Bojack Horseman leads the way on asexual representation – at the expense of aromantics

Bojack Horseman is a strange TV experience. You tune in thinking you might get some laughs or even witness a new Futurama type show and instead you watch a bunch of screw ups who are all too similar to yourself and people you know – and they keep screwing up and never get redemption. More than that, you often don’t want the really awful ones (Bojack) to achieve redemption because they are such awful people.

But that is also the brilliance of the show. It embraces showing (apologetically) bad characters who don’t really change their behaviour. Even the good ones are being consumed by the flaws they refuse to address (please, Mr Peanutbutter do better by yourself and then by everyone else). The result is that Bojack Horseman is actually filled with brutally poignant scenes of reflection. Not that the reflection the characters ever go through really leads to any substantial progression. Where would the fun in that be?
However, the show is at its best usually when it doesn’t try too hard. Take the eulogy episode – it was utterly boring. I’m sure there was a profound point in there somewhere about Bojack’s struggles with his relationships and especially the relationship with his mother but after a few minutes I switched off. Bojack is the character who will speak a lot and will never change. It’s good to laugh at in fiction because so many women know men exactly like that – men who endlessly talk about their flaws but never do anything to address it. A full episode of that is though is a bit much.
Unfortunately, trying too hard has also somewhat diluted its otherwise great queer content. Todd has spent a couple of seasons gradually coming to accept and even embrace his asexuality. It is a vital storyline because asexuals are so rarely given any, and least of all positive, representation on TV. Even someone saying the word “asexual” on TV is a huge deal – that’s how rare ace representation is.
Yet, the show tried to do too much and it ended up hurting other queers in the process. Something which aces, and aros, did not deserve. In trying to define asexuality, the show inevitably contrasted it to aromanticism – and got it completely wrong. On multiple occasions it is stated that aromantics do not date. This is false; some of us do. It was also stated that aromanticism is about never experiencing romantic attraction, but this language is quite erasive. Aromanticism is a spectrum. It is really important to acknowledge that some aromantics can and do experience romantic attraction because otherwise it can make questioning or grayro people feel really confused, invalidated and erased. Aromanticism should always be defined by people who don’t, or rarely, experience romantic attraction. That is more inclusive and far-reaching.
If only that was where the problematic content stopped though. Todd repeatedly posits himself as the ‘opposite’ to an aromantic. He is interested in the emotional and not at all in sex (again, this all ignores what aromanticism really is). What happens next is disgusting. To try to support the allosexual woman he is romantically attracted to, he builds her a sex robot. This sex robot is as blunt, crass and as dire as anyone could imagine when it comes to the words “sex robot”. It is a machine with several dildos. The implication given the previous set up is undeniably that aromantics are likened to sex robots. According to the lore of this show, all we are interested in is sex. We don’t date, we don’t forge connections, and we are the opposite to Todd. We don’t get our own identities. We get ones badly imagined by asexual characters – and we are made into sex robots.

This was an insult to aromantics but it also turned into a mess for aces too. Aces deserve their own representation that is positive and whole, without it being tainted in any way. Bojack did not have to get into aromanticism. It over-reached on a subject it knows nothing about. It could have just left it at asexuality – that really would have been okay. Aromantic representation arguably lags even behind that of asexuality. What we do not need is a perpetuation of the negative stereotypes about us and that’s exactly what the show gave us. Aces and aros are made to compete for scraps quite enough. Deliver good ace representation because it is so, so needed. But if you don’t care about aromantics then leave us out of it. Don’t use us to gain credibility on other issues while hurting us. Do asexuality well, and don’t do aromanticism at all if need be.

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