Swipe left to patriarchy: BoJack Horseman and neoliberal feminism

Valentina Aparicio | January 22, 2018

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Nowadays, for the sake of good PR, supporting diversity is a must for any company. At least on paper. However, while identity politics has fully entered the mainstream political discourse, attention to material inequality continues to be overlooked. Last week, Anahit Behrooz’s article criticised the way in which Hollywood stars have come out to support victims of sexual harassment in problematic ways, such as Connie Britton’s $380 sweater that read ‘poverty is sexist’. The truth is that in fact most of the fights of identity politics have been now co-opted by the immensely wealthy. Media corporations and tech giants continue to portray the rich as messiahs of social change, turning the economic success of one (coloured, female, LGBT) individual into proof of equality for the many, through a discourse Naomi Klein has termed ‘trickle down identity politics’. And while criticism against ‘white feminism’ proliferates in the humanities, much work is yet to be done regarding neoliberal pro-diversity feminisms.

Netflix’s original series BoJack Horseman, released in 2014, artfully criticises this type of identity politics through its sarcastic representation of a feminist blog startup called Girl Croosh. The series follows BoJack Horseman, a former star of a 90s TV show. Diane Nguyen, an aspiring young writer, ghost-writes BoJack’s memoir to bring him back into the spotlight. In season 4, Diane works for Girl Croosh, a Buzzfeed-like feminist blog which capitalises on the promotion of ‘progressive’ values.

Girl Croosh’s offices in LA offer a quintessential representation of the ‘progressive’ startup. The company is owned by Stefani Stilton, a wealthy young mouse from a well-known ‘Hollywoo’ family. Despite the connotations of Stilton’s characterisation as a mouse, Stefani holds economic and social power. She epitomises the new brand of neoliberal social hero, such as Mark Zuckerberg, whose endorsement of ‘cool’ causes does not affect structures of power. When arguing with Diane whether her sex-life is ‘healthy’ and ‘liberated’ enough, she adds: ‘This is not a conversation between an employee and her superior. This is a conversation between a friend and her superior’. This is the true danger of these new types of discourse, in which the difference between the worker and their superior is blurred and reconstructed as a friendly one, although Stefani holds power over Diane’s life.

While promoting empowerment and diversity, Girl Croosh offers precarious working conditions disguised as forms of innovation. Girl Croosh’s relaxed atmosphere is achieved at the expense of the comfort of the workers, who don’t even have chairs and tables. For instance, Diane and Stefani cannot talk in private: ‘I don’t have an office. You said offices have corners and corners are the patriarchy’. The show therefore ridicules the appropriation of feminist jargon by companies for their own purposes. This glaring incongruity is demonstrated by the sarcastic juxtaposition of the ‘chill’ yoga-mat area, where they have their conversation, and the huge slogan on the wall that summarises the interests of the company: ‘BE PRODUCTIVE AF’.

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Girl Croosh reflects how ‘cool’ corporations hypocritically commodify ‘progressive’ politics at the expense of their workers. Girl Croosh promotes neoliberal feminism to capitalise on the same inequalities it claims to be fighting. The blog largely focuses on the promotion of female empowerment through self-love and a feminism for which feeling ‘beautiful’ is central. The walls of the building are covered in slogans like ‘Change the world & look cute’ and ‘Love your selfie’. However, this form of self-love requires the consumption of expensive and exotic products, as suggested by another slogan: ‘Keep calm and carry kombucha’. Thus, this empowerment through self-love ultimately feeds into capitalist consumerism.

Ultimately, Girl Croosh has no real intention for its politics to be out of the mainstream.  The adoption of ‘progressive’ values is subordinated  to the number of clicks a topic can get. As Diane explains to BoJack: ‘I wrote a story about an all-girl refugee kickball league. It didn’t get as many clicks as Gillian’s story about how in certain pictures you can see the outline of Chris Hemsworth’s penis but, you know, we’re all contributing in our own ways’. Nonetheless, the viewer knows Diane is just being nice: not all contributions are the same. Neoliberal feminism’s tendency to treat all fights as equal ultimately generates focus only on popular stories (because they are easier to capitalise on), rather than on what might promote larger social change.

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BoJack Horseman’s intelligent humour reminds us that, for all the excitement that the mainstream adoption of ideas such as feminism might give us, ultimately companies are designed to maximise their profits. In this way, Netflix’s show warns the viewer against expecting the fight against inequality to be led by cool ‘open-minded’ millionaires, be they a friendly Mark Zuckerberg or a slightly more perverse Jeff Bezos.

About Valentina

Valentina is a second year English Literature PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses in Romantic radical politics, particularly in the writings of Robert Southey, and their relation to the Americas. She is interested in 19th century radical politics, Marxist postcolonial studies, decadentism and the Gothic.

Article edited by Anna Kemball, Vivek Santayana and Penny Wang.

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