September 18, 2018
I just finished the fifth season of BoJack Horseman, and I’m not really sure how to feel. It’s one of those shows that has a lot to say without ever really unloading everything all at once. Each season is meticulously crafted to provide a set of specific ideas surrounding a subject. Each season is designed to deconstruct the bullshit around us…and in us.
Last week, I read an article on Cracked titled “9 Pieces Of Life Advice That Are Bad and Stupid” by David Wong. It was a deconstruction of the cliches that have seemingly come to rule our lives. While the overall article had a few good points regarding the brainless quips we pull out whenever we need to find a reason for the things we do, there was one line in particular that stabbed me in the gut, because it made me think about the kind of person I am and the kind of person I’ll never be.
“You are the sum total of your actions, and nothing else.”
That single sentence broke me, because you can be so far removed from your past that you no longer even think about it, but your past is all others have to go on. It will always be a reflection of you. Time pushes things away naturally, and your intentions and thoughts mean nothing looking back. Not from the outside, at least. Not from where it matters.
You can be the protagonist of your story and be the villain of everyone else’s unknowingly, but how are you supposed to feel when those two realities start to come to light in your own head? Do you continue on your path of self-righteousness because you’re the good guy who got in way too deep? Do you double down on what led you on this path in the first place? How do you cope? How do you continue “being good” without getting overwhelmed and self-destructive?
The short answer: You don’t.
When you feel guilt and shame, you want the world to hold you accountable, to point a finger at you and say, “Yes, there’s the bad guy. Forever and always, he will be the monster of this story.” But that’s not really how it goes. Sure, if you’re famous and rich, you’ll get slammed by the masses on social media. Various entertainment writers will take you down and their words will fuel the fires of rage until the next big scandal. In a way, I guess that’s a punishment of sorts. Everyone finds out about the bad thing you did. I wish I had something deeper to say here, but I don’t. I’m not smart enough to determine whether or not the rich and famous getting dunked on is punishment enough, nor am I smart enough to explain how the endless rage cycle reflects and shapes our society. But I do know one thing: Whether the intention is to stoke the angry fires of the mob, writers hold famous people accountable. At the very least, they say, “Yes, this was a thing this person did and here are the negative results of this person’s actions.”
But what about people like me? Who holds the nobodies accountable?
For a long time, I had struggled in answering this question. How do you forgive yourself? If you are the sum total of your actions then if you never do another good thing in an attempt at balancing that cosmic scale of justice, do you even deserve to be forgiven? You’ll always be in the negatives. There’s no coming back from that, right? You’re garbage.
“You know what your problem is?” Diane’s boss, Stefani Stilton, asks her at the midway point of BoJack’s season five finale. “You hold everyone to an impossible standard including yourself. It’s super helpful for writing hot takes, shakedowns and click-bait take downs, but totally toxic for your personal life and internalized sense of self-worth, girl.”
“But shouldn’t we be asking more of ourselves and of the people in our lives?” Diane replies.
“Of course, but we all fail, Diane. The world is unforgiving enough as it is. The least we could do is find ways to forgive each other and ourselves.”
The end of the finale underlines this. BoJack wants to be held accountable by others, but Diane says no one will. Instead, she says he needs to take responsibility. Seemingly, this message gets through to him, and the final shots of season five are of BoJack walking into a rehab clinic and Diane driving away.
In my memory, I hear an old line from Todd in season three, “Oh, great, of course, here it comes,” he says as BoJack is about to play the victim yet again. “You can’t keep doing this. You can’t keep doing shitty things, and then feel bad about yourself like that makes it okay. You NEED to be better!” BoJack tries interrupting but Todd doesn’t let him. “No, no, BoJack just stop. YOU are all the things that are wrong with you. It’s not the alcohol, or the drugs, or any of the shitty things that happened to you in your career or when you were a kid. It’s you, alright? It’s you. Fuck man, what else is there to say?”
What else is there to say?