The Warning SignsWhat exactly are the warning signs for Abusive Parents talked about in the Social Services Does Not Exist entries and on the Sliding Scale of Parent-Shaming in Fiction? The signs referred to include PJ being:
Major Red FlagsThese are not consistent signs, but rather things that PJ does at one point that are alarming with or without context. In "And Baby Makes Three" he counts down the days until he can leave home at age eleven without looking anything up or thinking very long, implying he has done so before, calls himself a "feudal serf"—why not a slave? It's possible stopping just short would highlight just how little of that comment was hyperbole. Considering the sorts of things that pass for "slavery" in the minds of some people today, like in the Blink182 song "Anthem", calling himself a feudal serf could come off as more alarming. Or he could be avoiding a cliche on purpose as Foreshadowing for his Hidden Depths, though that's not a topic for this essay—and explicitly cries for help. In "Take Me Out of the Ball Game" he literally begs his father for a break after working for six hours. In "All the Goof That's Fit to Print", he shudders, stammers, and braces himself when he asks Pete to pay them. It's obvious whenever Max and PJ work together on something, Max is much more willing to complain about unfair treatment than PJ is. "Good Neighbor Goof" features the most depressing line. What makes it so depressing isn't the text alone—which states that PJ has never had fun before in his life—but the subtext too—which implies that he's willing to accept never being happy again. Both those things in conjunction add up to something the kid should never say.
Pete's Motivations"Axed By Addition" hints at Pete's motivations. In this episode, Pete has a breakdown, because he is afraid PJ is dying. Listen to what Pete says. In the beginnings of his rant, he uses Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking immediately followed by Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick. This suggests that Pete honestly does not see a difference between making PJ use a handkerchief and sending him to obedience school for not cleaning his room. This, combined with the fact referred to in the work page's Abusive Parents entry that Pete appears to mistake fear for respect, suggests that Pete honestly does not know the difference between discipline and abuse. This can actually explain both his treatment of PJ and of Pistol, whom he doesn't abuse. Rather, he spoils her—lets her run off with very little discipline. And, much like the warning signs listed above are for abused children, this is very much Truth in Television for many abusive parents. The line that shows it the best? "I want you to know that all those nasty, horrible things I did to you were only done with the best intentions!" Pete's intentions were to discipline his child, but he ended up abusing him instead. "Meanwhile Back at the Ramp" is another episode that shows dissonance between Pete's mind and PJ's. When the trophy is being given to the best father/son pair in town, Pete assumes he is the best father. PJ blankly stares the whole time; he doesn't think they'll win or even look disappointed that he knows they won't. When Goofy's name is (unsurprisingly) called, and Goofy accidentally knocks Pete into his food, PJ giggles. He tries to stifle it a bit, but the audience knows—PJ is absolutely not taken with his father's parenting and finds it amusing to see that other people agree with him. Just like in "A Goofy Movie," Pete does believe that his parenting methods are good. Many abusive parents do not simply deny the allegations of abuse to protect themselves; they do not realize they're doing it at all. Abusive Parents so seriously and realistically (not as a Hilariously Abusive Childhood), it just makes Social Services Does Not Exist's use more obvious, much like on the show with a similar (though less immediate) attitude, Hey Arnold!, which notably had people asking about poor Helga and Stoop Kid not getting rescued on its Headscratchers page twice. Now, there's another possibility and that's that Social Services does exist, and PJ has tried talking to them and they just flat-out didn't believe him. Given his role on the show as The Cassandra and how many abuse victims, once again, in real life, are not believed, especially when the brand of abuse apparently doesn't come with visible scars/bruises... it's not too hard to imagine.
The Woobie: An interesting element of character diversity.PJ is The Woobie, which is pretty much undeniable. The show went all out to make sure we damn well felt sorry for that kid, and so we did. But what about the other characters? The Woobie is a nebulous concept that's often hard to define. Though Analysis.The Woobie sheds some light on the issue, it really does depend on many factors. But it's not meaningless, nor should it be so ridiculously strict that only someone like PJ (who according to the Playing With page qualifies as a justified exaggeration, not to mention his specific primary source of suffering was chosen for the hypothetical straight example) could possibly count. So here, we'll go step by step explaining what traits each character has that makes them, can make them, or prevents them from being, The Woobie.
PistolPistol theoretically should have the same sort of chance for PJ to be The Woobie, raised in the same environment. But nope. There are a variety of factors at play that make Pistol the least likely candidate out of all of the others. In order of importance they are: she's the favorite and loves her daddy very much, she's seldom seen without a smile, she gets almost everything she wants, she's a brat, and she has some degree of power. More so than anything, Pistol can't be the woobie because she's happy. Not "usually chipper", although she is that too. She has a pretty satisfying life, that even Max would envy. And this is why we only feel sorry for her in a couple of episodes at most. Not a Woobie: Does not suffer frequently.
PegPeg seems an odd choice for the next round, since she is less happy than Goofy and Max generally, and is much more sympathetic than Pete (but I'll get back to them later). Really despite being the more sympathetic partner in a No Accounting for Taste relationship, we can't really call her a Love Martyr for one big reason: she has more power than anyone else on the show. Now, Pete, as the antagonist, has power over everyone else, though he chooses not to exercise it over Pistol terribly often. Peg can boss him around. She also has the role of the unconditional protector of the entire cast. Basically, even if Peg's life could be better, she doesn't need our sympathy, because she can take care of herself. Not a Woobie: Needs no sympathy, everything's under control.
PeteWhat do you call a character who gets the crap beaten out of him in practically every episode and has a general fan consensus of "sometimes", "rarely", "only once", or "never" feeling sorry for him? You call him a really successful version of The Chew Toy. But many characters written as The Chew Toy get treated as The Woobie anyway. How to prevent that, aside from certain members of Misaimed Fandom? Goof Troop did something well very few shows do; it made its Jerkass Chew Toy a Jerkass. Generally Pete's punishment will not seem disproportionate, though there are some possible exceptions, especially if you watched the show incompletely; thorough fans are more likely to think he deserves everything or most of what he gets. How did the show manage it? They gave him two innocent targets to work with regularly, who will be discussed right after... Not a Woobie: Both a Jerkass and The Chew Toy
MaxAh, Max Goof. He isn't in power, or completely satisfied, nor is he a Jerkass who deserves what he gets. So why don't we feel strong sympathy for him most of the time? Well, because Max's problems just aren't that big. Most of the things he has to deal with are problems everyone has to deal with and he treats them like a bigger deal than they are. Now, some of Max's problems are pretty extreme. But what makes them different is that they are, for one thing, fleeting, and for another, usually his own fault due to his reckless behavior or biting off more than he can chew. Or, sometimes, he does engage in underhanded tactics that backfire, such as lying to Roxanne and Goofy for the entire second act of A Goofy Movie. Not a Woobie: Has minor/one-off/self-inflicted problems.
GoofyMoment of truth time: Is Goofy a woobie? The answer is... maybe. He has the potential to be. The Woobie, despite having a concrete definition, is still a subjective trope. While Pistol, Peg, Pete, and Max are not The Woobie by definition, Goofy is trickier. He, like PJ, is an entirely sympathetic character, usually doesn't cause his own problems, gets picked on by others, and gets heartbreaking Tear Jerker moments on multiple occasions. But on the other hand, he usually either doesn't notice or doesn't care, and is usually the most hilarious character on the show (as opposed to PJ whose lighthearted humorous side came out once in a blue moon until An Extremely Goofy Movie where he earns his happy ending). We generally don't watch him because we want to soothe him, but we do feel that way sometimes. Maybe a Woobie: Has some of the right traits, but not primarily.
PJReally you can't get much more woobie than a kid who admitted he was never happy before in his life at age 11. And, y'know, thinks a day heavily punctuated with blatant child abuse is the best day ever. But the show really makes the poor kid work for it. Tragic backstory is all well and good, but what really makes this is that it didn't get better immediately. It got somewhat better (he does smile fairly frequently later on in the series) but it didn't truly get better until An Extremely Goofy Movie, the end of the series. PJ's unenviable home life and resulting daddy issues are not the only reason we feel sorry for him, just the primary factor: we also have the fact that no one listens to him or believes him, his myriad mental health problems, and his dependence on Max. And this is the characterization of the character who is just as sweet as Goofy but a lot smarter. Definitely a woobie: Fits all the criteria perfectly including gaining the unconditional fandom alternate name "Poor PJ."