Recently, a friend of mine remarked that Tobias Fünke is just your typical, prerequisite “idiot”, a formulaic sitcom character akin to Joey in Friends. Don’t worry! I took him to task. An idiotic comparison indeed considering the one-dimensional nature of Joey and the unsolvable, sophisticated puzzle that is Tobias.
One of the show’s more popular running gags is Tobias’ ambiguous gender identity and sexual orientation. Though there are various suggestions and insinuations through the seasons, it is never distinctly “outed”. As we looked for clues and hoped to figure out the sexual enigma that is Tobias, it made me realise how his sexual ambiguity helped me identify my own prejudices, presumptions and pigeon-holes. The gag lay bare my own preconceived ideas about gender and sexuality.
It helped me understand and differentiate the meaning of “masculine” & “feminine”, “gay” and “straight” and the oversimplified stereotypes that come with them. Our society dumbs down the definition of femininity with adjectives such as fragile, dependent, emotional, passive, sensitive, graceful, innocent, etc. and the direct opposite for men (strong, independent, non-emotional, aggressive, tough, etc.). The society’s definition may not always delineate the way everyone feels. Some may find that their gender identity does not match their biological sex. This is evident in Tobias’ personality. His biological sex is determined by what’s carefully hidden underneath those tight denim cut-offs while his gender identity is determined by the contents of his utterly complex brain. Also, we often tend to label men with “feminine qualities” as “gay.” A half-witted preconception that Arrested Development makes us question.
Tobias exhibits traits that cannot be easily classified under our retrograde society’s spectrum for normality. Is he black? Gay? Bisexual? Pansexual? Transvestite? Transgender? Or just plain ignorant and confused? We may never know. But what I do know and learnt from Tobias is not to get so bogged down by society’s expectations of what is “normal.” He helped me understand and respect others’ differences, develop tolerance and in the process, discover “the man inside me.”
Though he is full of contradictions and peripheral to the show, he’s a character like no other. Unprecedented and incomparable, he makes for one fascinating character study. Though his phrasing and accidental puns seem like Freudian slips to us, the innocent Tobias is hardly aware. And the show’s writers do a brilliant job teasing us with clues to his social identity. Here’s some of the more hilarious moments that show Tobias for the complex character that he is.
- His buy-curious nature.
2. His Freudian slips.
3. a. His condition of never-nudism suggests a self-consciousness about his body
4. Mrs. Featherbottom
5. a. Though his marriage to Lindsay is characterised by a lack of sexual or emotional intimacy,
b. he attempts to connect with Lindsay when she tries to seduce her lawyer, Bob Loblaw.
Lindsay: How do you think I feel? Bob Loblaw’s a handsome, professional man and I’m only used to… well, none of those things.
Tobias: Okay, Lindsay, are you forgetting that I was a professional twice over— an analyst and a therapist. The world’s first analrapist.
Lindsay: Yes, and you were almost arrested for those business cards.
Tobias: Yes. No, it did not look good on paper.
6. Other poor choice of words.
b.”I wouldn’t mind kissing that man between the cheeks! So to speak.”
c. “I’ll be your wingman. Even if it means I have to take a chubby. I will suck it up.”
d. “…for there’s a man inside me, and only when he’s finally out, can I walk free of pain.”
e. “I see you wasted no time filling my seat hole.”
Oh Tobias, you adorable blow-hard!