Hey, Do You Watch "Robot Chicken"?
I gotta say, I can’t really decide if I’m alright with all the suicide jokes in Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken.
If you have no frame of reference, in short, Robot Chicken is a twelve-minute show on Cartoon Network. Think sketch-comedy done using stop-motion animation. It features pop culture icons such as Looney Tunes, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Thunder Cats, Smurfs, and many other action figures, dolls, or clay creations. It’s a fun show and I’ve loved watching it for years. Still do. Just been having this suicide joke thing nag at me for a little while now.
I realize the show has never really been concerned with sensitivity, leaning crass. And I’m not saying crass like dumb shit, either. Just irreverent. Confrontational and typically heavy on the shock.
To use suicide with this intention of entertainment and comedy could be considered varying degrees of “off-limits” or insensitive while others might consider it therapeutic. Cathartic even for some.
For instance, the experience of losing a loved one to a pill overdose hypothetically inspiring a joke informing a sketch on the show. I’ve seen an episode of Robot Chicken where they express this very suicide scenario using the classic arcade-style Pac-Man animation. Not only that, they do it in three acts interspersed throughout the twelve minutes of the program.
Act One: Pac-Man chases down Ms. Pac-Man and has sex with her. Ten seconds long, maybe. Act Two: Pac-Man walks in on Ms. Pac-Man in an orgy with three of the ghosts, and he’s devastated — indicated by his tears. Fifteen seconds long, max. When Act Three finally rolls around toward the end of the episode, a scruffy-bearded Pac-Man enters the frame with a prescription pill bottle, pops it and power pellets fall out in a row. He gobbles them just like the game and then he dies.
To do that kind of a joke could be considered totally appropriate to some or absolutely unforgivable, depending on the perspective.
There are opportunities throughout the show’s many episodes of beloved iconic cartoon characters from my childhood blowing their brains out or taking their own lives in some other gruesome fashion. Undoubtedly horrific, yet intended as humor. Some would say “edgy” humor but I’m not sure anybody knows where a line is these days or even if there should be a line. I’ve heard compelling arguments from incredibly intelligent people I respect and look up to from both sides of this particular coin regarding the rules of comedy.
And if I have moral qualms about this type of scenario, then am I to have moral qualms about all the other violence represented in the show, a show that I continue to derive much enjoyment from? Such internal conflict about an animated program twelve minutes in duration, likely only viewed by a portion of the population while the sheer amount of violence that we see represented in American mass media entertainment every minute of every day is inconceivable.
It may bother me more now because of the amount of time I spend talking about preventing suicide and being proactive with mental health in my professional life working for Hope For The Day. It may be me getting older and just finding suicide jokes in bad taste personally. It may be that I’ve been binge-watching entirely too many episodes of Robot Chicken on Hulu lately. Neither here nor there.
For some people it's exactly what they may need to make it through their struggles. Some people need someone joking about these dark awful things to at least speak them out loud when no else is and acknowledge that they happen. And if something that gives me kind of a shitty feeling when I’m watching it on my couch ends up helping somebody that has reached their breaking point, then I guess I don’t want it to not exist.
I’m kind of curious to ask the creators, Seth Green and Matthew Senreich directly about it. Not to be shitty and like “What the fuck?” but just to understand their perspective. Perhaps I’ll tweet them or email their people. Perhaps I’ll write a follow up to this piece. I won’t hold my breath for a response but it’s a valid question to explore.
Maybe they have a story that they would share in more plain terms about loss and how they process it through their work, but then again, maybe it’s not that deep. Maybe I’m just making it that deep right now.
There’s no doubt that stop-motion is perhaps one of the most painstaking and meticulous artistic mediums, so at the end of the day, Robot Chicken is really incredible art. And to go to all that trouble to create this twelve-minute show of non-stop outrageous comedy and bizarre situations with these memorable toys and characters, to entertain us, to give us something to interpret and experience... well maybe me complaining about their use of suicide jokes is missing the point.