your senses and nullify your emotional and intellectual capacity, obliterating your guilt by telling you everything is fine. How dare you think for yourself? Well, BoJack Horseman challenges you to do just that. According to ADDAPT’s animal protection kill counter, more than two million hens have been slaughtered since I started writing this piece thirty minutes ago. BoJack’s creators know it is going to take a long time to change humankind’s attitudes towards the enslavement of animals, lamenting the negligible difference the protagonists made by saving the lives of a few sorry chickens from imminent death by showing a ‘6 million served’ sign above a Chicken 4 Dayz restaurant just before the curtain closes.
This show hates tropes in all their guises – it’s anti-sitcom, anti-reality TV, anti-Disney, anti-pretty-much-everything, and it wants to remind you that, as with real life, there is always the day that comes after the happy ending. And on that day, millions more baby male chicks will be macerated by a supposedly benign ‘free range’ egg industry that has no profitable use for them. In case you can’t visualise that, here’s a gratuitous gif of what it looks like. But don’t ask questions. Just keep eating!