Shock Value

Perhaps it's just my imagination, but it seems that a lot of the stand up comedians who continue to practice their art have become far more direct and abrupt with their jokes. People are saying what's on their mind regardless the consequences or, perhaps more accurately, because of the potential behind turning an angry mob of offended listeners into higher ratings. It's an interesting tactic and one that generally makes me laugh out loud more out of the sheer gall of the comedian than the content of the joke.

Some, however, are insanely perceptive and can use shock value to inform rather than merely entertain. Dave Chappelle is certainly one of the few who is able to plant the seeds for a punchline, leave it alone for half an hour, then have a final bit that circles back to employ the three or four words from earlier in the show. He shares his opinions, justifies them, and attempts to explore two sides of the same coin to point out any inconsistencies or absurdities that might exist on one side or the other. We don't need to agree with everything he says, which is why I used the word "opinion" earlier, but we can certainly appreciate the attempt to share the structure of an idea.

The largest shocks this week came not from a single comedian, though, but a group of writers from the animated Bojack Horseman series on Netflix. I've been a fan of this show for quite some time and the final run of episodes has just recently been released … and they're powerful. One episode, Xerox of a Xerox made me angry at Bojack as he tried to weasel out of responsibility yet again for awful behaviour that resulted in the death of someone he worked with. However, the biggest shock came from the penultimate episode, The View from Halfway Down where Bojack dies. The entire episode is in his head, positioned as a dream that he's not waking up from, but it's the final gasps of consciousness trying to piece together what's happening while Bojack is face-down in a pool. This death, while not permanent, hit much harder than I would have expected. It's given me much to think about … as this is what I tend to do.

Why was I upset when Bojack tried to escape responsibility for the death of Sarah Lynn? Why was I upset when Bojack died from drowning in the pool of his former house while drunk out of his mind after being sober for so long?

Thinking it through, I believe it's because I see the worst aspects of myself in Bojack, as well as some of the same redeeming characteristics. We are all imperfect. We all make mistakes. Some mistakes are forgivable. Some mistakes are understandable. Some mistakes will haunt a person for the rest of their life. I don't like some of the things I've done in my life. I've made efforts to atone, but the naked sins will forever be a stain on my conscience. I knew better at the time but went through with the decisions anyway. Most of us cannot escape the consequences of our actions for long, and this is one of the reasons I was upset with the main character when he turned an unnecessary death into a self-promotion opportunity.

And his death hit me because it's usually eternal. When we're gone, we're gone. For all his faults, I like Bojack. Sure, some of his actions might be upsetting and the consequences, when they are applied, are rarely sufficient, but I like the guy. As I've said, I see some of myself in the flawed horse character. So when he died it was like a part of me died as well … and this was upsetting.

The concept of death is not foreign to me, but it's not something I've directly encountered, either. To lose part of yourself, even if a cognitive exercise, can be quite jarring. It's irrational, I know. But one cannot deny the impact of death. It can shock a person if they're not expecting it … even if the deceased is a fictional humanoid horse.