Thoughts and Prayers: Bojack Horseman, Gun Violence, and the Phrase Made Profane

A comedy with a talking horse offers Hollywood's most insightful commentary of gun violence

Bojack Horseman has really taken it upon itself to address the unbelievable dumpster fire of the real world in season four. After addressing the season as a whole, I want to dive into one episode that is so close to home with recent news: the episode “Thoughts and Prayers” takes a dark comedic view on the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States, and the faint of heart should brace themselves.

The episode begins with film exec Lenny Turteltaub’s assistant rushing to brief him on the sad news that a mass shooting has happened. He asks “where?” and the assistant starts to tell him… until he is interrupted with the specific “where” he is looking for — the location, as in a “school, park, bank, etc.” As it turns out the shooting was in a shopping mall. Their new film featuring actress-model Courtney Portnoy, “Taken,” features a shootout in a shopping mall. Turteltaub jumps into action calling on Princess Carolyn to try to get ahead of the tragedy, and of course sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims. But the real concern is clear: how do we get this film released?

In a brainstorming session, Todd says, “I’m just saying, if people have the right pumped up kicks they can outrun the bullets,” referencing the song “pumped up kicks” that everyone knows and loves but often doesn’t realize it’s about school shootings. In order to get ahead of the tragedy and still release the film, Princess Carolyn contacts Diane, a journalist at a hot new blog, to interview actress Courtney Portnoy. Next thing you know, Diane is holding a gun and feeling great about it. She writes an article about feminism and the right to bare arms. She highlights feeling unsafe as a woman in the US and justifying why she owns a gun. “Being a gun owner finally makes me feel as safe walking down the street as a man gets to feel all the time.”

The episode is a painful link between gender politics, the United States’ actions towards guns, and the influence of the media. And, of course, a touch on the desensitization towards gun violence via violent movies and the sheer number of shootings that our country does not do anything about. I’m not proposing Bojack has the answers to our problems of gun control — not at all — but it makes poignant statements about how we handle the news and what we choose to decide from it. After the first shooting news, Turteltaub is beside himself about what to do about the movie because the real-life shooting has happened. “I am sick and tired of real-life gun violence getting in the way of us telling stories that glamorize gun violence. Why is this happening?”

His assistant flat out explains our terrible history of violence: “We’ve just been conditioned by a rugged individualist culture woven into the savage architecture of our country itself, birthed as it was through violent uprising, but perhaps popularized in the modern imagination by stories of…”

As the episode continues there is a mass shooting every 5 minutes or so, an exaggeration of the current state, but the sad thing is it doesn’t feel that much exaggerated. The story spins towards the right for a woman to own a gun, all so that the female hero in this movie could have a good angle and the film can still be released, despite the tragedies. “Thoughts and prayers” they continue to say at each moment, symbolizing how we have normalized the many mass shootings that continue to happen.

Once yet another shooting happens in the episode – this time by a woman, the media is aflame. All fronts spout gender biases, pitting women and men against each other on rights to own guns. All types of media state horrible stereotypes to inflate the issue, saying things like, “I wouldn’t want to be around one of those ladies at a certain time of the month, if you know what I mean,” or “the gun was made for a man’s hand and a man’s temperament.”

Although it seems wildly out of control and ridiculous, it sounds too accurate to what would really happen if this issue was spun like this in the media. It also doesn’t fall far from coverage on issues of gun violence today. The argument to owning guns is often to “feel safe,” “protect oneself,” for “recreation.” Once a shooting happens, the skew on the shooter is they are a terrorist when it’s a person of color and a disturbed lone gunman for white males. The conversation never changes and the shootings continue. Maybe Bojack Horseman doesn’t have the answers Sway, but waived a huge flashlight on the way our culture gives thoughts and prayers while always trying to find the angle to one’s favor.

Personally, I am an avid “no guns” person. In a society built on violence, murder, and enslavement, the gun isn’t a weapon that can be solely for hunting or protection as many claim. Because of the history of this country, its current residents have a lot to unlearn before guns can truly be used recreationally or safely. I have heard the justifications for owning a gun, for knowing how to use one, for the benefits. I have also heard the cons, the accidental shootings, the cases in which a gun won’t actually protect you, the mass shootings. We never seem to have the real conversations, we never really seem to get to the root, and that is by design. Until that happens, I cannot see reason for owning AR-15s for hunting or safety when they are widely used for mass murder in public spaces.

In the end of the episode, the issue makes it to congress… “Because even one death from the bullet of a female gun owner is too many.” Congress then literally ban’s procession of any firearm in the state of California. Princess Carolyn says, “Wow Diane, you just passed sensible gun legislation.” To which Dianne replies, “I can’t believe this country hates women more than it loves guns.”

This is a place the US has been before. When the Black Panthers marched on a California government building armed — as is their right as American Citizens — the carrying laws were amended and passed basically by the end of that week. This country has so much to unpack and it won’t let itself do that. Many people have stated referring to the recent tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas that the gunman had illegally obtained weapons. How would gun control help that, they ask. It was relatively easy for him to get that automatic weapon, as guns are prevalent and readily accessible in our country. No matter how he obtained it, illegally or legally, he easily obtained an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle.

All that to say, Bojack, I know it’s not funny. It’s all too real. This episode told a lot about the painful reality we live in today, and how Hollywood executives are quick to change for the thoughts and prayers of victims. In this episode, gun laws were actually changed… but our country does what is best for the rights of the shooter.

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  • Aisha Jordan

    Staff Writer

    Aisha Jordan is an Actor, Writer, and Producer in new media with a B.A. from The New School and M.A. in Arts and Politics from NYU. She’s a Podcast Producer on I Love a Lifetime Movie, The Table is Ours, and Origins of Hip Hop and Staff Writer at Black Nerd Problems and co-creator/host for the entertainment podcast 2Nerds and an Actor. She’s Co-Executive Producer and actor for the newly formed Village Park Productions with sketch comedy series #HashtagTheShow. Jordan was featured in Title X’s PSA on reproductive rights, and HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness. She’s a member of the Writer’s Guild of America East.

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