culture

boJack horseman and the question of happiness

BoJack Horseman

When I watch cartoons I feel both too late and too old to be doing so. My tastes as a kid changed from watching Spongebob to religiously watching ESPN. SportsCenter with Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, and Stuart Scott seemed more appropriate to me as a 9 year old than Animorphs the animated series. Now in my late twenties, my cultural horizon has widened enough to include cartoons once again. I am overjoyed watching new 10-minute episodes of Steven Universe, Adventure Time, The Amazing World of Gumball, and Regular Show. These shows have helped reshape and understand deeply what it means to be a child and at the same time wish I didn’t give up so early.

Last year, I began watching adult cartoons. This all happened when I came across Bob’s Burgers on Netflix. This led me to Archer, Rick and Morty, and the infamous BoJack Horseman. I binge watched the first season of BoJack Horseman and then watched each episode at least three more times. Each episode has an enormous cultural and emotional depth. In the first season, BoJack questioned if he was a good person. In the last episode, Diane answered BoJack with performativity theory:

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The second season of BoJack Horseman continues in depth, but the question has changed. It’s now: “How can I be happy?” This season ends with more closure than the first, but I think still has the possibility for a third season. Overall, the question of happiness has always intrigued me. Like why is it in the US Constitution? Or how does a person measure happiness? My mom will ask me after different life transitions if I’m happy. Maybe happiness and being content go hand-in-hand. That if I am content and feel purposeful, I’m happy. Although, this is not always true.

If BoJack Horseman has taught me anything, it’s to take more risks. To allow yourself to be vulnerable. Disappointment is inevitable, but the point is to put yourself out there enough to feel the depth life has to give. I am often brought back to a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. He thought the new technologies of his day were making people less attune with each other and life itself. To wake them up from their slumber of apathy, he imagined an Enemy who would besiege a safe city.

All of you undisturbed cities
haven’t you ever longed for the Enemy?
I’d like to see you besieged by him
for ten endless and ground shaking years.

Until you were desperate and mad with suffering;
finally in hunger you would feel his weight.
He lies outside the walls like a countryside.
And he knows very well how to endure
longer than the one that he comes to visit.

Climb up on your roofs and look out:
his camp is there and his morale doesn’t falter,
his numbers do not decrease; he will not grow weaker,
and he sends no one into the city to threaten
or promise and no one to negotiate.

He is the one who breaks down all walls,
and when he works, he works in silence.

Take risks.

Be disappointed.

Fight for something or someone.

Life’s too short to be apathetic.

Watch BoJack Horseman? 

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Christainity, culture, Philosophy

reflecting on natural law and culture

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment I recently thought of the meaning of ‘natural,’ but it’s been consuming my thoughts. I guess most recently it was hearing arguments against same-sex relationships. Some claim God made humanity to naturally fit together, one with a vagina and the other with a penis. They just work. Conversely, as I and other proponents of queerness recognize, among other things, that the rest of the animal kin-dom does not abide by this female/male sexual relationships, like giraffes. Bill Nye was asked this question recently and his answer is spot on.

Historically, Thomas Aquinas popularized ‘natural law’ in the 13th century. It has two main parts:

1) everything has a place in the hierarchy of the universe with God governing over all.

2) there are actions that lead to the common good of humanity and the world. If one does not follow such actions they are sinning or going against natural law.

Natural law has persons of color viewed lower in the social hierarchy. Womyn were cast under men as lesser. As well, higher on the ladder of privilege were those in the religious life. Natural law gave rights to patriarchy, slavery, and other oppressive forces.

Here’s an example from Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles,

“for men of outstanding intelligence naturally take command, while those who are less intelligent but of more robust physique, seem intended by nature to act as servants;”

Thus, it’s only natural for the privileged to be the master while the strong not as smart ones be their slave…

Duns Scotus, a contemporary of Aquinas, used natural law to claim that slavery should be abolished. Although, he does not follow his own logic to completion. Since he also wrote, “But nevertheless, once they have been established [slavery], they have to be observed.”1 This was in relation to slavery in Paul’s time. While every person and generation has certain cultural blinders, certainly Aquinas and Scotus could not understand certain emancipatory politics.

I argue and believe nothing is natural, but everything is cultural. With the Pope’s recent visit to a country I deeply love, Bolivia, he ate and drank coca. Coca is used to make cocaine, but in plant form is used to alleviate nausea from the high altitudes and helps the los campesinos have energy to make it through the workday. When I arrived in Bolivia several years ago, my first beverage was coca tea, which eased my stomach. I became angered reading some of the Twitter reactions to the Pope eating and drinking coca. They thought the Pope was getting high. Ridiculous! Anyway, coca in Bolivia is culturally bound and still very misunderstood in the States.

The other night I had dinner with a friend and a comment she made has stuck with me. I shared how I’ve moved up the East Coast for school and have lived in different cities almost every summer since 2009. I asked her if she’s been to the East Coast. She shot back, “Just because I haven’t been anywhere but Michigan, doesn’t mean that I’m not cultured.” In shock, I nodded my head in a more rapid pace than I normally do. In a way, I’ve been a curator and collector of cultures, yet continue to relish in my past cultural habits. I still listen to ska and grunge music on occasion and wear a black shirt almost every day. As well, I continue to have at least one piercing and watch cartoons. The fact we live in a globalized society doesn’t change much of it. My friend calling me out was certainly helpful in making me reflect my own cultural bias.

douglas coupland

black flag theology includes the theologies of postmodern, political, feminist, queer, and liberationist. To understand nothing as natural means we create structures and cultures. Oppression is not natural and therefore does not need to exist. Changing structures, i.e. white supremacy, is not an easy task, but is not impossible.

1 Foucault, Douglass, Fanon, and Scotus in Dialogue: On Social Construction and Freedom by Cynthia R. Nielsen, pg. 129.

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