Bob’s Burgers – The American Family

Each generation in the United States has been identified and interpreted by its media and animation is no exception. This has produced shows like the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Family Guy, the Simpsons and American Dad. these attempt to reflect the realities or aspirations of the family unit of their time. Bob’s Burgers fits very well into this category of shows.

The show revolves around the Belcher family (Bob, Linda, Tina, Gene and Louise) that runs a small burger restaurant. By doing so it is comparable to The Simpsons in it’s attempt at showing a middle income household in the US. What is different is the aspirations of its characters. Where Homer Simpson’s jobs over the years, nuclear plant worker, snow plow man, astronaut reflect the baby boomer generation and the sense of feeling trapped in dead-end jobs. Bob Belcher on the other hand is a small business owner in a creative field, and there are many episodes that revolve around his passion for the craft of cooking, burn out, escaping into side hobbies, and this shows the aspirations of middle income families in the US today, to find fulfillment in the their work.

Where the shows diverge is their understanding of race. Where the Simpsons immitates the reliance on racial stereotypes for humour some more dated shows were known for. Bob’s Burgers shows a more maturing understanding of race that a browning America is beginning to voice. This is joked about through characters in the show asking Bob what his race is, and a clear answer is never given. Although the show doesn’t confront issues of race in America as directly as shows like Craig of the Creek does. Another comparison is gender. Where Marge and Lisa Simpson are largely dutiful and studious, Linda, Tina and Louise Belcher are more diverse in their voices (Linda is qwirky, Tina sexualises boys all the time and Louise is a badass). Gene Belcher is often shown to be sensitive and creative, compare this to Bart Simpson’s bratty boy stereotype. To say Bob’s Burgers is avant garde in confronting gender and race would be an overreach, to me these shows are always made to appeal to large audiences.

Overall I love the wit and humor of the show’s writing, and wait to see more episodes in the future.

Albatross soup – A mesmerizing riddle

A man walks off a boat. He walks into a restaurant, orders the albatross soup. He takes one bit, takes out a gun and kills himself. Why did the man kill himself?

Winnie Cheung’s psychedelic short film, animated by Fiona Smyth, revolves around this riddle – from the enigmatic question over puzzled attempts by 50 different people to solve it to its haunting solution. The chorus of voices tries to narrow down what happened by asking the narrator yes / no questions. After receiving a series of affirmative responses to their questions, the group ultimately figures out why the man killed himself.

The albatross’ role in this mysterious story is clearly no coincidence. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the albatross is “a source of frustration or guilt; an encumbrance (in allusion to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)”.[1]  The bird is a symbol of doom in Coleridge’s poem[2] from 1798:

Ah! well a-day! What evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

In the riddle, the man feels insurmountable guilt when eating the soup. The group that tries to solve it identifies the reason for the man’s feelings step by step. Cheung’s process of making the movie followed a similar path. In an interview with Vimeo[3], the director described it as follows:

I knew that I had the right ingredients to make a fun animated film from both a narrative and technique perspective, but I didn’t really know what the process was going to be like. Like the riddle, I had to figure it out as I went along.

The result is mesmerizing. The animation depicting more or less plausible attempts to solve the riddle in vibrant colours and with the psychedelic swirls make it a visual experience that is definitely worth watching.

[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/albatross

[2] https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/an-albatross-around-ones-neck.html

[3] https://laughingsquid.com/albatross-soup-winnie-cheung/

Perspectives

I’m going to compare two talks we attended at our university that were problematic for me and a classmate and talking about how our perspectives influenced us having to confront or warn our classmates as a reaction. The first was by a former student who graduated a few years ago and had gone on to create incredible work, work with big names and start a small studio. She showed her work, talked about her inspirations and gave a workshop. While she was showing her inspirations she spoke about  an animator and described her work in the 70s as her main inspiration. She showed a film by her and we soon realised why her work wasn’t known so well. The character design if made by Disney in the 30s would be on the banned animation list for relying on racist African-American stereotypes. When I asked her whether she saw anything problematic with the design she became defensive and attempted to justify it by saying the animator was one of the few female animators at the time. Which is fair point, only in my opinion one doesn’t justify the other. A similar point came up when discussing Moana in another talk. Having dealt with more direct and corrosive forms of racism before, I consider this as a form of media enabling mindsets.

Another talk was by a young puppet animator, his work has been recognised by many big festivals. It was evident with the talk that he was skilled at his work, gave us many tips on techniques to use. But it soon became evident that he was very into promoting his name throughout the presentation. My classmate was uncomfortable after the presentation and said all his inspirations for work were men, and would only refer to women as girls, in a slightly demeaning tone. My classmate being trans clearly more directly understood the consequences of such subtler forms of sexism. The only consolation I could provide was to learn the techniques and skill and nothing more. Overall I’m glad to have a diverse class to study with and to understand differing perspectives. Hopefully if and when we’re out in the world we will be more informed and sensitive than our predecessors in what we say through our work and how we say it.