Bojack Horseman is a cartoon for adults, which aired on Netflix from 2014 to 2020. It is set in a world with humanoid animals and uses this scenario to address various relevant issues in funny, tragic and, at times, grotesque ways. This is definitely not just another cartoon like The Simpsons or Family Guy but instead has some great depth to its characters, story-telling and themes. Instead of narrating individual stories in every episode, its characters grow throughout the course of the story, spanning over six seasons. On top of that, the entire series is really relatable despite its protagonist being a Horse.
Among the topics covered by this series is asexuality, which I would like to discuss in today’s post. Bojack Horseman is a great show, so I recommend watching it. That being said, here is a SPOILER WARNING. Today I will mainly talk about one of the series’s main characters, Todd Chavez and his asexuality, accordingly I will talk about his character arc, which may spoil some parts of the series. However, even if you know about these aspects, the series will be enjoyable to watch. I watched it mainly because of this topic and already knew some of these things beforehand but started to love the series in general, despite knowing some things in advance so I recommend it to everyone.
Who is Todd Chavez?
Todd is an unorganised, oftentimes naïve and crazy homeless man in his twenties. He lives with Bojack Horseman, the series’s protagonist, since his mother kicked him out of her house. Todd attended one of Bojack’s many parties and stuck around, when the drunk Bojack told him to stay as long (at the party) as he wants to. That was five years before the beginning of the plot.
Their relationship is a bit abusive. Bojack uses Todd as someone to talk to whenever he needs it. He tends to let down Todd and make him feel miserable, while constantly pushing him to finally leave his house. In actuality however, Bojack does not want him to leave because he actually likes Todd and would be alone without him in his house.
While Bojack’s story is centred around his tragic past and his development based on that, Todd serves mostly as the comedic relief, which makes it hard to take him seriously. Both have to figure out what to do with their lives and pardon my French, but Todd really has to “get his shit together” at the beginning of the series. Not only is he practically homeless and dependent on a friend but he also does not have a job or any substantial education or perspective. One of the series’s running gags are Todd’s ridiculous business ideas, which are bound to fail because of his naivety and stupidity. The connection between Todd’s odd character and his asexuality is one of the topics that I would like to address today.
How is Asexuality depicted in Bojack Horseman?
The series provides a small insight into the topic. If you haven’t read my last post, where I discuss asexuality and aromanticism in detail, feel free to read it to get a deeper insight into this topic. https://sovlpvnk.com/2020/05/17/ace-rep0-an-ace-101-what-is-asexuality/
It will help you to understand the topics that I will address today. Here is a concise definition of asexuality as a basic introduction to the topic: Someone who is asexual does not experience sexual attraction. There is also aromanticism, which is the romantic equivalent. If someone is aromantic, they do not experience romantic attraction, i.e. they do not fall in love or have a concept of love contrasting societal norms. Now, how is this part of the series Bojack Horseman?
Over the course of the series, this topic is explored in a few steps. The series covers several phases that asexuals may go through as Todd progresses through all of them. In each of my sub chapters, I address one of these stages, respectively.
Initially, neither Todd, nor the audience know that he’s asexual. However, in some of the earlier episodes, it is foreshadowed, for instance in the following scenes.
Stage 1: Growing up as an Asexual
This scene takes place in a flashback from 2007, hence the scene hair. Todd and a close friend of his, Emily, are locked inside a wardrobe for a game of “7 minutes in Heaven”. Emily obviously has a crush on Todd and hopes to kiss him, while he seems to be nervous about the idea. Initially, Emily assumes that he would rather be in there with a different girl but when she addresses this, Todd reveals that he is anxious because he does not have any experience in kissing.
But how does this concern asexuality? At this point, we do not know that Todd is ace (asexual) but when it is revealed later on, this scene makes sense. Despite initially being insecure, which is most likely to his insecurity about his sexuality or lack thereof, Todd kisses Emily. Therefore, this scene illustrates that asexuals have feelings and that they can experience romantic attraction and make experiences as any others. Simple things like kissing can become challenging if you have not figured out your sexuality yet and this scene illustrates this with Todd’s nervousness.
The show elaborates on that aspect in the next scene, which takes place a few months later.
Emily and Todd are a couple now and they make out on the bed of Emily’s parents. This again emphasises that despite the cliché, asexuals are normal people with emotions who may fall in love. Thus, this scene deconstructs stereotypes about asexuality, such as aces being emotionless robots.
When Emily asks him about having sex, Todd seems reserved and he obviously does not particularly like the idea. Emily says that she does not want to pressure him, to which Todd responds with: ‘Oh, I’m ready for Sex’. However, he becomes nervous and it becomes more and more obvious that the situation is uncomfortable for him. The awkwardness of this situation increases the closer they get to having sex but luckily for Todd, Emily’s parents arrive and he has to leave.
At this point, Todd probably has not figured out his sexuality, therefore this situation makes him nervous. He does not know ‘what’ he is and based on that, the situations in the clips are scary to him. Todd is probably not sure whether or not he wants to have sex, let alone, if he even likes the idea, which makes him question himself and wonder why he feels that way. That makes this situation awkward for him. Situations as portrayed in these scenes can be tough for asexuals who have not figured out their sexuality yet because doing so can be a long and difficult process, which Todd at this point, has not gone through entirely.
This scene also hints at Todd being sex-averse or repressed, which means that he leans towards a negative attitude towards sex or even finds it repulsive, since the thought of having sex obviously makes him nervous. At this point of the story, Todd isn’t aware of his sexual identity but in hindsight, this and the preceding scene clearly foreshadow his asexuality.
Additionally, both scenes hint at the struggle of growing up as an asexual. You are born asexual but you do not know about this, because it can be really complicated to make sense of your feelings and find out about your asexuality. Like the audience, Todd at first does not know that he is asexual and we find out about this alongside him later in the story. This in a way communicates the possible process of figuring out one’s sexuality because we as the audience go through the same process as Todd figuring out his sexuality.
Later in the series, back in the current timeline, Todd and Emily meet again. Emily and Bojack have sex and keep it a secret until Todd finds out about this, which, among other things, leads to a fallout between him and his former best friend Bojack. However, Todd and Emily become friends again. The next scene marks the first time that Todd is confronted with his potential asexuality. It captures the feelings one might develop because of their asexuality nicely.
Stage 2: Coming Out to Yourself
When Emily asks Todd about his sexuality, he is overwhelmed by this question. Obviously, Todd struggles with figuring it out even for himself, as you can tell from these lines: ‘I’m not gay, at least I don’t think I am but I don’t think I’m straight either. I don’t know what I am, I think I might be nothing’.
This depicts the thought process that aces might go through. Initially, you might wonder if you are gay because you realise that guys like girls or vice versa and that is just depicted as normal by society. According to this logic, if you realise you are not into the opposite gender, you ‘must be gay’. However, when you realise that you are neither gay nor straight, this might lead you to question yourself and your value as a person and to feel broken or non-existent for not being attracted to others. The first time, I saw this, it really touched me because it perfectly captured my process of coming out to myself, as I developed the same feelings before finding out that I am asexual.
Emily realises that she struck a nerve and that this topic means a lot to Todd, so she just affirms him and tells him that it is fine to feel that way. Her reaction depicts the best coming out scenario possible: Emily is just a good friend and accepts him. By validating his experiences, she takes the weight off the situation and makes him feel accepted. After that, both are relaxed and just hang out and this confession does not change anything because it does not make him less of a person. However, this is not the point when Todd realises that he is asexual.
This situation leads Todd to think more actively about his sexuality and over the course of a few episodes, he starts questioning labels and still struggles to label himself as asexual. However, at a later point, he comes out to his formerly best friend Bojack.
Stage 3: The First Coming out with Friends
Bojack references how he slept with Emily assuming that she was the only woman Todd ever loved, to which the latter replies with the following words: ‘I don’t know that I loved her. I don’t think I’m allowed to fall in love’.
This again emphasises the struggles of figuring out one’s asexuality. Oftentimes, love and sexuality are equated but, as established in my last article, they are separate things. This equation of love and sex is normalised by society, hence as an asexual or aromantic, you may feel like you are defective and undeserving of love because seemingly everyone experiences attraction except for you, as Todd assumes in this case. Thus, this example displays the possible consequences of heteronormativity for asexuals in form of insecurity and a negative self-perception as ‘broken’ and ‘undeserving of love’.
As a response, Bojack tells Todd that he appreciates him and for the first time, Todd uses the label asexual for himself. He feels good about his first real coming out. Especially the first coming out can be really liberating and this scene illustrates this.
When Bojack makes a joke about asexuality, Todd tells him that he is not ready to joke about it yet. This illustrates that it can take time to really embrace one’s identity and that everyone has to decide for themselves when they are ready to talk and joke about this openly. This shows that everyone is entitled to define their identity and to decide how they deal with said identity. Accepting and embracing your identity is a process that can take some time and this scene illustrates this.
Apart from Todd’s personal experiences with asexuality, the show provides some more general representation when Todd attends an ace meeting and learns about aromanticsm.
Stage 4: The Spectrum of Asexuality and Romantic Relationships
As hinted on earlier, there is a difference between asexuality and aromanticism. Both are part of the a-spec, the asexual spectrum, but they differ in the attraction that you experience. Asexuals do not experience sexual attraction but can experience romantic attraction and fall in love. Aromantics, in contrast do not experience romantic attraction but may experience sexual attraction. This is a key distinction that is often used to explain asexuality and the show uses it to teach its audience. Todd is asexual but not aromantic. He had romantic interests, such as Emily, thus this illustrates that asexuals are just normal people who can share the same feelings as others and it spreads awareness about the differences between asexuality and aromanticsm. This also applies to aromantics, both are valid.
At one point, Todd attempts to break down the relation and differences between asexuality and aromanticism. However, the writers use this to write a joke based on Todd’s density, which makes this distinction a bit unclear:
What Todd tries to explain here, is that people may be just asexual OR aromantic or a combination of both, asexual AND aromantic. This could have been nice, if the writers had not turned it into a joke but it is still nice to see that they address this topic at all, since aromanticism is often forgotten or equated with asexuality.
Todd considers creating a dating app for asexuals and talks about the amount of asexuals in society, which provides some additional information on the topic and serves as a plot device, as it hints at him being unhappy in his relationship. He says that without a dating app, asexual romantics (like him) may settle for other ace romantics whom they just meet ‘even if they have nothing else in common’, which applies to him and his girlfriend Yolanda.
This also touches on problems that asexual romantics may experience while dating but does not go in too much depth. For instance, this scene does not consider the problems that aces may face in a romantic relationship with a sexual person. Despite that, this scene teaches the audience that asexuals can have different experiences and positions regarding relationships.
Stage 5: Undercover Aces: When you are Ace but you are not out yet
When Todd gets to know Yolanda’s hypersexual family, the writers use this scenario to address heteronormativity and the normalisation of sexuality in a funny way. Apart from Yolanda, who is asexual, all family members work in the sex industry in some form. Her father writes erotic novels, her mother is a porn star and her sister writes columns. This contrasts her asexuality and makes the situation particularly awkward for her and Todd because Yolanda is not out yet. Especially one statement by Yolanda’s father highlights the struggles of being a closeted asexual in a family: ‘…she’s finally found a man, woman or object to have sex with’.
This statement is problematic for two reasons. 1st, it represents how parents want the best for their children and how this may result in the opposite. Often it boggles their mind if you tell them that you are not interested in a (sexual) relationship and they do not accept their children’s (a)sexuality. 2nd, the fact that he adds ‘object’ reflects how asexuals may be seen as abnormal in a heterosexually dominated society. It is a bit degrading to consider that her dad desperately wants her to have sex with anyone or anything even an object, as long as she has sex. Whether or not his daughter has sex is none of his business and his desperate want of her having sex in some form implies that something is wrong with people who do not have sex, hence he is worried about her because she does not fulfil this standard. That is pure heteronormativity and aphobia. Asexuals constantly experience things like this in real life. Heteronormativity has negative implications on a societal scale but when you are constantly confronted with it in your family, it may feel even worse, especially if you are still closeted.
Because of the aforementioned tensions, the family meeting escalates and turns into a disaster but even before that, the entire situation is just ridiculous. By emphasising this, the writers capture the struggles of asexuals in their families in an extreme and engaging way, which implies that there has to be a better way for families to deal with their children’s sexual orientations than this awkward and inappropriate way.
This is actually quite representative of the writing in Bojack Horseman, since the writers appear to have a good understanding of the topics that they depict in the series and use this knowledge to create absurd situations that showcase the essential problems concerning the topics that they address. Again, if you are interested, definitely watch the series, it is worth it.
6.Missed Opportunities: Todd’s Character Development
I would like to talk about one more scene. However I did not find any footage of it. Therefore, I will try to describe it briefly, since it marks one of the more significant points in Todd’s character development.
At the beginning of the series, Todd does not even have a job or his own flat. Over the course of the series, he starts to get more organised and takes responsibility for himself and even others. There is another character called Princess Carolyn who works as an agent and especially at the beginning of the series, it is highlighted that she is well-organised. She constantly takes care of the main cast’s problems and serves as a mother figure to them.
Her and Todd’s character arcs are polar opposites and they develop into opposing directions. While Todd becomes more organised and gains more control over his life, Princess Carolyn gradually loses the control over her life. This culminates in her low point in the series when Todd has to give her a motivational speech. That moment had the potential to be one of my favourite moments in this series but did not quite end up like that.
Todd cheers her up and gives her a prep-talk, which emphasises his growth as a character and shows that asexuals, despite the cliché of being emotionally immature, can understand others’s emotions and give them advice. That is a nice note but it could have been a perfect way to round up Todd’s character if he had referred to his asexuality and given Princess Carolyn (PC) advice based on that, since it would have been his first coming out in front of another side character to whom he is not as close as to Bojack or Emily. That would have made this scene more powerful. Additionally, if Todd had referred to his asexuality in this situation and used that to help PC, it could have illustrated his growth as a person even more than it did in the way that the writers did because it would have shown that Todd is capable of self-reflection and that he can help others BECAUSE of his experiences as an asexual.
This could be nitpicking but to me, the way that scene was handled was a missed opportunity. Todd’s growth as a character is implicitly due to his asexuality, since it makes him more self-aware and contributes to his development as a person. Accordingly, this scene was the perfect opportunity to illustrate this more explicitly. That way, his development could have been intertwined with his asexuality, giving it an even better representation by showing that asexuals are not emotionless robots but people with feelings who are relevant and can help others because of their experiences.
What I like about this Representation
The way that the writers handled asexuality in this series was nice overall. They provide a small 101 on the topic, however it is not really in-depth, which is probably due to Todd not being the protagonist of this series.
It is nice that the writers touched on asexuality and aromanticism and did not reduce the topic to asexuality but instead attempted to show that this sexuality is a spectrum covering various different identities.
Todd considers the possibility of being asexual but at first, he is sceptical and unsure if this label suits him but after his coming out, the audience learns about asexuality alongside him, which is a nice touch because it promotes empathy. His words in the moments when he is confronted with his sexuality reflect my personal experiences perfectly to the extent that I had some tears in my eyes when first watching the show.
Something I particularly like about the representation of asexuality in Bojack Horseman is that there was a notable effort in trying to showcase what aces may have to go through. Todd’s past, his self-perception before his coming out and the meeting with his girlfriend’s parents illustrate issues that asexual people go through every day. (Hetero)sexuality is constantly normalised and as a consequence, if you are ace and go through a process of self-reflection, you may feel like you are undeserving of love and need fixing. .
I particularly like the way the series addressed the negative self-perception that one might develop before learning that they are ace and how the meeting with Yolanda’s family makes fun of heteronormativity and overly sexual behaviour. The family’s behaviour is absolutely ridiculous and shows what closeted asexuals and closeted queers in general are exposed to in their lives in an exaggerated, yet tangible way.
What could have been better?
One problem that I addressed earlier is that the representation is not in-depth. Yes, it is established that asexuality is a spectrum and that there are also aromantics, but we do not learn much more about the spectrum and when Todd attempts to break this down, it is turned into a joke based on his knack for being overly complicated and seeming like he is constantly high. This leads us to the next, big problem.
The main problem about the ace representation in this series may be Todd’s character. Without wanting to sound negative, he is a loser. Todd is constantly dependent on others and has to move in with them. His business ideas are ridiculous and fall back on him, ruining all of the progress he makes and turning him into comedic relief incarnate in this series. You could already see one example in the coming out scene where Todd pays a tip of millions of dollars by accident. Because of things like this, it can be really difficult to take him seriously and this is somewhat reminiscent of clichés about asexuality. To many people, asexuality is a child-like attribute instead of a sexual orientation and they do not acknowledge asexuals as adults. Accordingly, Todd’s over the top stories and stupidity may give a bad representation to aces.
Apart from that, Todd is not a ‘normal’ or credible character because of his ridiculousness. Just to name a few examples: he becomes the governor of California by accident and joins two gangs in prison, sporting their gang tattoos on his arms throughout the rest of the series: ‘Skin Heads’ and ‘Latin Kings’. He is a more than live character standing out in a series about talking humanoid animals. Todd often functions as comedic relief even topping the general ridiculousness of the series, which makes it hard to really relate to him apart from his asexuality.
As stated earlier, the series often uses complicated issues to create jokes and asexuality is not excluded from this. That again makes it more difficult to touch on this topic in a relatable and respectable fashion. The representation of asexuality in Bojack Horseman is good, despite not being in-depth but at some points it just serves the humour of the series, as could be seen in the scene with Yolanda’s parents. This could be another nitpick though. I am generally really happy with the representation of asexuality in this series.
- The series touches on the basics of asexuality and aromanticism but does not go into much detail
- Todd is really over the top and mostly serves as comedic relief, making it hard to take him seriously
- Apart from his asexuality, Todd is not really relatable due his ridiculousness
- His character arc is due to his asexuality to some extent, as he implicitly becomes more self-aware and independent because of it and ‘gets his shit together’ but it could have been better, so this is a missed opportunity
What I would like to see:
- A normal, more relatable asexual character showcasing normal emotions like every other person.
- Their character development could be combined with their asexuality more explicitly to emphasise their progression more effectively than in Todd’s case e.g. they might use their experience as an asexual to help others based on the knowledge they draw from these experiences
- aromantic characters with purely platonic relationships showcasing that these relationships have the same value as romantic relationships
This marks the end of the first real entry in Ace-Rep. Have you watched Bojack Horseman yet and if so, did you like it? I can definitely recommend it, since it touches on various issues and topics in a fun, engaging way.
If I had to give the ace representation in this series a rating, it would be 8/10. It is solid but could be more in-depth. The series overall is at least a 9/10 for me because I really like the character progression, themes and topics addressed in it overall. Again, I can definitely recommend it but it can be tough to watch because it gets really dark. If you are easily triggered on an emotional level, you should be cautious about this series.
As always thanks for reading and until next time.
Next time on sovlpvnk: For the Future #2: Veganism – The possibly easiest Form of Political Participation.
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