BoJack Horseman Confronts the Humane Myth Head-On
By Saryta Rodriguez
The Netflix original series, BoJack Horseman, often brings to mind animal liberation, at least from my perspective. I was intrigued and, at times, horrified from the very beginning of the show (though I remained, and still remain, a loyal fan) by how personified animals nevertheless are exploited for human purposes. For instance, an early episode in Season One shows a personified cow working as a waitress at a restaurant, and when someone requests milk, she squeezes the contents of her own udder into a glass. In another episode, the same waitress shoves a plate at a diner and bitterly grumbles, “Here’s your STEAK.” (Side note: This scene in particular begged the question to me, So are the cows in this society chosen at random to become steak, or are there separate cows destined from birth to become steak while others live freely in society?)
After a long and anxious wait, fans of the show were finally given a second season just last week, which I devoured. SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this post has to do with Season 2, Episode 5, “Chickens.”
The episode begins with a personified chicken giving a video tour of his “humane” farm. He first shows us a black-and-white photograph of a decrepit building and talks about how factory farms pump their chickens full of hormones and keep them cooped up in cages.
“Now, as a chicken, this concerns me. Here at Gentle Farms, we treat our livestock differently. Lush fields, plenty of dignity, and foosball! The chickens here have wonderful lives before we harvest them, so you can eat them.”
Later in this episode, BoJack’s roommate, Todd, encounters a genetically modified hen who has escaped from a factory farm. I noted immediately that this chicken, unlike other nonhuman animals personified on the show (such as the proprietor of Gentle Farms), is more chicken-like—and, even for a chicken, odd and somewhat lacking in intelligence—than human. This serves as an indication that she is functioning improperly due to genetic modification. Check.
Todd, BoJack, Diane (the ghostwriter of BoJack’s autobiography, which was published at the end of Season 1), and Kelsey’s daughter Irving (Kelsey being the director of BoJack’s dream movie project, Secretariat) resolve to take the hen, who Todd names Becca, to Gentle Farms, as the police are hot on her trail. There, the proprietor goes on about how amazing the farm is: “We have 20 acres of pasture, where our chickens have hours of free play.” The proprietor’s child thanks BoJack et. al. for rescuing the hen from “a terrible life at a factory farm.”
Then, the moment of truth: Todd expresses concern that the factory farm will try to get her back, to which the proprietor replies, “Oh, don’t you worry about your friend. That chicken belongs to us now.” He then proceeds to pump a shot-gun.
Both the language employed—not she lives here now, not she’s safe here now, but she belongs to us now—and the gun indicate the basic logical fallacies of the Humane Myth. The myth rests on the false premises that a) nonhuman animals belong to us and b) their lives can be taken whenever we want, for whatever reason we want, as long as those lives were pleasant prior to the act of murder with which they were ended.
Later, a horrified Todd persuades the group to rescue the hen from Gentle Farms—in other words, at least in the context of this episode, all of the main characters become liberationists. When searching frantically for Becca in a barn full of hens, Todd finally says, "I found her! This is Becca!"--to which Diane replies, "No, Todd, don't you get it?! They're ALL Becca!" The barn door is then flung open, and all chickens save Becca run away.
Ultimately, after the group is arrested and then released due to BoJack's celebrity, Irving asks whether anything they did made a difference, given that Becca was only rescued because BoJack happened to know Drew Barrymore (who "adopts"--purchases-- Becca from Gentle Barn). Diane asserts that yes, a difference was made--in spite of the following image of a Chicken 4 Dayz fast "food" place doing tons of business. I would have to agree, given that not only was Becca saved but also, presumably, the many hens who ran away when Diane opened the door to the barn.
If this isn’t evidence that our issue is on the table, that the moment is ripe, and that the truth will out, I truly don’t know what is. As Jon Stewart said on The Daily Show, the tide is changing. The Humane Myth is being challenged increasingly across media, moving beyond animal liberation outlets to mainstream news (both left-leaning like The New York Times and Huffington Post and even right-leaning, such as Glenn Beck in the Fall of 2014) and entertainment. Direct action works, and we will keep engaging in it until every animal is free.