Animated Comedy

The Sadness of Louise Belcher

I love Bob’s Burgers. I know a lot of people don’t like the show, but it’s a house favorite around these parts. A lot of people who do like the show name Louise, the youngest daughter, as their favorite character. It’s easy to see why. She’s the psychopath with a heart of gold. A little tough kid who is secretly soft. She’s incredibly intelligent and has no tolerance for stupid people. She’s always plotting, and always having a scheme going on. She’s a hustler, through and through. In watching the show recently, I  recently realized there is a very consistently, and exceptionally sad through-line in the her character.

To examine what exactly it is, let’s take a quick step back. One of the core themes of the show is lack of success the restaurant faces. Bob doesn’t know how to market, manage money, or build a client base. Like so many people, he believes the quality of the product should attract more people. To be fair, with as good as the word of mouth reviews would be, he should be getting a good flow of traffic. Anyway, the fact the business is never successful is a big deal in the show. Several plots deal around the family being short for rent, not having enough money to buy new things, and the problems of holidays and birthdays.  These are working-class, just above poverty level people.

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Of all the children, it’s clear through context Louise is the most affected by their financial plight. It’s not ever specified, but as the youngest child, it’s likely she would have received the most hand-me-downs. Tina, the eldest daughter, would have had many new things. She was the first child, and is interested in many traditional gender-specific things. Gene, the middle child, would have gotten a fair amount of new things due to the fact he is the only boy. He is also has the same zest for music and theatrics his mother possesses. Over the course of the show, you see Gene be supported for this creativity multiple times over. Louise, however, is a very different case.

One of the defining traits of Louise is her near-constant desire to make money and become wealthy. This is played for laughs at every turn, but the level of consistency, even in bad situations and to the detriment of herself and others, is too high to write-off as a joke catalyst. She lies, manipulates, scams, gambles, and even discusses such things as marrying and stealing, all in the name of accruing wealth. In the light of the events of the show, it’s fairly clear Louise is suffering from a serious mental illness, though not from the jokey-psychopath angle the show plays up for laughs. Instead, it’s obvious she is afflicted by a very serious money disorder.

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  1. Sell “local beach art” to tourists – she tricks two of her friends into making the art for free, and is abusive to them
  2. Marry Mr. Fishoeder for money
  3. Get the bank robber to steal her some money
  4. Work for the marijuana growers to deliver drugs
  5. Sell tickets to the nude beach
  6. Help Gene cheat at mascot races
  7. Open an illegal casino
  8. Find a killer python for reward money
  9. Investigate a soon-to-be demolished factory for hidden treasure
  10. Illegally selling ambergris
  11. Sell tickets to an illegal, competing school musical

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There are more, but this is quite the list. This is mostly so there is a presented basis for the assumptions and instances I am drawing upon for my analysis.

Beyond the specific instances of trying to make money, let’s take a look at her other behavior.

First, she becomes emotionally unstable when there is money involved. She is normally depicted as a calculating and conniving individual, but she loses the twisted fun streak all together and it becomes more visceral. When she is selling art, she shouts at Andy and Ollie, her two friends working for her, demands they work in terrible conditions with awful hours, and then justifies her actions using typical abusive behavior speech. This isn’t by coincidence.

We see this abusive behavior surface again when the children discover a lump of ambergris. She develops facial tics, she can’t sleep, she starts to have skin problems from stress, and she begins to shout constantly at her family. She also becomes even more ruthless than usual, cutting out her partners in an attempt to keep the money for herself. Even more telling is the fact her behavior is depicted entirely as the behavior of an addict, and when she doesn’t have the ambergris any more she is shown to have symptoms reminiscent of withdrawal.

This parallel of addiction is shown again when she opens an illegal casino. At first, she behaves as the bigwig casino owner depicted in so many casino movies. She is uncaring, manipulates her customers, and is aggressive towards cheaters. This changes when she squares off against Mr. Fishoeder, her family’s landlord and local billionaire, she begins to lose and even though she knows he is in her head, she can’t stop until she is $5000 in the hole. Again, her behavior is absolutely shown to be the behavior of an addict, and this is cemented in her plan to go double or nothing to win the money back. Once she wins, she has to be restrained in order to not bet it all again.

The treasure hunt episode early on showcases this behavior, but splits it into two parts. The first portion is her willingness to share this money and discovery with her family. She invites Gene and Tina to help her find the money. She seems genuine in her offer. This starkly contrasts her general anger at her siblings inviting people to share in the money. Not only would she need to split the money, she sees this a violation of a family trust. That hurt spirals out from there, as Louise goes off on her own, seemingly willing to forego family entirely after this incident.

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This addictive behavior is a perfidious trait in the Belcher family. Bob is seen to abuse prescription drugs and become obsessed with a video game. Linda, Bob’s wife and the mother of the children, is an alcoholic. Tina is obsessed with horses and butts. Gene is obsessed with music and farts. It makes sense Louise would inherit her family’s issues, in this case manifested as gambling and money.

We also see her money disorder manifest her addiction in a different way. She is obsessed with things she can call her own. This dual focus on possessions and money is extremely common in people who come from poor backgrounds. We also see an extension of that, which is her compassion with giving away the money she does have. A pattern of giving money away to those who need it, when you yourself still might need it, is seen quite often in situations like this.

The obsession of items is seen over several episodes, lest you think this is a one time occurrence. She lends her nightlight to Bob, but is obsessive about getting it back and calling it by the correct name. When Bob jokes he is going to keep it, she freaks out. The same freak out occurs when Louise is forced to give up her room. She both physically and emotionally harms the guest staying in her room so that she might have it for her own again. In one episode, she loses her bunny ears when a kid takes them. She retaliates by calling a biker gang in to slice off the thief’s ear.

Not exactly rational, appropriate, or even commiserate behavior.

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The good thing the show does is present Louise as a whole person. While she obviously have several psychological problems, she has many redeeming qualities. She loves her family, she is loyal to her friends, and she knows when she goes too far and tries to make amends. A great example of her good side is when she is adventuring in the Amazon exhibit with regular-sized Rudy. She knows him from school, but they immediately hit it off and the two of them go on an adventure. However, when he begins to have an asthma attack, she is genuinely concerned, and it is implied she would have attempted to account for this, if only she knew.

It’s both great and heartbreaking to see such a complete characterization taking place in a cartoon. It’s a very real presentation of things that are occurring all of the time. Where do you think the hustling culture comes from, after all? It’s shown again and again in history as people try and overcome financial divides. Humor was often used against these people, presenting what they do in a ridiculous or sinister light. Here, we see the opposite. We see the same traits that are ridiculed in caricatures highlighted as real, underlying issues of pathos. It’s real. It’s sad. Yet, it can still be played for laughs. The difference is the laughter comes from a place of caring and understanding. It’s removing the power of these things. That’s what good comedy always does.

 

 

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