Some people might wonder what a cartoon show could possibly contribute to the conversation about America’s gun violence epidemic. But the satirical television show “BoJack Horseman” sheds light on the issue in a way that everyone should listen to.
As 38,000 silk roses and 4,000 vases currently sit on the National Mall, Americans are once again reminded of the gun violence running rampant throughout the country. The coronavirus pandemic has not stopped the gun violence epidemic – it has simply made the tragedies less public. With the most recent attack on April 16, this year has already incurred 147 mass shootings, 11 of which are categorized as mass murders.
Season 4, episode 5 of Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s “BoJack Horseman”, titled “Thoughts and Prayers,” opens with movie producer Lenny Turteltaub throwing his sandwich out of the window in anger as his intern calls and says “Sorry to interrupt your lunch but there was another mass shooting.”
“BoJack Horseman” is an absurdist comedy cartoon, but its portrayal of gun violence is almost identical to the crisis the United States is currently facing. On the last day of 2020, at least 20 people were shot and killed in the United States, ending the country’s most violent year in decades with more than 19,000 gun-related deaths. Metropolitan areas were once again plagued with crime as D.C. hit a 16-year high for gun violence, and there were more shootings in New York City in the first seven months of 2020 than in all of 2019. As Princess Carolyn, an ambitious celebrity agent in the show, monotonously notes while scrolling on her phone “Oh terrible tragedy, thoughts and prayers.” But we know the country needs so much more than thoughts and prayers – and “BoJack Horseman” knows, too.
The 25-minute masterfully crafted episode tells the story of “Hollywoo” (a riff on Hollywood) actress Courtney Portnoy and her upcoming film about a kill-the-bad-guys action movie that features a shoot-out scene at a local mall. And then there is an actual shooting at a mall. Turteltaub promptly says “I am sick and tired of real life gun violence getting in the way of us telling stories that glamorize gun violence” followed by, of course, thoughts and prayers.
The gun violence crisis the United States is facing is very different from the situation for “Hollywoo” celebrities, but the constant string of gun violence makes it almost impossible for Americans to complete daily tasks, like going to work, without fearing for their lives. If you live in the United States, you never know if going to school, the grocery store or your place of worship is going to be a safety hazard. And if you are a minority, the list is even larger.
The “BoJack Horseman” episode continues with the characters setting Google alerts for mass shootings so they can finally set the film in a new location, untouched by gun violence. As each new setting is suggested, an alert dings, a movie theater then a county fair then a freeway are all crossed off the list, a “thoughts and prayers” is muttered and the group moves on.
With the same intentionality that you might say “bless you” after someone sneezes, BoJack characters toss around “thoughts and prayers” as a cop-out to actually addressing gun violence and its effects. Following the 2015 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, former President Barack Obama called out lawmakers for offering condolences but not taking action. He referenced what The New York Times called “the condolence machine,” where tweeting love to the victims and their families allows people in power to check off addressing gun violence.
Thoughts and prayers have served as the catchall for “I’m sorry this bad thing happened, and I have the power to help fix it, but maybe next time.” Though most politicians offer condolences after mass tragedies, “thoughts and prayers” particularly sting when coming from former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and even former President Donald Trump, who have all received money from the National Rifle Association. And though you could give someone who is buddies with the NRA the benefit of the doubt, and believe that they are truly thinking and praying for victims and their families, “thoughts and prayers” has lost any sympathetic meaning.
“Thoughts and prayers” became so trite even the Dalai Lama weighed in following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018. “Although I am a Buddhist monk, I am skeptical that prayers alone will achieve world peace. We need instead to be enthusiastic and self-confident in taking action,” he tweeted.
The BoJack episode continues with Courtney Portnoy’s movie “Ms. Taken” being finally shelved after a mass shooting occurs that is perpetrated by a woman. The episode wraps up by extending its irony to discuss sexism by cutting to a legislative room of White, middle-aged men immediately and unanimously passing common sense gun legislation, where liberal journalist Diane Ngyuen scoffs, “I can’t believe this country hates women more than it loves guns.”
Unfortunately, no amount of Bob-Waksberg’s genius can end the gun violence epidemic in the United States, and neither can thoughts or prayers from representatives. Without sensible gun legislation, Princess Carolyn will never be able to answer the phone and say “Talk to me, and not about the depressingly unstoppable rise of real life gun violence in this country, thoughts and prayers” and hear something other than the depressingly unstoppable rise of real life gun violence. While Congress definitely has better things to do than have a “BoJack Horseman” watch party, legislators can and should offer condolences followed with action.
Gabriella Spina, a freshman, is an opinions writer.