Adventure Time: Queer Relationships in Youth Media

| Monday, December 17, 2012
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Today's Tune: I'm Just Your Problem

As I've mentioned before, I'm a pretty big Adventure Time fan. I think it's a fabulous show for all its mixed humor that can be enjoyed across audiences both young and old, for the fact that it doesn't treat children like they're stupid, and for the sometimes surprisingly nuanced themes the show incorporates. Most people don't expect to get body-checked by themes like losing a loved one, loss of self, depression, pregnancy, or non-hetero sexualities when watching a cartoon aimed at ages 6-11, but they're most certainly there. And I cannot express to you how much I adore that this is a thing that happens.

When it comes to queer themes in particular, this show has explored the possibility of homosexual relationships existing in the land of Ooo in very subtle ways, but ways that aren't denied. In a recent season of Adventure Time, there was an episode in which the character Marceline sings a song and (as she is wont to do) ends up slipping in lyrics implying deeper feelings than she typically lets on for the character Princess Bubblegum. You can view the scene and listen to the song here. Now, it's not obvious from the song itself that the implication is romantic feelings -- it could just as easily be about feeling like her sometimes-friend doesn't value her. However, there was a very clear indication on the part of a behind-the-scenes video that maybe there was more going on there.

In more recent episodes, the sexuality of the characters has been even more openly embraced, particularly with Finn's blossoming relationship with Fire Princess, Lady Rainicorn's pregnancy (Jake is the father), and a recent episode where Finn receives a bag full of mini-versions of all the characters and proceeds to toy in their relationships (as well as imply the Ice King and BeeMO, one male and one sexless, might make a good couple). In all of these relationships, the main focus is on like/love and companionship, rather than sexual desire. With the exception of implied sex between Jake and Lady, (YOU STAY AWAY FROM TIER 15!), the show's relationships remain largely in the realm of subtext, rather than actual text. Even so, it raises a lot of hackles.

Adults have a way of ascribing adult readings to things that children consume. On the topic of the queer subtext present in Adventure Time, not to mention other cartoons with ambiguously queer characters, many adults tend to freak out. The claims are that presenting non-hetero relationships as normal will somehow corrupt children or convince them to choose gayness or... something, I'm still not entirely sure what the arguments are. As pointed out in the op-ed I just linked, this projects the idea that who you're attracted to or fall in love with is only ever about sex. It strips relationships down to sexual contact and not much more, pursuing the idea that you can't expose a child to the concept of homosexuality without them immediately wanting to go out and have a bunch of homosexual sex because... reasons. Because apparently heterosexual people can be in love and want other things from their relationships, but homosexual couples are only interested in getting it on.

This is exactly why it's so important for these relationships to exist in media for children. Portrayals such as those in Adventure Time show us that not only are these types of relationships acceptable, they're not something that can be boiled down to dirty, filthy sex. They're complicated, and confusing, and caring, and full of feeling. They're about like, and love, and companionship. Sexual activity is only a very small part of attraction and relationships, and that goes for ALL relationships. We're perfectly fine with feeding children a steady stream of G-rated heterosexual love stories that don't involve sex, because it's universally understood that hetero love isn't just about sex. But flip that around to a non-hetero relationship, and suddenly it's SEX SEX SEX CORRUPTION AND SEX.

Many people don't like attributing sexuality to media for young people, because there's this idea that sexuality and attraction are the same thing as sex, as though sexual contact is the only possible expression of sexuality. This isn't accurate. Many people already know who they're attracted to at a very young age, and it has very little to do with sex at that point. It's about who you want to be around, hold hands with, laugh with, love with. These are healthy, happy relationships first and foremost, which may or may not eventually involve sexual activity in some form. Don't we want that for our youth?

What are your thoughts, readers?



{ Brooke R. Busse } at: December 24, 2012 at 2:32 PM said...

I don't watch Adventure Time. I've seen bits and pieces of it and thought it was another downhill slide for Cartoon Network. However, with all the posts you have about it, I'm starting to think I judged too soon.

I also completely agree with your viewpoints about hetero/homo relationships and companionship vs sex.

{ vittorio.diraniari } at: April 12, 2016 at 1:47 PM said...

The links are offline/outdated, videos no longer avaiables.

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