The Venture Brothers and the Failure of Masculinity
Cartoon Network’s The Venture Bros.is about one thing and only one thing: the failure of fathers, both literal and figurative, to create sons capable of functioning in the world they made. If this seems reductive or dismissive of the role mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and women in general play as movers and shapers of the destiny of that world, itis. It’s meant to be. This is a show about men, how men relate to one another and to the culture of domination and violence they’ve created for themselves and the ways in which that culture has stunted, destroyed, maimed or otherwise harmed their growth as human beings. The story may touch on gay characters, characters of various races, characters with various mental or physical disabilities or characters with appearances considered unappealing by the cultural aesthetic consensus, but an overwhelming majority of those characters will all be male.
This seems to be partially a result of cohesion to the central theme (the men who get representation and how messed they are) and partially a reaction to the popular view of history and the popular culture the creators imbibed growing up which was dominated by able-bodied straight white men; as such, it’s impossible to have a discussion of the show without first admitting this massive, problematic exclusion as the show is, in many ways, about the very forces that created the exclusion; it’s about the excluders navel-gazing and seeing how fucked up they are. This feels particularly worthwhile for this current moment as many of the (overwhelmingly straight, white and male) creators of American pop culture have been dealing, more and more, with the fact that keeping things white, straight and male has become something handwaved away as “tradition” instead of the toxic bullshit it always, always was. As such, the show is about nothing but relations between (largely upper-class, exceptional straight and white) men and how truly fucked those relations can become when allowed to fester on their own terms.
The eponymous brothers are trying to get out from under their father’s shadow (their mother conspicuous in her non-entityship); their father, in turn, is trying to crawl out from under his own father and differentiate himself from his brother who better fulfills their father’s legacy. Their badass alpha male bodyguard has issues with his figurative father (who in turn struggles with his desire to shed his masculine self and emerge as the woman he truly is in spite of his apparently-preferred presentation as a man). Their nemesis fights against the rules of another figurative father even as his favoured son, one of his henchmen, works to reconcile his desire for freedom and an identity of his own with his love for his boss/father. Even the Ventures’ wacky neighbour acts as father to a family of mystic superheroes as well as to a daughter who’d much rather be doing anything else.
What I’m saying is that the show features a lot of navel-gazing about masculinity and its meaning—with a few forays into pop culture parody.