We understand the world through emotions, the foundation of our human experience, which supplies the building blocks of perception. Language becomes the mortar which holds together our impressions and allows us to gaze upon the masonry of the superstructure which maintains the base of society.
Broken down, this implies two things; that culture and art is the tangible reflection of how society is doing, derived from our emotions, whilst our material conditions determine the emotions by generating the circumstances that affect them, such as wealth or the lack thereof, happiness in society, or the absence of it.
Nurtured from birth with the concept of the “American dream” or similar, a new generation of youth finds itself disenfranchised, inheriting a world far different from the endless possibilities that was promised. Income inequality hits all-time highs, union memberships decline along with the wealth of the middle class. The cost of education and healthcare soars whilst more of each is required to function in the post-modern society. As such, the abstract superstructure of society itself becomes a cultural incubator of dark, sarcastic and cynical humor, following the very same pattern that can be seen through history, ranging from the ancient Greeks in their amphitheaters to the survivors of the Nazi holocaust.
Humor thus becomes an important source of dealing with tragedy, frustration and the crushing anxiety of contemporary events.
With this in mind, what does the modern surge of animated, dark humor of shows such as Rick & Morty, BoJack Horseman, Archer, and Bob’s Burgers tell us? While sinister humor in the shape of TV series is nothing new, South Park has for over a decade been the reigning heavy weight champion of gruesome cartoon comedy, a change in tone can be noted in the approach to the entertainment presented by the writers.
While South Park rose to fame by mocking specific events, phenomenon, and celebrities, the new wave of comedy instead zeros in on our zeitgeist, the spirit of the current time itself, and how we experience the ongoing late stage capitalistic society that we find ourselves in.
These shows allow us to mirror our experiences with those of the characters, despite the misery and depravity that drives them. They speak to us, for they are us. No longer a mere third spectating party, we relate to the fictional setting, because it caricatures that in which we live our daily lives in.
We are no longer alone in our existential suffering.
While not quite what Nietzsche intended with his (in)famous quote concerning the abyss, we cast our gaze into the world of BoJack Horseman and laugh, yet we are subconsciously aware, that the show itself laughs with us by looking back into our own eyes.
We’re all BoJack, Rick, Archer and the rest of the cast, and in extension, they represent our collective, generational anxiety.
It is the ideology of our zeitgeist.