LB Doesn’t Understand the Genius of ADVENTURE TIME But This Dude Does

Of course, the following could just be a masterfully written put-on. It comes from OverthinkingIt, after all:

2012_11_26_016Adventure Time’s Amoral Compass
by Stokes

There’s a telling moment in the early Adventure Time episode, ”The Enchiridion,” where Finn meets some gnomes trapped in a lake of fire. He rescues them, of course, because Finn’s a hero, and helping the unfortunate is what heroes do. But as soon as he does, the Gnomes start blowing up old ladies. There’s a message here, I suppose, about the fact that the unfortunate are not necessarily virtuous. But that’s not really what the show is trying to accomplish. Rather, the show is taking an old established fairy-tale plot and turning it on its head. The way the plot’s supposed to work (as it does in fairy tales like “Diamonds and Toads,” “The Mouse and the Lion,” and countless others), is that Finn goes out of his way to help the gnomes in act one, and then they show up in the nick of time to help him out in act three. Not so in this case:  instead, they turn out to be psychopaths, and Jake stuffs them right back into the lava. The same plot, and the same reversal, inform the episode “Freak City,” in which Finn meets a hobo who asks him for food. Finn only has a sugar cube, which he’s loath to part with because he’s “freaking all about sugar.” But he’s even more all about helping people, and besides, as Finn puts it, the hobo is “probably secretly an elf who will reward us for being nice.” As it turns out, the hobo is the Magic Man, and rather than rewarding Finn, he curses him, turning him into a giant foot. Like many fairy-tale curses, this one can’t be reversed until Finn learns a valuable life lesson. But in this case, the lesson is that the Magic Man is a total jerk.

This kind of treatment of standard children’s plots is endemic to the show, at least in its first season (which, in that it’s all that’s on Netflix, is all that I’ve seen). In “Tree Trunks,” Finn and Jake go on an adventure with their pal Tree Trunks, who looks like a tiny, wrinkly yellow elephant, and talks and acts like Rose from the Golden Girls. At first, Finn and Jake are anxious about adventuring with her, because she’s an old lady with no combat skills and a weak heart. But when they encounter a menacing wall of flesh, Tree Trunks realizes that it’s not a bad wall at all: it just needs a little love. She gives it some stickers, it learns the error of its ways, befriends them, and then in the third act comes back to scratch all of that, after she gives it the stickers, it tries to eat her, and Finn and Jake have to kill it with violence. In “The Witch’s Garden,” Jake loses his magical powers because he steals a donut from a witch. All he has to do to get them back is apologize, but he’s too proud to do that. Eventually Finn gets in serious trouble, and Jake weeps tears of remorse in front of the witch, who tells him he’s learned his lesson and grants him his powers — at which point he knocks her down, steals another donut, and runs off to save Jake, proudly shouting “I’ve learned nothing!” In “Finn Meets his Hero,” Finn decides that rather than jump-kicking evil in the face, he’s going to try to find nonviolent ways to help people in his community. This goes UNREASONABLY poorly, and causes no end of destruction. Contrariwise, in “Henchman,” Finn is forced to help the Vampire Queen Marceline carry out a series of apparently evil actions (such as raising an army of the undead), which all wind up making people happier.

Adventure Time hits this particular note so frequently, and so hard, that it would be easy to read the show as a kind of libertarian fable about the law of unintended consequences. Ameliorist, interventionist social policies just end up hurting the very segments of society that they were trying to benefit. If Donny the Grass Ogre is pulling vicious pranks on a village full of tiny house-people, we can try to reform Donny by giving him an education, pants, and a future… but it will turn out that Donny’s body odor was the only thing protecting the house-people from a far more dangerous antagonist, a pack of Why-Wolves. (For Donny, read “Avon Barksdale.” For “tiny house-people,” read Baltimore. For Why-Wolves, read “Marlo.”) The only intervention that has never backfired on Finn and Jake is physical violence, which is in keeping with the sort of libertarian ideology that wants a miniscule federal government with a whopping defense budget.

But I don’t think the show is really libertarian, deep down. (We see the failure of ameliorist policies, but we don’t see the free market providing a solution to the same set of problems.) Rather, the driving message seems to be that, because trying will only make things worse, we are morally licensed to not try. Confronted with a problem like Donny the Ogre — a transparent allegory for urban blight — the appropriate response is to ignore it and go blithely on your way. (This is arguably a canny message for a franchise that depends on it’s audience deciding to get high and watch cartoons all day.) And even this is probably reading too much into the show. The constant reversal of standard fairy-tale plots is probably motivated by nothing more than a sense of formalist play. The show is anti-ameliorist, and promotes slacking, precisely because actual fairy tales are rigorously ameliorist, and promote action. The reversals aren’t really meant to have meaning:  they’re reversals for reversal’s sake, because reversals are awesome and funny.

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Whoa! Those are some long paragraphs, huh, podners?

Overthinking Adventure Time: Creation, Frustration, and Masturbation

We know we’re supposed to love the series ADVENTURE TIME, but so far we haven’t been able to get even lukewarm. Shana Mlawski, however, sees the show quite differently (so we’re letting her handle the overthink here):


by Shana Mlawski on OverthinkitIt.Com

Yeah, I’ve been away from Overthinking It for a while, writing books, makingwebsites and Twitter accounts and such. But like the mob bosses always say, just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. “They” in this case being the writers of Adventure Time, because HOLY HELL is this show overthinkable. In my opinion, it’s the most overthinkable show on TV right now. Mad Men might come close, but it has less autotune and fart jokes, so advantage Adventure Time.

Can I compare Adventure Time to East of Eden for a sec? I’m gonna compareAdventure Time to East of Eden for a sec.


I’ve heard it said that East of Eden is a Great Book because it simultaneously works on a bunch of different levels. It works as a family epic, a religious allegory, a philosophical treatise, a discussion of America with a capital A, and so on. Similarly, the recent Adventure Time episode “All the Little People” has at least five levels of textual depth. It works as

  1. A simple fantasy story featuring a magician
  2. A Matrix-type story about different levels of reality
  3. A meta-type story about Adventure Time’s writers
  4. A meta-type story about Adventure Time’s fans and
  5. A coming-of-age story about love, porn, and masturbation

You can find explanations of all five readings elsewhere on the Internet, but let me go through them quickly before we move on what is, in my mind, a much more interesting discussion about how all five readings work together and how they work within the context of the series as a whole. If you’re already familiar with the five readings, you can skip my summaries and go straight to the analysis.


1) A simple fantasy story featuring a magician

“All the Little People” begins with Finn the Human and Jake the Dog hanging out in a post-apocalyptic landscape and having a discussion about love. Along comes Magic Man, the biggest jerkface in Ooo, who slips Finn a bag filled with small magical dolls. Each doll represents a character on Adventure Time, and while they aren’t exactly intelligent, they can interact with each other in interesting ways. While Jake is off with his pregnant girlfriend, Lady Rainicorn, Finn plays with the semi-sentient dolls, putting them into various romantic configurations to see who will hook up with whom.

Finn, as he is wont to do, becomes obsessed. For sixteen weeks he forces the little people to make out with each other, and they are miserable. Finally Jake comes home, sees that Finn has become a scary otaku hermit, and Finn realizes he has to apologize to the little people and stop this god game he’s been playing. Big Finn figures out a way to communicate with Little Finn so all the little people know they are free of his interference, and the little people have a dance party to celebrate.

2) A Matrix-type story

Interestingly, when Big Finn talks to Little Finn at the end of the episode, he tells Little Finn “I’m not coming back,” which is exactly what Magic Man told Big Finn at the beginning of the episode. So there’s a suggestion that, just as Big Finn acts as God to Little Finn, Magic Man is God to Big Finn, which makes sense, seeing as Magic Man actually has a relationship with Grob/Gob/Glob/Grod, the four-faced deity of Ooo. So in Adventure Time there are at least three layers of reality: the supernatural reality of Magic Man and Grob, the regular world of Finn and Jake, and the mini-universe of the little people.

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