The Cultural Gutter

we've seen things you people wouldn't believe

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Forget the consequences, just get me
a sandwich

alex macfadyen
Posted April 3, 2014

sandwich thumbnail

Over the past several months I’ve been working my way through all of Pendleton Ward‘s Adventure Time, in part because it comes in 11 minute segments that are easy to squeeze into tiny cracks of spare time, but mostly because it’s awesome. There are lots of things to love about it – the humor, the weirdness, the clever allusions to art and literature – but I think the thing I enjoy most is how creatively they play with narrative. Watching all of the ideas they’re able to explore by ignoring the usual boundaries of time, space and consequences makes me realize how limiting conventions can be.

So how to describe Adventure Time? Hmmm. Well, Jake the magic Dog and Finn the Human boy live together in a tree house in the Land of Ooo, where they go on endless adventures, hang out with their friends, and play lots of video games. They also frequently help and are helped by a variety of princesses, including Princess Bubblegum, Hot Dog Princess and Lumpy Space Princess, and spend a great deal of time preventing Ice King from doing pretty much anything Ice King ever wants to do. Many things are never really explained (see above re: playing with narrative),Ice King but it doesn’t matter because we’re never set up to expect that they will be. Everything works within the crazy laws of the Candy Kingdom and whenever the writers want to explore something else they can just go to some other world where things work some other way.

For instance, they’ll present a problem that you’d normally expect the characters would have to deal with and Finn or Jake will say, “Should we…? Nah,” or just blow a raspberry and go home to eat sandwiches. Periodically they end episodes with a new problem that the writers never have to solve, and they’ll often resolve an inconsistency between episodes with an offhand remark like ‘Remember when that thing happened? Oh, yeah, and then we had to do this other thing so it’s not like that anymore.’ Usually that would seem like lazy writing to me, but in the context of the show it seems like a clever way of avoiding boring exposition. For instance, when Finn gets obsessed with playing match-maker for magically animated miniature versions of themselves and all their friends, it creeps Jake out so much he goes to stay with his girlfriend and comes back 16 weeks later to find Finn still playing with them.

Finn and the little people after 16 weeksThey also do interesting things within episodes, like a lovely one about a friendship between a snow golem and a baby fire wolf where Jake and Finn have a storyline with the Ice King but you only see it in the background when the golem is walking past so you don’t know what’s going on. Or “Memory of a Memory,” the episode that made me want to write this article, where Marceline the Vampire Queen’s boyfriend tricks Finn and Jake into going inside her head and stealing her memory of him being mean to her so she won’t break up with him, but then Finn takes Marceline inside his head and shows her his memory of her memory, so she remembers what her boyfriend did and breaks up with him anyway.

Sometimes they’ll write something in and explore it for awhile, then write it out again when they’re done. There’s a story arc where Jake’s girlfriend, Lady Rainicorn, is going to have puppies, and since Adventure Time is about Finn and Jake living together in their tree house I kept wondering how they would handle Jake’s responsibilities as a dad. I couldn’t imagine how they were going to make it work,Jake the Dad and the answer was that they didn’t even try. Jake is a dad for one 11 minute episode, where it turns out baby rainicorns grow up so fast that they were all already older than Jake and he was back on the sofa with Finn by the end of the episode.

Unlike shows that get off track but grit their teeth and follow the storyline through or clumsily abandon it, Adventure Time makes no pretense that they ever intended to follow through. They just build up, do what they wanted to, and then create some reason why it’s over now so they don’t have to deal with the fallout. It allows them to do pretty much anything they want while avoiding the problem of jumping the shark, because if they go overboard in one episode it’s already within the narrative expectations of the show that they can make it all disappear in the next one.

At the same time, they’re carefully consistent when it comes to character development. The next episode may start in a completely different time or place, but there are emotional consequences and the things that happen to the characters aren’t erased from memory. Having kids changes Jake. He’s still a dad, and his kids show up in his life from time to time, they just grew up and left home really fast. I’m also impressed with their attention to detail, like the way Finn cuts his hair and it painstakingly grows back over the course of seasons. Lots of things in the background stay the same and you never know when something that’s happened before might come up again. It’s like real life, which in my experience is kind of random and not so much a continuous, well-crafted story arc.

Snow golem and baby fire wolf 2Adventure Time is for adults as much as for kids, but another interesting thing about the narrative structure is that it doesn’t address problems in a traditionally adult way. Finn and Jake’s solutions are clever and creative, but often they only work because there are no long-term consequences for the writers. Finn is very concerned with being a hero so the show does deal with ethics, but they’re more wild thing, childhood ethics. It’s the straightforward spit-and-promise morality of kids playing in the forest, which makes sense because Finn and Jake’s lives in the land of Ooo are basically like an endless summer vacation.  I think it captures something about being that age better than most adult-written accounts do. Crazy as it is, somehow it’s believably what it would be like if a human boy grew up with a magic dog and no parents.

In the end, I think the reason that Adventure Time is so successful is rooted in how well-written it is. It’s a brilliant combination of bizarrely creative and philosophically clever. The stories have emotional and intellectual depth without being serious, and they’re full of complex characters who, despite being elephants or mad scientist princesses or animatedGet on my swan pieces of candy, tend to remind you of people you know. Somewhere around season 4, I realized that Princess Bubblegum is basically my ex-girlfriend if someone ever gave her a kingdom to rule.

Throughout the show, Finn and Jake are true to themselves and each other and they try to do the right thing most of the time, but sometimes they just want to eat sandwiches and hang out on the sofa. Is there anyone who can’t relate to that?

~~~

Alex MacFadyen believes you will not regret it if you take 46 seconds to follow this link.

Comments

3 Responses to “Forget the consequences, just get me
a sandwich”

  1. Carol Borden
    April 9th, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

    This is really nice: “Finn is very concerned with being a hero so the show does deal with ethics, but they’re more wild thing, childhood ethics. It’s the straightforward spit-and-promise morality of kids playing in the forest, which makes sense because Finn and Jake’s lives in the land of Ooo are basically like an endless summer vacation. I think it captures something about being that age better than most adult-written accounts do.”

  2. Carol Borden
    April 9th, 2014 @ 8:10 pm

    Also, when I think about emotional consequences, I can’t help thinking about how the writers very much let Finn screw up a romantic relationship in a way he cannot come back from. And it’s interesting that while adult sit-coms might flirt with that and adult animation might focus on the tragedy of it, somehow Adventure Time manages it so that it feels very much like how screwing up a relationship or having your relationship screwed up by your partner feels.

  3. Forget the Consequences, Just Get Me a Sandwich | Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit
    April 12th, 2014 @ 4:03 pm

    […] full article > […]

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    Actor Billie Whitelaw has died. Whitelaw was Samuel Beckett’s “perfect actress” and she also appeared in television and films, including: Gumshoe (1971), Frenzy (1972), The Omen (1976), Space: 1999 (“One Moment of Humanity”) (1976), The Dark Crystal (1982), The Secret Garden (1987), The Krays (1990), Jane Eyre (1996), Quills (2000) and Hot Fuzz (2007).  The Guardian, the BBC and Variety have obituaries. Here Whitelaw performs in Beckett’s “Happy Days” and “Not I,” written by Beckett for Whitelaw.

    ~

    At Comics Alliance, Chris Sims talk abouts the art of lettering in comics. “Comic book lettering is up there with inking and coloring in the holy trinity of underrated comic book skills, but it’s also one of those things that, once you start paying attention to it, you’ll never be able to not notice it again. I’m not exaggerating even a little bit when I say that it’s one of those things that can absolutely ruin a comic if it’s done wrong, even if everything else is perfect. But to be honest, of those three elements, lettering is still probably the most underrated. The thing is, when it’s good, it can be absolutely gorgeous in its own right. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of people who do it very, very well.”

    ~

    Comics Alliance suggests seven Star Wars comics to read before Disney makes them disappear. (Including a comic by one of Comics Editor Carol’s favorite creative teams–Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman). “Starting in 2015, Disney’s handing the publishing of any and all new Star Wars comics over to Marvel Comics, with an all new, optimized-for-corporate-synergy canon that will spread across all their media platforms. Anything that’s not a movie (especially one of the Original Trilogy movies), or a Clone Wars cartoon, will be unceremoniously Order 66-ed out of existence, giving future filmmakers a clean-ish slate to make movies (and money) on. But what about all those Dark Horse comics? That’s where we come in with 7 Dark Horse Star Wars comics you should track down before they disappear.”

    ~

    At the New York Observer, Ashley Steves writes about Craig Ferguson’s The Late, Late Show. “No one could ever prepare you for watching an episode of Ferguson’s Late Late Show. A friend could not sit you down and explain it (“Well, it’s really meta and deconstructive and there’s a horse”). There was really no good way to recommend it. It was something you discovered and became a part of. You had to stumble upon it on your own, perhaps restless or bored or simply curious while flipping through channels when your eye quickly caught some of the madness. And that’s the best part. It was an unexpected gift. At its worst, it could still send you to bed grinning and comforted. At its best, it was art. It was silly and fun and truly not like any other late night show.”

    ~

    At Comics Alliance, Chris Sims interviews Ed Brubaker about his work on Batman, Gotham Central and Catwoman. “When I look back at [Catwoman], I’m so proud of the first 25 issues of that book, when I felt like everything was firing on all cylinders. I probably should’ve left when Cameron Stewart left instead of sticking around. That’s one of those things I look back at and think “Ah, I had a perfect run up until then!” (Incidentally, Comics Editor Carol’s first piece for the Gutter was about Brubaker’s first 25 issues of Catwoman).

    ~

    At Sequential Art, Greg Carpenter writes a lovely piece about Charles Schulz’ Peanuts. “After only two installments, Schulz had solidified the rules for his comic strip.  Random acts of cruelty would punctuate this irrational world, and Schulz’s trapped little adults would be forced to act out simulations of human behavior, using hollow gestures to try to create meaning in a universe where no other meaning was evident.  If Shakespeare’s Macbeth had been a cartoonist, the results of his daily grind, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” might have looked somewhat similar—each character a “poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage” until he or she was heard from no more.”

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: