“All of the great artists get censored!” – Linda (voiced by John Roberts)
“Bob’s Burger” is an animated series created by Loren Bouchard and premiered on television in 2011. It centers on the misadventures of the Hamburger restaurant owning Bob and his family. The family consists of his wife Linda, who is perky and peculiar, and their three children: the continually exaggerating Gene, the socially awkward Tina and the sly, mischievous Louise. “Bob’s Burger” is packed with great lines and quirky dialogue, and finds its way to dealing with impressive subjects from time to time. The show is also pleasant in its interesting depiction of a working-class family; “Bob’s Burger” is not a “down-to-earth” realistic but does portray the plight of this class’s persistent economic trouble, which is important and appreciable to represent. And it is firmly refreshing to see a show that is which is finally female-friendly (i.e. free of overly sexists jokes) in this genre (naturally excluding the “Simpsons”).
In “Bob’s Burgers” first season, the eight episode “Art Crawl” tackled the issue of censorship. More specifically the episode was about censoring art, as well as has some amusing musings about cultural assumptions about art itself.
The episode begins with Bob walking around the neighborhood with his kids as they check out the neighborhoods annual street event focused on art. The event is an “Art crawl”, where people display their indolently done paintings. Bob points out quickly that he does not want the children to think that the Art crawl represents what real art is meant to be or obtain. Considering how artist and art have at times been the punching bag for mainstream comedy, it’s pleasant to have Bob make a sincere defense of art. Tina then suggests that they visit a museum to learn more about Art. This is met with strong protest from Bob and her siblings (this is met with the idea of a “art visit” is going to far). Already in the first four minutes of the episode lazy and stereotypical attitudes towards Art, especially mirrored in television culture, are confronted and parodied. Bob points out the “art festival” is a profoundly narrow idea about what Art both is and entails. The scene defends art as a cultural form, stating that it is much better than many may believe, yet uses a singular relatable scenario as showing Bob falling into the common and routine avoidance of culture.
The show also plays with the myth of the unstable and conceited artist as well. Gayle, Linda’s extremely insecure and erratic sister whose art the family is not allowed to critic, is a an embodiment of this trope (it is mentioned that she had eaten lipstick to become “red inside”).
However, the idea of the unstable artist is also satirized. The youngest child of the family, Louise (voiced by the always awesome Kristen Schaal ) sees the potential in making money in the “Art Crawl” phenomena and tries to get her siblings Gene and Tina to make street art for her. However her siblings express themselves as “true” artists, to which Louise then decides that she must cut off her brother’s ear, in reference to a supposed action done by Van Gogh. This highlights how people focus on outsized legends and absurd stories to constantly create the odd mythical presence of the mad artist which alienates these workers in Art from the normal working class. The constant mystification art, and the creation of art, to the point that art and artists are viewed more as characters from ridiculous melodramas instead of being engaged with as serious creators of our visual culture.
However the most prominent theme of the episode is censorship. Other popular cartoons have dealt with censorship before, for instance “The Simpsons” episode “Itchy and Scratchy and Marge” and the two-part “South Park” episode “Cartoon Wars” (which was later discussed again in the episodes “200” and “201”). These two previous shows dealt with censorship through fictional controversies, i.e. with the Simpsons cartoon violence and with South Park the representation of the prophet Mohammed. In both of these cases the object of controversy was not a product made by a family member. In “Bob’s Burger” this is the case.
Gayle, Linda’s sister, visits the family for a while and hangs her new paintings around the walls of Bob’s restaurant in tandem with the neighborhood Art Crawl event. To Bob’s horror, Gayle has devoted all of her works to the depiction of various animal’s anuses. Bob surmises, quite correctly in fact, that the paintings will have a negative effect on the customers eating in his establishment. Bob makes the case strongly to his wife, Linda that she has to tell her sister that Gayle has to take down the paintings. When she refuses, Bob comes up with a scheme to take down the paintings without Linda noticing. He also decides to come clean with Gayle and state that he just doesn’t want the paintings hung on the walls of his restaurant. This plan quickly changes after Edith, the elderly woman who runs the “Art Crawl” event, shows up to complain about Gayle’s paintings. Bob explains that the paintings have been removed, to which Edith than replies: “Good, they were indecent” adding “I won’t allow them to be shown”. Bob becomes furious after hearing Edith state that she won’t allow people to see this art given her own interpretation of what art should be available, and therefore hangs all of the paintings back up. Bob’s actions are strikingly similar to an old saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, that Voltaire among others have used when defending freedom of Speech and expression. Bob absolutely hates Gayle’s paintings but will not let her work be censored by authoritarian personas. He decides to make a stand since he feels that someone has tried to rob him and others of their choice to express themselves. Edith continues to protest against the paintings while Bob tells Gayle to paint more. Bob fights back against censorship by encouraging more provocative art. So Bob takes his protest against censorship a step further – he not only will defend Gayle, but encourage her as well. Bob takes the idea of defending a person’s right to express themselves freely, but also encourage them to express themselves in a way he doesn’t like.
The Episode “Art Crawl” takes an interesting turn on censorship when the family discovers one morning that the paintings have been vandalized. The animals have been given pink underwear as a cover up. Bob assumes the person responsible is Edith and heads over to her store. There he confronts Edith and vandalizes her artworks in revenge (by giving all of the paintings in her shop “anuses”), only to find out later that it was his wife Linda who vandalized the paintings, since she was so disgusted by them. While Edith wanted to censor the paintings, Linda is the one who actually takes to vandalism to censor. The family pays Edith for the damage caused and Linda realizes that she should have perhaps just honestly told her sister her opinion of the paintings. The episode portrays the vandalism as an act of censorship, which it is. Edith praised the vandalism act but did not do it herself. Linda did because she could not express her dislike. Naturally, it is harder to critic art when someone close to you is the creator, but it is pointed out that Linda should have just voiced her opinion. Once again the importance of expressing one’s self is highlighted. It is also stated that Bob’s anger was understandable, but his action of changing Edith’s paintings was over the top, since he also does a form of censorship by editing Edith’s paintings against her will.
“Art Crawl” illustrates the measures a person will go to fight against censorship. Bob can’t stand people bossing others about their expression. It rings a truth about censorship in the real world; to defend freedom of speech, people must sometimes defend things they despises themselves. “Art Crawl” strongly defends freedom of speech, realizing that we will not always like everything culture produces, but censorship is not, nor is ever, the answer.