Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why Marceline/Princess Bubblegum Would Have Been Cool

If you know me, you probably know that I am a pretty big fan of Adventure Time. For those that don't know what I'm talking about, it's a show on Cartoon Network about Finn, a human boy and his companion, Jake, a stretchy dog. They live in a world that is slightly post-humanity and full of various monarchies including Ice Kings, Vampire Queens, and princesses of bubblegum. As Finn fights random baddies (and I mean pretty damn random baddies) there is always a faint observance of the importance of friendship.

While this show does focus on two male characters helping female characters and saving the day, a lot of these princesses are interesting, unique, and strong. One of the main female characters, Princess Bubblegum, has even been known to save Finn and Jake from perils. There are, of course, a lot of princesses that are attracted to Finn, most likely because he came in to save the day for them, and a constant dialogue between Finn and other characters about his crush on Princess Bubblegum. Princess Bubblegum does not reciprocate these feelings, particularly because she is eighteen and he is thirteen.

Of course, not all the female characters in this story are princesses. One of the more frequent characters is Marceline the Vampire Queen, a bass slinging, mischievous girl that, after living for thousands of years, is emotionally volatile, but fiercely loyal to the people she cares about (as long as they don't eat her fries or try to take the memory of her childhood toy out of her head). Since the beginning of the series, she appears to have some kind of need to harass Princess Bubblegum. They are two entirely different types of people (creatures?)- Princess Bubblegum is very prim and proper and Marceline, well, is not.

The fandom in Adventure Time has run away with this dynamic. It hasn't helped that art (such as the one at the beginning of this post) by one of the animators for the show (Check out her art here: has displayed Marceline and PB in suggestive positions together. It should be noted that the artist herself does do random art for the fun of it. In fact, her initial genderbent art was just an experiment for herself to draw these characters differently. The actual genderswapped episode happened after the fact. Also, from an aesthetic perspective, Marceline's grey pallor and PB's pink hue compliment each other really well. But it did lead the fandom to wonder what it would be like if the show actually went forward with a Marceline/PB coupling involved.

So let's look at the latest episode that came out. It was entitled "What Was Missing." In the episode, Finn and Jake start chasing a strange door opening creature (named the Door Lord) that took things extremely important to them, such as a wad of PB's hair (Finn) and a blanket (Jake). As they go through the doors to follow the creature, they meet up with PB and Marceline, who are implied to have lost things as well. When they reach one door, they must break the lock by forming a genuine band and playing an awesome song. At the end of it all, it exemplifies how friendship is great and should always be appreciated, even when things get rough.

What made this episode particularly fascinating was that it gave the viewers more insight into Marceline and PB's dynamic in ways that can be riddled with subtext. For example, Marceline performs a song about it:

What is interesting about this song is that it's extremely raw. It also has lyrics that can go in multiple directions. The two main readings of the song is either that PB and Marceline don't like each other, because PB finds that Marceline is too unruly and vulgar or that Marceline is a very jilted lover that got dumped because, well, she was unruly and vulgar. Whatever it means, Marceline is pissed off.

It should also be noted that after the episode, we find out, well, what was missing. Marceline isn't missing anything, she is tagging along because she just likes going on adventures with them (once again, cue the importance of friendship). PB is missing a concert t-shirt that Marceline gave her at some point in the past. What makes it even more interesting is that PB says that she uses it as a pajama shirt, even though it clearly does not compliment her pink fashion sense. Much like the song, it can be read as either a friendship that went south or a romantic relationship that went south. There is no direct reading to the episode.

The response for the episode has been overall positive. In fact, the cesspool of Youtube comments has been strangely... not a cesspool. While some people still hold out that PB and Finn can find a way to make it work, there is a pretty enthused response to the thought that these two girls to get together. Plus, let's be real here: If any cartoon is going to have queer ladies, it would be Adventure Time, who just had a gender swap episode.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look very good for this prospective couple- a Youtube group that does recaps of the episode took down their recap (which included poking around at the possible gay subtext between PB and Marceline)-because Frederator, who produces AT, found that it was a little salacious to imply that Marceline could possibly worship the coochie shrine. Of course, because the internet is a terrible thing, people began chattering about the possibility of Cartoon Network pulling the episode from being reshown. The creators also said that they did not intend there to be any gay subtext. Marceline was just singing about draining PB's pretty face because she's a vampire and nothing more. I kind of call bullshit on this opinion, but for all intents and purposes, I will not go into a subject that I just don't have much confirmation on.

What is disappointing about this whole thing is, well, on a surface level, I shipped the shit out of this couple. I have an entire headcanon of Marceline flying PB around and letting her loosen up, while PB tries to refine her, with a constant plot of Marceline being wild as the problem in winning her over to the kingdom, not that they are in lesbians with each other. It's also disappointing that a production company, in this day and age, can be so fucking bothered by some people finding queer subtext in something. We've seen people ship Frodo and Sam, Spock and Kirk, and many other characters, but for some reason because some people wish to read a song that could totally be sang by a pissed off ex and have it fit perfectly, TAKE DOWN THE RECAPS AND STIFLE THE POSSIBILITY RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

This reaction has also shown how far we still have to go in media representation in queer characters. Many people after the fact argued that it's just as well that PB and Marceline do not end up together- children are too young to understand that queer people exist. Oh, all right, asshole. Have you seen Adventure Time's fanbase? The show itself is on at eight, a time that many younger children are getting ready for bed. Much of its fanbase is teenagers through college students, many of which have either met queer people or are queer people themselves. Even then, the implication that children don't know of queer people is insulting. Kids have two mommies or two daddies, or maybe they visit their two uncles in the city. Kids know queer people exist. And hey, maybe a lot of these kids are beginning to be aware that they are queer themselves. Maybe they don't have the "I'm gay" realization, but it could be possible that they are looking at their parents and they know they really don't want that. These children, especially as people begin to try and enforce tougher bullying laws, need to be given reassurance early on that you can be gay, straight, bi, asexual, whatever the fuck, IT'S OKAY.

There is also the argument that with the presence of queer couples comes the need to discuss sexual intercourse between queer couples. And while I tried to think of an academic response to this, especially considering I'm a well-to-do college student, I couldn't. I just laughed. If you look at many cartoons targeted at the same group as Adventure Time, you can see various instances of hetero coupling. A striking example is Avatar: The Last Airbender, where many of the main characters were intertwined in romantic, heterosexual, relationships. I've worked with a lot of eight year olds that loved this show and were aware that these romantic relationships were happening between the characters. I never felt the need to sit them down and explain to them that Aang and Katara really wanted to have sex, and the mechanics of it. In theory, a queer couple like PB and Marceline would not require some explanation of how to fingerbang, either- I think these eight year olds can cope with the fact that sometimes girls just really like each other and want to be with each other.

There are a lot of people that have accused the fandom of overreacting to this shutting out of the possibility of a relationship. While I understand that some people may be too invested in a pair of fictional couples, I do believe that a lot of these people have a reason to be pissed. This need to not even allow the subtext of these characters to exist shows the amount of progress needed in the media. It also shows how people underestimate the capacity that children have in reference toward learning acceptance and embracing people that are different, or possibly just like them. And, unfortunately, it shows how some people just really dislike the thought of two pretty cool ladies holding hands on a children's television show.

I'm going to the Adventure Time panel at Comic Con next month. I'm not fully sure how it's going to go down, but I do hope there is some kind of dialogue brought up about this subject. Obviously, if I get any deets, I will let you guys know. Other than that, I just want to reiterate how fucking badass a lovesong Marceline could sing to PB would be. And, of course, if you have any opinion on this subject, send it to the comments.