Rebels in Animation
I’ve usually categorized cartoon rebels in one of two ways: the doomed rebel, and the hopeful rebel. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to primarily discuss animated characters who are teens or pre-teens, but emotionally stunted adults who seem to be going through their own adolescence are fair game.
The doomed rebel is destined to turn out just like the thing he or she is rebelling against — usually their own parents. This is the classic rebel. No good, bad in school, bad attitude. The doomed rebel defines him or her self solely in opposition to others. They have no true purpose, and perhaps no clear talent. They usually fail to see that their actions are putting them on target to become everything they despise.
The hopeful rebel is the rebel who defines him or her self through their talents, opinions, and hard work. The hopeful rebel does not rebel for the sake of rebelling. They may get into trouble, but they get into trouble for their individuality, and because they refuse to be molded into something they are not. The hopeful rebel is somewhat newer in animation, whereas the doomed rebel is usually what comes to mind when we think of rebellious young characters.
A clear example of a doomed rebel, Bart is fast approaching his father’s fate. He’s indifferent when it comes to his education, and defines himself almost purely by being a pain in everyone’s ass. In fact, in Season 5, Episode 7, this is addressed outright — When the whole town begins acting like Bart (slacking off, spitting off the bridge onto the freeway), Bart has an identity crisis. He does not know who he is unless he is doing the opposite of what he is “supposed” to do. Bart remains oblivious to the fact that his principal, having served in Vietnam, possibly killed other people or suffers from PTSD. He’s also oblivious to the fact that he’s probably going to end up an alcoholic in a dead-end job like his father, Homer.
Bobby Hill from King of the Hill is a different kind of rebel. He’s the hopeful rebel — His interests do not align with his father’s, but he does not intend to be malicious. Bobby does want to make his father proud, but he has different interests and physical abilities and is unwilling to compromise who he truly is. Unlike a doomed hero, Bobby has a clear sense of self. Bobby’s gravity is so strong, and his passions so deep, that sometimes his father gets caught in the vortex and finds himself participating in these ‘asinine’ activities (dancing with dogs, growing roses). Some activities, however, Hank refuses to accept, and those interests die by the end of the episode (soccer, pop trivia).
Bobby’s parents know their son very well, and do their best to accept him while intentionally shielding him from potentially embarrassing or self-harming hobbies (plus-size modeling, eating contests, being a professional clown, witchcraft).*
There is a certain special harmony when Bobby’s interests align with his father’s. The series finale is touching because Hank and Bobby’s love of meat coincide. Bobby is judging the meat, not eating it at record speed, so Hank doesn’t have to worry about the ‘spectacle’ or ‘humiliation’ aspect of that hobby. Bobby can also compete at a state level. While it’s not a sport, Bobby is finally able to reconcile his odd personality with his father’s pride. It’s a good place for the series to end.
Another example of a doomed rebel, Kevin Murphy of ‘F is for Family’ is fast approaching his father’s footsteps. He looks like his father, probably will not attend college, and there have been hints that he’s going to get the girl up the road pregnant. This mirrors his father’s life of accidentally having Kevin and giving up his dream of being a pilot. Kevin Murphy has no talents, and does not seem even vaguely interested in pursuing any hobbies.
Update: Now that I’ve seen season 2, I must reevaluate: Kevin at the moment is still doomed, but he does have a hobby: Music. However, his hobby and his actions are still more about retaliating against his father than anything else. His music is currently a rip off of his favorite band. He does have room to grow, so we’ll keep an eye on you, Kev.
It’s not just the screw-ups who are doomed. Sorry, but Daria Morgendorffer is another example of a doomed rebel. Daria is smart and usually pursues literary pursuits. She is also highly logical. Why, she fits most of the characteristics of Helen Morgendorffer, her mother. Helen is a corporate lawyer who is usually empathetic with Daria’s complaints, because she knows her daughter makes astute points. At times, they have a good relationship. But Daria, like her mother, does place a lot of value on being successful in society. So while she rebels and disagrees with what is going on around her, like her mother, she’s going to work hard to succeed in the system that she does not agree with. When we see Daria imagine a life with Trent, the boy she has a crush on for most of the series, we see that she believes she will be working hard while Trent will still be on the couch thinking of a name for his band. This is a horribly bleak view for Daria to have. She does not have any real respect or belief in Trent, and recognizes that a future with him will put her financial success in jeopardy. So, based on the definitions put out at the start, Daria is, too, a doomed rebel.
Bojack has a stunted soul, which is why he is included here. From what we can see, Bojack seems doomed. He smokes like his mother and drinks like his father. But Bojack is actually not defined by rebelling against any one thing — Except himself. Bojack is defined wholly by his own pain. It seems to be a pain that neither his mother nor his father can fix. Even his own mother (Beatrice Horseman) says:
I know you wanna be happy, but you won’t be, and… I’m sorry. It’s not just you, you know. Your father and I, we, well… You come by it, honestly, the ugliness inside you. You were born broken. That’s your birthright. And now you can fill your life with projects — your books, and your girlfriends, and your little movies — but that won’t make you whole. You’re BoJack Horseman. There’s no cure for that.
This might sound like the ramblings of an abusive mother blaming her own son for his shortcomings. It sounds almost like Bojack’s heredity is to blame — that his depression is the fault of his parents, but not in the traditional sense. Is it possible that Bojack is rebelling against himself, who he inherently is?
Using the definitions put forth, it seems Bojack might actually be a hopeful rebel. Season 4 may shed some more light.
Who are your favorite animated rebels, and where do they fit?
*I am not saying that I personally find these interests, hobbies, or beliefs to be shameful, only that Hank and Peggy, who are very conservative, do consider them to be, and thus shield their son accordingly.