Adventure Time and the Subversive use of Language

I enjoy reclaiming things. In a few weeks I’ll be joining a group of fellow feminists to reclaim the pub scene in Dublin, (check it out here if you want to come along) but today, I want to talk about reclaiming language.

Language is embedded with gendered terms – Think actor / actress, waiter / waitress etc. – that all imply that there lies behind the person who owns this title, someone of a particular gender/sex. Now, I’m not going to go into gender identification too much right now because, well, it can get pretty tedious. All I’m going to say for now is that many believe (myself included) that gender is very much constructed through acts and gestures, and is thus something that we perform rather than something that we were born with. Now, language helps to keep these connotations of gender in place all the time, and since we are always communicating and being represented through language, this can be very harmful if language itself contains discrete connotations of privileged and oppressed binaries.

The best way I can explain this is through an example, so, without further ado: Adventure Time: Princess Cookie.

This episode sees Cookie (a large talking chocolate chip cookie) taking various characters hostage in a supermarket and demanding Princess Bubblegum’s crown. At first, we think, okay, this guy is crazy. But eventually Finn and Jake sneak in to the supermarket (Jake as a milk man, even though he wanted to be a post man, and Finn as a shadow). Jake is told to distract Cookie while Finn takes out the Chocolate Chips that are securing the building. Jake then learns that Cookie was an orphan and when he was a child Princess Bubblegum came to read to them in the orphanage. He admired her so much that he wanted to be a princess too, but Princess Bubblegum laughed when he told her this. Jake then starts to understand Cookie, realising that he himself had wanted to be a postman but was told that he didn’t “look like a mailman, you look like a milkman” by Princess Bubblegum and is forced to don this disguise instead. What I love about this is that Jake literally calls attention to his disguise as a “costume” because it’s not who he wanted to be.

So Cookie decides that he wants to take the crown by force, but Jake convinces him that he can be a princess if he just starts over somewhere else. After a long chase, Cookie jumps off a cliff and then ends up in what seems to be a mental institution. However, Jake arrives (as a mailman) and Cookie is finally crowned a princess.

Okay, so the obvious thing is the term “princess” and its obvious gender implications. Princess signifies woman in our society, and to have a character, who is portrayed with a deep voice that signals man, want to become a princess, well, that’s just a bit challenging to how our language works. Still, Jake doesn’t blink an eye when Cookie tells him he wants to be a princess.

What becomes slightly worrying is that he is also put in to, what appears to be, an insane asylum (straitjacket and all) at the end of the show. Now, this could be interpreted one of two ways. Firstly, you could view it as a critique that people who want to identify with something outside of their perceived gender role are mentally unstable. Or, the interpretation which I prefer, that the taboo against the perceived inability to identify outside of ones gender role can cause psychological trauma – or in other words, that fact that we are made to think it’s wrong to act in ways outside of what is perceived “suitable” for our gender, thus forces us to either suppress these desires or act out against the system, and this experience is psychologically traumatic.

Adventure Time loves to play around with perceived ideas of normality, and it’s refreshing that there is a cartoon on television that delves into this territory.

If you haven’t checked out the newest episode of Adventure Time, check it out here – it’s only about 11 minutes long!

~Sarah

6 thoughts on “Adventure Time and the Subversive use of Language

  1. Most of the time i only viewed him being put in an asylum as because of his outburst of trying to take the crown and hostages and as well as the point that some didn’t want to put him in a dungeon. But it does seem like a possible “indirect” look into it.

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  2. Adventure Time is one show I would be pretty comfortable letting my children watch. I love its challenging of societal norms and the way that the female characters are naturally strong- it’s not made to be a point. That’s just how it is.

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  3. Talk about over analyzing the mental hospital aspect. He tried to commit suicide. People who try to commit suicide are put in mental hospitals.

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    • But the question is why he felt that he had to commit suicide, and my theory would that the taboo against gender non-normativity drives one to the brink of madness when unable to live under such constraints. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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