The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

Life in a Gorilla Cage- Puberty, Anxiety, and Disparity in Big Mouth

By Malvika Gera, UG’23

With its raunchy dialogue and ability to not shy away from titillated, pubescent teenagers, Big Mouth offers a refreshing take on growing up. Following the experiences of students at Bridgeton Middle School, it dives head first into a raucous mix of emotions, sex, masturbation, menstruation, and self-discovery. Using the liberty that comes with animated shows, the creators employ graphic animations to describe a reasonably straightforward plot: growing up.

The show aims to stir conversations surrounding a relatively hushed-up subject: puberty. With the prevailing embarrassment surrounding masturbating teenagers, Big Mouth’s brazen dialogue does justice to the pandemonium accompanying the onset of adulthood. Initially addressing slivers of first kisses and friendship, the show —alongside its characters— has now matured to include conversations regarding racial and cultural disparity, mental health, and climate change. This is especially prominent in its most recent season 4, released in December 2020.

Of all the pragmatic content incorporated this season, the most prominent was anxiety, anthropomorphised as Tito the Anxiety Mosquito, who acts as the thread connecting all the characters while the season goes on. She is first introduced in an encounter with Nick in the woods as he panics about being left out at summer camp. As her swarm envelops him for the rest of the season, she gradually begins to bite Jesse and Andrew, too. A mosquito with its incessant annoyance accurately portrays anxiety as a constant buzzing in our minds. Tito wreaks havoc wherever she goes, leaving behind a trail of loneliness, depression, and worry. She primarily targets those surrounded by loneliness, each in their own way: Nick and his distraught friendship, Jesse and her new environment, and Andrew with the loss of his grandfather, Zaide. Despite the show providing valuable insight into feelings of loneliness and anxiety, it does not deviate from its recognisable crude humour, distinctly seen in season 4 with the poop jokes peppered throughout it.

Amongst all the character arcs this season, the most impressive and mature one is Jesse’s. The season begins with her shifting to New York City after which she is reintroduced to the Depression Kitty—the anthropomorphised version of depression who was rst seen in Season 2—and Tito the Anxiety Mosquito. We see her first interaction with both of them on the first day in her new school, Darlington-Pierce. Upon moving, she is forced to catch up to a class far ahead in curriculum, and somehow be equivalent to students doing light research on Alzheimer’s at the CDC in grade eight. However, this does not even include the stressors accompanying moving to an entirely new place. After excelling at Bridgeton Middle School, she is now tossed into a sea of students who are conquering both their social and academic spheres and is expected to stick out a mile. This consistent social comparison often leads to a suspending fear of failure, a worry about what might happen in the future; what if she does not do well in school? What if she disappoints her mother? What if she does not have a boyfriend? It is visible in these questions that Jesse bases her self-worth on those around her, which is the very crux of her anxiety, making it seem almost inevitable that the loss of even one of these factors leads to a sense of utter disappointment.

It is prominent that as Jesse’s struggles with anxiety and depression, she is reluctant to ask for help and waits until the very last moment to do so, and it is this decision taken by the creators that makes Big Mouth different from the majority of shows discussing mental health. It accurately portrays the hesitancy and vulnerability accompanying a call for help, which raises questions that one would rather have unanswered such as ‘What if they refuse to help me? What will I do then?’ By capturing this struggle and stepping away from a romanticised depiction of mental illnesses, the show refuses to make Jesse’s distress a quirky trait from which a mysterious yet charming boy will rescue her. By pushing herself to ask for help, her character grows as the show goes on. After her journey with the highs and lows of anxiety, Jesse works on herself by going to a licensed therapist.

But in spite of the foreboding presence of an existential crisis, the show doesn’t merely discuss the highs and lows of anxiety. It attempts to provide makeshift solutions: breathing in for four seconds and out for four again. (Although it is important to note that this isn’t a one solution ts all situation, this is all subjective.) This advice is mentioned merely once or twice throughout the season which highlights the show’s brilliance as it manages to subtly deliberate such pertinent and sensitive notions while utilising crass humour. By emphasising something as simple as breathing, the show breathes new life into a well-deserved year.

This is particularly seen with the absence of a Covid-19 plotline; the creators have stepped away from the route the plethora of television shows set in today’s time have taken. It walks a fine line with ease, as it discusses the world from a distance, making it an underlying theme rather than an overtly discussed storyline. A dialogue that perfectly encapsulates this notion is? “The planet is boiling. And if the wildfires don’t get us, the war over water surely will! … And those thin polar bears aren’t gonna be very happy about anything!”, resulting in nothing but chaos and surrender.

This pure, unadultered angst is bound to echo with the viewers in 2021 trapped in this strange trance. As the clock struck 12, the domino of disasters that were yet to begin to fall was invisible; 2019 was in for a surprise. With a consistent series of disasters, ranging from wildfires to wars and protests, to pandemics, there is a permanent pit at the bottom of our stomachs, just expectantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, for yet another crisis. It has made us feel as though “The world is a gorilla cage, and you’re a banana with peanut butter on its ass!”, as said by Andrew’s father.

Thus as we all slap peanut butter onto our asses, it is evident that the show has evolved with its viewers and the worldly scenario, making season 4 one of its greatest seasons yet, and a must-watch for those still recovering from the horrors that 2020 provided.

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