Adventuring in the World of Equality: Why Kicakass Cartoons can Change the Social Landscape

adandyguy:

I’m very sorry that this is two weeks late  but I contracted a viral infection that caused severe fatigue and headaches so writing was very hard. That being said I’ve put a lot of love into this one and I hope you understand and enjoy.

You should be watching Adventure Time and Steven Universe. You need to stop what you’re doing and go watch these shows. Why do I ask you to do this and why both these shows together. Let’s find out.

To start these programs have a lot in common. The first and fore most is Rebecca Sugar, the mind behind Steven Universe who previously wrote and story-boarded for Adventure Time. These shows are both really fun and have beautiful art with great music to match, thanks in part to Sugar. The voice acting is also amazing with talent like John DiMaggio of Futarama fame heading up the Adventure Time cast plus musical talents Aimee Mann and Nicki Minaj appearing on Steven Universe. But even with all this going for both these shows that is only the icing on the cake to some truly great writing, writing that has produced some of the most intriguing and important characters in cartoon history.

Let’s talk about Adventure Time first, which is to also talk about its creator Pendleton Ward. Pen gives the people working on his show a great amount of freedom, often comparing the writing process to playing Dungeons & Dragons in the way they roleplay and craft a story. This kind of freedom fosters talents like Sugar, who have gone on to create other great works.  This freedom is what I think leads to this show being able to say so much. The writing on the show is funky, creative and weird but most importantly it’s not afraid to talk about subjects that aren’t exactly traditional for kids TV.

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(From left to right) Pendelton Ward, Rebecca Sugar, Jeremy Shada and Tom Kenny

For example, I’m sure many people are aware of Princess Bubblegum and Marceline’s  lesbian relationship but Adventure Time also supports a whole host of LGBT characters. One is BMO, who is gender fluid which Mike Rugnetta and PBS Idea Channel did a great piece on that you can watch here. But other characters also defy gender even if they do not specifically land in the LGBT umbrella, like Baby Snaps. Baby Snaps is not a re-occurring character but he is an important one (to me at least). He appears in the episode “Princess Cookie” where he takes a convenience store hostage so that he can become Princess of Candy Kingdom. In the final moments of the episode Jake, one of our main characters, comes and gives Baby Snaps a crown from the “Grass Kingdom” validating his want to be a princess. Jake doesn’t care that Snaps is a male or if he identifies as male, if he wants to be a guy princess that’s fine.

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This also brings up another central part Adventure Time, princesses. Muscle Princess, Breakfast Princess, Ghost Princess, just princesses everywhere. In the post-post- apocalypse world of Adventure Time everything is ruled by princesses. Women are in power everywhere. They have meetings and conflicts and are all very much different from each other. It’s not as if there all in that tired archetype of young royal with power thrust upon them because their parents died or whatever. They are in control of entire swaths of this crazy world and they have been for a long time. Princess Bubblegum is even present in flash backs dating to the apocalypse that created the land of Ooo.

On the topics of flash backs I have to take the time to talk about an episode that is very near and dear to my heart but I’ve never heard anyone talk about. That episode is “The Vault” and it sums up a lot of what makes Adventure Time so great to me.  In this episode Finn is forced to confront his nightmares of a ghost that he first encounters in the season 3 episode “The Creeps”. He soon learns that this ghost is a girl named Shoko, a past life of his, who had a relationship with Princess Bubblegum. So this brings up a whole slew of things that illustrate why I love this show. First off is that it shows Finn dealing with a long time emotional problem, he is plagued by this ghost and when he confronts and understands the problem he feels better. That is a great message, one that encourages psychologically healthy behavior. Second is how Bubblegum is portrayed in this episode, like a real woman. She talks in slang and is casual but at the same time is confident in her position of power as ruler of the emerging Candy Kingdom, one she is building because she is a hella smart science girl. Lastly is that fact that Finn is ok with the fact that he used to be a woman, it’s basically a non-issue. This is a prime example of how Adventure Time is different from other cartoons, it doesn’t fall into lazy writing that panders to what people think young boys are like by presenting “girls are icky” type stereotypes that can so often appear in bad kid’s television.

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Shoko and Princess Bubblegum 

Here we can move to talk on Steven Universe because where Adventure time has a great protagonist in Finn, Universe presents another great side of the coin with Steven. Finn is a boisterous adventurer who  can be open or vulnerable at times but can often hides his emotions. Steven is a more open and curious character that knows when it’s time to get tuff but shows a tendency to be unsure more often than Finn. This is one totally sweet thing about these shows as a unit, they give two great views of a being a guy (Finn is 14 so not exactly a little kid and Steven is what I estimate to be 10). They display way more depth of character than is come to be expected of characters in their genre which cool not only because it opens the show up to more mature viewers but also because it lets young viewers have a character that they can relate too and more importantly one which can show them it’s ok to be sensitive.

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Steven and the Crystal Gems 

While Steven is a great character he is only a fraction of the shows main cast and only one piece of what make Universe great. See Steven is what’s known as a “Crystal Gem” and he lives with 3 other Gems named Amethyst, Pearl and Garnet. They are the absolute bomb. If Steven and Finn can show boys that it’s ok to be sensitive The Gems fill a similar role to Bubblegum and show girls that they are important and can be powerful. But I’m not writing this just to say “Hey, let your kids watch these because they’re great for them”. No, I’m righting this to say “Yo, I don’t care what age you are these shows are rad as hell and you should try them out” so let get to some rad things about these rad ladies. They are basically a riff on the magical girl genre of Japanese anime that was made famous in the US because of Sailor Moon and just like Sailor Moon’s characters the Gems are all well written. They are not “strong female characters” they are female characters by which I mean complex with good and bad in them just like real people. If that’s not enough get your attention and you still need convincing here is a list of other selling points

  • The show is created by Rebecca Sugar and is the first show on Cartoon Network to be created by a woman.
  • Steven is from a single parent home but he isn’t broken or consumed by clichéd emotional crap. He treats it like a normal person, he shows sadness that his mom is dead but still lives a great life. The same is true for his dad.
  • The Gems have a hella rad powers.
  • The Gems can fuse and become giant ladies who, like the gems that comprise them, show personalities not associated with generic female characters. The fusions gems have powers that are about 10 time more hella and rad than the regular gems.
  • And lastly but definitely not least, Steven looks ups to and respects the gems and they help him to grow up in tangible ways. Steven wants to be just like them and doesn’t care that they are women which I believe is a great stride in writing especially for a show geared towards boys.

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Steven looks up to Opal, the fusion of Amethyst and Pearl

So why are all these thing important? Well I’ve already touched on some reasons but for completeness let me just give my overall opinion. When a series is marketed to children I think that it is important not to look down on the audience just because they are young, because at best that leads to a show that fun but lacks narrative depth and at worst can promote some harmful things through lazy writing. Just to be completely transparent on my views I do think media can affect people but I do not believe that partaking in media that is problematic has the drastic effects that some would have you believe e.g. violent videogames turning our children to into murderers. This being said, seeing the cast of Adventure Time and Steven Universe do things like displaying respect for each other and confronting issues with a healthy attitude will influence people. It could make some feel more comfortable about their body or their sexuality and it could make people, especially young boys, think of women in a different light.

Both of these programs can, and I think already have done some good. It’s not like Adventure Time is going of the air, let’s face it, the show is CN’s cash cow but Steven Universe was just on a very long a hiatus and that make me as a fan fear for it. I don’t want Universe to befall the same fate as Green Lantern and Young Justice, both taken off the air because too many girls liked them and that wasn’t the target demo (here is an article detailing that unfortunate event). Now again I must stress that these shows probably aren’t going to save the world by bringing us into a new age of equality because if they could Sailor Moon and Avatar or the whole slew of other great progressive cartoons would have already done it but these can be a tool in creating that new age. They can also reach out to kids and adults alike who are lost and need to escape to a fantasy world. A fantasy world where differences are celebrated and everyone can find a home. A world where past all the zany character, weird concepts, and cool powers lies more truth than you can find on a lot of TV nowadays. 

spacespectrum:

aquarius—moon:

emotional manipulation is abuse

emotional manipulation is abuse 

EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION IS ABUSE

EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION IS ABUSE

shadowblinder:

Stop condemning female characters for having the exact same traits that your favorite male characters have.

internetgoose:

like yes, I agree, girls are 500x better than boys, but let’s stop pretending that straight girls are not giant homophobes 9 times out of 10, and do remember that they are absolutely prone to ostracizing, undermining, bullying, harassing, outing, attacking, and assaulting lesbian and bi ones

opewinston:

toxsic:

pard-on-my-hard-on:

kingerock288:

lupercos:

(yelling) gay (normal voice) lesbian (muttering) bi….. sexual……. (confused whispering) tr…………… tran…….. trans…………..ss…………………………… (booming voice in the background) STRAIGHT  ALLIES

This sums up representation of LGBT pretty damn well

(sign language) pansexual (morse code beeps) asexual

(Ancient language of the elder gods) Nonbinary

(smoke signals) aromantic