Adventures in kids’ TV
From Gaelick Contributor Agnes Von Kenn
Things are changing for the LGBT community in terms of the entertainment industry and they have been for a long time. These days, openly gay Neil Patrick Harris stars in the extremely popular How I Met Your Mother, comedies like Modern Family include positive portrayals of gay characters and, of course, Ellen DeGeneres hosts one of the most beloved talk shows of all time.
Even everybody’s favourite sitcom Friends had a lesbian couple (who could forget Ross’ amusing rivalry with his ex-wife’s new wife?) and Brokeback Mountain took the box office by storm in 2005.
Shows that revolve almost exclusively around the lives of LGBT people are not uncommon either and include Will & Grace and The L Word (if you’ve been living under a large, mossy rock since the late 90’s and have somehow never heard of these shows, I insist that you stop reading this article immediately, stock up on popcorn and watch a few episodes).
Yes, things have been changing for quite some time now and more and more LGBT characters, storylines and twists are included in everyday broadcasting. It’s nice to see that something so natural is being normalised at long last which begs the question…when will it be OK to introduce gay characters to children’s TV shows?
While it’s not 100% certain, the kids’ show Adventure Time ostensibly seems to have answered this question with a very clear and plain “now”.
For those of you who don’t know, Adventure Time is an animated television series created for Cartoon Network that follows the escapades of 14-year-old human boy, Finn, and his shape-shifting dog, Jake. The series has enjoyed major commercial success, very positive reviews and is one of those cartoons that has a large following of adult fans (including yours truly).
What makes the show so appealing? Its wacky plotlines, zany humour and fun atmosphere to name a few aspects. But another feature of the show could possibly be its open-mindedness, as exhibited in the episode What Was Missing.
Yin and Yang
In this episode, Finn and Jake are trying to get through a door which they can only do by singing a meaningful song as part of a band (don’t ask questions, just go with it, trust me). Two of their friends, rocking bass player Marceline the Vampire Queen and sweet-as-pie Princess Bubblegum (ruler of the Candy Kingdom) also contribute to the effort and that’s when things get interesting.
Marceline starts to play her bass guitar and sing a song that includes the lyric “I’m gonna drink the red from your pretty pink face.” The only person there with pink skin is Princess Bubblegum who takes great offence at the Vampire Queen’s song, calling it “distasteful”. This comment angers and upsets Marceline who then furiously asks the princess “Oh, do you not like that? Or do you just not like me?” Marceline then begins singing a new song with the title I’m Just Your Problem and the door that the gang are trying to open begins to glow.
Wait, I hear you cry. I’m only barely keeping up with all this stuff. Why is a glowing door in any way significant?
Well, let me explain…
Later on in the episode, Finn makes the discovery that the door will only open if the song being sung is one of sincerity and honest feelings. So it’s very telling that the door begins to glow when Marceline sings a song directly to Princess Bubblegum that includes the lyrics “I shouldn’t have to be the one that makes up with you, so why do I want to?” Marceline almost gets the door open but loses her cool when she gets distracted by the captivated look on the princess’ face. She stops playing and bitterly blames Princess Bubblegum for her failure, claiming that her staring “threw me off”.
Just good friends?
Then, when they eventually do get the door open with a number about friendship (which is pretty cool and I encourage you to give it a listen on YouTube, it’s called What Am I To You?), the friends can finally get their prized possessions back from a chap called the Doorlord who stole them at the start of the episode (it’s OK to be confused, this all just background to the point I’m making).
Fascinatingly, Princess Bubblegum’s treasured object turns out to be a beloved T-shirt given to her by…Marceline.
“You kept the shirt I gave you?” Marceline asks, blushing.
Princess Bubblegum answers with an enthusiastic (albeit a bit embarrassed) “Yeah! It, uh…means a lot to me” and explains that she wears it all the time as pyjamas.
I would like to momentarily break away from the focus of this article and point out how completely adorable that is.
As if that wasn’t enough, a recap video on the YouTube channel Mathematical! offered a behind-the-scenes look at the episode and implied the idea of a romance between Marceline and Princess Bubblegum even more. The video caused huge controversy and had to be taken down after the narrator hinted that the Vampire Queen “might like Princess Bubblegum a little more than she’d like to admit” and asked viewers what they thought of the couple “getting together.”
This casual reference to two characters liking each other (with no mention of the words “gay” or “lesbian” whatsoever) made me respect the creators of Adventure Time a lot. Even after the video was taken down, Fred Seibert (the show’s producer) released this little statement…
There’s been chatter on the internet recently about our latest Adventure Time Mathematical! video recap that we created, posted, and removed here at Federator. I figure it’s time to clear up the matter.
In trying to get the show’s audience involved, we got wrapped up by both fan conjecture and spicy fanart and went a little too far. Neither Cartoon Network nor the Adventure Time crew had anything to do with putting up or taking down our latest recap. The episode What Was Missing remains a terrific short and will be shown again and again just like any other Adventure Time episode. I let us goof in a staggering way and I’m deeply sorry it’s become such a distraction for so many people.
It’s not the first time something like this has happened either. Everyone’s favourite talking yellow sea creature, Spongebob Squarepants, came under controversy for the episode Rock-a-bye Bivalve, in which Spongebob and his best friend Patrick decide to raise a baby scallop together. Due to them living in the same house and mimicking the behaviour of a family, the episode caused somewhat of a storm for its apparent promotion of gay marriage.
Even Disney’s Kim Possible had its lesbian moment when many fans of the show came to the conclusion that Kim should have ended up with the female character Shego, instead of the male character (Ron Stoppable) she actually got together with. This idea is so popular on the internet that all you have to do is type the word “Kigo” into Google to get tons of fan fictions, videos and fan art supporting the notion.
Reflect the viewer
So, could it finally be time for children’s media to accommodate the idea of LGBT people? After all, lots of kids being born today are going to grow up in gay families so why shouldn’t their home lives be represented in their favourite TV shows? Maybe if the current generation had been taught acceptance of same-sex couples through sock puppets and whimsical characters in infancy, there’d be a lot less homophobia and close-mindedness right now.
Personally, I’m hoping for this just as much as I’m hoping that Marceline and Princess Bubblegum do end up together.