The Warning Signs
What 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:
- Constantly apprehensive of doing something wrong, which is shown best in "Good Neighbor Goof", "Meanwhile, Back at the Ramp", and "A Goofy Movie"
- Sometimes afraid to go home, which "A Goofy Movie" shows the best.
- Eager to leave home, as is shown most obviously in "And Baby Makes Three"
- Disproportionately terrified of incurring his father's wrath in comparison to Max, including being grounded (as in, forced to stay in the house), which is shown best in "Pistolgeist" and "A Goofy Movie" for the former, "Axed By Addition" and "Bringin' on the Rain" for the latter.
- Uncomfortable whenever Pete touches him, shown fairly well in both "Good Neighbor Goof" and "Winter Blunderland".
- Unlikely to want to spend time with his dad, which is shown the best in "Slightly Dinghy" and "Waste Makes Haste".
- Extremely passive and compliant, which is shown best in "And Baby Makes Three", "Bringin' on the Rain", and "Good Neighbor Goof"
- Excessively timid and self-doubting, which is shown best in "From Air to Eternity", "Max-Imum Insecurity", "O R-V, I N-V U" and "An Extremely Goofy Movie" pre-character-development
- Often feels guilty for not living up to his father's expectations and overly responsible for tasks that can be age-inappropriate or downright impossible, which is shown best in "To Heir Is Human", "From Air to Eternity", and "Tub Be or Not Tub Be"
- Hopelessly pessimistic and usually despondent, which is shown best in basically every Max episode and both halves of the pilot.
- Often unaware he deserves any respect at all, which shows up in both movies and a lot of Max episodes.
- A little bit too reliant on Maxs company, most obviously shown in "Good Neighbor Goof" and "Slightly Dinghy".
- Has difficulty making new friends and approaching people - Max seems to be the only company PJ has, even in school. Even when they go to college and Bobby joins the group, their circle of friendship is extremely close-knit.
- Surprised or suspicious whenever Pete is remotely kind to him, as is shown in "Puppy Love" and "Terminal Pete"
- Extremely grateful when Goofy shows him some mild affection, like in "O R-V, I N-V U"
Some of the signs are rather blatant, but others (such as the Extreme Doormat behavior and the generalized overly responsible behavior) are more subtle. Appropriate reading that shows Goof Troop has Shown Their Work. You'll find under the "signs of emotional abuse" heading that several of these signs are in some way listed.
Major Red Flags
These 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.
One of the arguments 'for' Pete is his repeated desire for PJ to be successful. "If Pete was abusing PJ, wouldn't he also want his son to fail?" is a common argument. This argument, however, does not take one vital factor into account - Pete is a narcissistic bully. Pete believes that he is perfect in every way, and that includes as a father. To be a successful father you must have a successful son, and so rather than encouraging failure, he demands unreasonable perfection. Perhaps tragically, he would reason that this would be done by giving PJ a similar upbringing to his own - tight-fisted, bullying and lacking in affection.
"Axed By Addition" shows it well. 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 once 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. 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.
When it comes to suspicions of physical abuse, it's not a huge leap to make. Not only is Pete typecast as an antagonist across his history as a Disney character, but consistently with the personality of a short-tempered, oafish, menacing brute rarely deserving of any respect or sympathy. Violence is not a speculation but something that comes naturally to him, and for him to not inflict physical abuse would require a level of self-control and restraint that we know he does not possess. Even without explicit displays of physical abuse he has been shown handling PJ roughly for his age, especially considering PJ is his own son.
Despite the existence of "Date with Destiny", it seems that most of the time Social Services Really Does Not Exist, considering that Pete has done all of the following things and not gotten in trouble: admitted to doing many abusive things in the middle of a hospital, and if we take his word for it, actually sent a kid to obedience school once ("Axed by Addition"), said he would treat his neighbor's kid like his "own son, only better" in the middle of a courtroom, with the son right there to scowl at him for the comment ("Bringin' on the Rain"), verbally abused his son in front of public officials ("Tub Be or Not Tub Be"), let his eleven-year-old run his used car dealership for a day ("To Heir Is Human"), and gotten caught in the act of child labor violations ("Mrs. Spoonerville"). Whether you believe Pete needs parenting counseling or that there's no hope and PJ should be taken away immediately, something should be done.
Of course, as the page itself says: "There's a simple reason for this with the consistently abusive parents - the abuse is a big part of the series or movie, and if Social Services did step in and take the kids away, they'd probably never let them go back." We know this, but since this show plays 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. This too is disturbing, but Truth in Television that the fear and mistrust an abused child feels, leads them to simply not trust anybody enough to tell them. When he likes, Pete can put on an excellent act of being a loving, devoted father. At 11 years old, and without friends, PJ might not know his situation is abnormal, or how to report his problems. We don't see any physical scars on PJ. He wears long sleeves and a neck-high sweater most of the time anyway. Thus far, it's all been going on behind closed doors.
Pistol - The Favourite?
Claims of Pistol being The Favourite are less concrete than they seem. If Pistol was the favourite, wouldn't Pete spend more time with her? Wouldn't he play with her more often, read to her on demand, take her on these character-building trips? But in "Pistolgeist" when Pistol asks Pete to read to her (and keep in mind that she went to Peg first), he dismisses her off-hand, since he is watching the ball-game. His words are shocking. "Ask PJ, he hates these things." He's explicitly telling his little girl that the ball-game is not only more important to him, but more important to anybody! How could he say that to his own daughter? Upon going to PJ, we learn that he's read to her many times before - this is not a one-off. And when Pistol throws a tantrum, who responds? It's Peg. And in "And Baby Makes Three" it's no better - PJ is going through his long list of chores given to him by Pete, and the next chore is... playing with Pistol. That's right, Pete considers playing with Pistol a chore. And Pistol informs us that this is no one-off either - that PJ was more fun when he was younger. When Pete has to make a nursery, he turns Pistol's bedroom into the new nursery without a second thought.
When does Pete pay attention to Pistol? When she's got information for him. When he can get her to do chores. When does he talk to her, play with her, teach her, spend any father-time with her at all? Never. To Pete, Pistol is a waste of time to distance himself from as often as possible. What an appalling way to treat a child.
In A Goofy Movie he doesn't bring up Pistol at all. She's gone, and he doesn't care in the slightest. And that wouldn't be an issue but for that A Goofy Movie is canonically a sequel to Goof Troop. Who does he take on his road trip? It's PJ.
Effectively, if you were to ask Pete who his favourite was, it's likely that he'd name PJ. He may find PJ disappointing, but he'd much rather spend time with his son and improve him, than waste any time on his daughter. True, Pistol isn't verbally abused, nor is Pete as heavy-handed with her, but that's more because Pete spends less time with her. What irony, that Pete's attention results in PJ being even more poorly treated than his emotionally neglected sister.
But he loves Peg, right?
Ah, the wife. That's right, Pete does love Peg. We see it quite often, in fact. She's certainly not vulnerable either — she's attractive, has a good job, is aware that her husband's job is to deceive and manipulate people (he sells used cars, dammit). Pete was a big boy when she fell for him, so it's not his looks she's attracted to, and even if he could stand to shed a few pounds she never asks it of him. Sometimes he's disappointing, but she loves him. There's No Accounting for Taste, right?
Well, it's not tough to see that Peg is completely dominant in their relationship. She's got a good job as an estate agent, which requires some degree of confidence and intelligence to pull off with any success. In fact it would scare off most men. But Pete loves and adores her. He worships her from head to toe, he's admitted he's lucky to have her, he would do just about anything for her... and he's kind of afraid of her too. Peg's no bully, but she keeps Pete right under her thumb, partly because she knows he needs to be kept there.
Seeing as Pete doesn't grasp the difference between fear and respect, it's likely that the love he feels for his wife becomes one with the way he's sometimes afraid of her. He will actively throw himself on his knees and grovel for her forgiveness sometimes. It's just further strength added to the argument that Pete cannot recognize the difference the difference between fear and respect — only this time applied to him. This makes it likely that he had a fearful and highly controlling mother, which in some ways makes him almost a tragic villain.
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.
Pistol theoretically should have the same sort of chance for PJ to be The Woobie, raised in the same environment and reguarly exploited by her father for chores. But nope. There are a variety of factors at play that make Pistol the least likely candidate out of all of the others. She's a Cheerful Child, rarely seen without a smile on her face. While her home-life isn't ideal, when it comes to a choice of PJ or Pistol, Pistol tends to come out on top, she's considered something of a little brat, and her position as the youngest child gives her some degree of power which she has taken advantage of. More so than anything, Pistol can't be the woobie because she's happy. In comparison to other characters, she has had a pretty satisfying life that even Max might envy. And this is why we only feel sorry for her in a couple of episodes at most.
Not a Woobie: Pistol does not suffer frequently; she's happy.
Peg 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: Peg needs no sympathy; she has everything under control.
What do you call a character who gets the crap beaten out of him in practically every episode and has a general fan consensus of "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 Chew Toy a serious Jerkass. No Draco in Leather Pants for Pete! Generally Pete's punishment will not seem disproportionate, though there are some possible exceptions, especially if you watched the show incompletely; most fans bill agree that he deserves everything or most of what he gets. How did the show manage it? They gave him two innocent targets to work with on a regular basis, who will be discussed right after...
Ah, 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: Max is usually responsible for his own problems, which tend to be fleeting and once-off.
Moment of truth time: Is Goofy a woobie? The answer is... maybe. He has the potential to be. But 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 simply doesn't care. While Max worries about being called a goof, Goofy's instinctive response is to tell him that he shouldn't worry about what other people think. We don't watch him because we want to soothe him, even if we do feel that way sometimes.
Maybe a Woobie: Goofy goes through the motions of being a Woobie, but these are not why we watch him.
Really you can't get much more woobie than a kid who admitted he was never happy in his life until the age of 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 puts him here 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 finale 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 resulting myriad mental health problems, and his dependence on Max as his closest and only friend. And this is the characterisation of the character who is just as innocent as Goofy but smart enough to recognise his miserable position.
Definitely a woobie: Fits all the criteria perfectly including gaining the unconditional fandom alternate name "Poor PJ."