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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Why Adventure Time is My Favorite Cartoon (and why cartoons are important)

Oh, what's this? You expected another dose of writing wisdom after my Pewdiepie post? Well think again. You see, I've recently noticed a whole shit ton (approximately 8.2 crap tons, for scale) of problems in my current manuscript, and I don't have the audacity to hand out writing advice until I fix it. At least in regards to the craft; advice like "Write every day" and "Read a lot" will always be relevant advice and will never be wrong. But until I learn how to craft good prose and weave together various subplots into a good story, I'll stray away from that area of discussion.

So let's talk about something stupid and inconsequential instead, like cartoons.

Unless, of course, it isn't actually inconsequential- but whether you consider it important or not has no bearing on the fact that this is going to be a very self-indulgent entree in a 3-course meal of non-writing posts. Luckily, my writing is improving a bit just by writing on this blog regularly.

Gravity Falls, an Amazing Cartoon.
So let's assume you read the title and work our way down from there. Starting off, why are cartoons important in the first place? With our precarious political landscape, and Mr. Trump in office- an event that is most likely either overwhelmingly good or utterly devastating, depending on which side of the political spectrum you find yourself on- it seems we've gotten our panties in a wad here.

I'm probably the biggest hypocrite in the multiverse for saying this, given how vehemently radical my political views are, but I'm gonna say it anyway.

We need a break every once in a while.

Let me share some of the things I've seen firsthand.

At the moment, since I'm not making any money from my writing yet (if you want to be a writer, get used to doing 3 years of free work before getting a paycheck, and get used to making little-to-nothing for another 10), I'm working part time as a cashier. And the people I see scare me.

I don't have any grudges against older people- some of my best friends are people who won't even be alive by the time I become a teacher- but something happens in the 30s and 40s. I think that might be the most dangerous time to be alive.

Once you start to approach the end of your first-half (of life, that is), something happens inside.

Your spirit dies.

I regularly encounter 40-something women (the men usually freak out over different things) who will have a meltdown in the store upon discovering that we can only accept one coupon per purchase. And not only that, but they will take it out on you, the lowly employee. The messenger is always the first person to die when something goes wrong.

I saw this parody article on The Onion a little while back:

Middle-Aged Woman Angrily Demanding Price Check On Rice Pudding Was Once Carefree Youth, Onlookers Speculate

That hit a little too close to home for me.

Is that what we've devolved into? Have we sacrificed all the adventurous ideas we once held dear for the mundane? Are we all destined to fail and live a boring and inconsequential life where we berate minimum-wage-earning clerks over a dollar on rice pudding?

I hope not. If I ever sink so low as to get in a twenty-minute spat over a dollar, only to demand that I see the manager, and have the manager tell me the exact same thing as the employee, followed by me storming out angrily and writing a bad review on Yelps, just shoot me in the fucking face.

Domics did an awesome video on that.

There has to be more to life than this.

Cartoons are important because they reveal all of the child-like wonder we once had- and are capable of retaining, as long as we are willing. To me, the day I stop making Spongebob references is the day I'm dead. If I ever stop making dumb Spongebob jokes, that means the inner child in me has died, probably stabbed 37 times in the chest.

No, I'm not saying everyone should be immature and never develop over time. What I'm saying is we shouldn't grow up, a term that, for me, is synonymous with getting a dead-end 9:00-5:00 and giving up on your hopes and dreams.

One thing I've discovered is that many people, upon reaching the end of their life in their 80s, 90s or occasionally even triple-digits, is that they let go and become much more laid back and fun. I think it's because they remember what it was like being a 40-something who agonized over everything, and now that they've come to terms with the fact that life comes to an end, they've decided to just enjoy the rest of the ride instead of freaking out over a dollar on rice pudding.

My great-grandpa is an amazing example of a second act gone right.

To be fair, I wasn't alive when he wasn't old, so I have no idea what he was like in his 40s. For all I know he was always funny and laid back.

But all I know is that despite out-living most of the people he grew up with, he's embraced a fun and fulfilling life. He has an adorable dog that he uses to pick up chicks, and a while back he told me about how his 80-something neighbor and her 60-something daughter were both fighting over him.

Sometimes I catch him wearing some tropical shirt covered in fruit or naked ladies, and he'll go around making puns and laughing along at all of our dumb jokes.

What a legend.

This isn't always the case- some people grow up and then never come to terms with their life's eventual end. They'll cling onto that dollar with an iron-fist and never let go, because that's all they have left.

Fitzgerald often said that there is no second act in life. His own life was tragically short, as was Gatsby's, but perhaps if he had lived until his 80s instead of 40s, he would have thought otherwise.

The simple fact is, that some people will have second acts and others won't. And I'm not just referring to those who die young.

Those who let go of their hopes, dreams and ambitions in their third and forth decades, and never reclaim them, will die having never accomplished anything or had any fun. What's the point of that?

But if someone who once clung on to the petty instead of chasing ambitious dreams is able to see what went wrong and make a change- one of the spirit- and be able to have fun again, then they can have a second act.

Act one: Rice Pudding Price Check.

Act two: Rice Pudding is Lame.

Bob Ross said something fantastic in one of his installments of "The Joy of Painting" on Netflix. He was standing there, doing all sorts of crazy things like using knives and tape and optical illusions to create his painting, when he said something to the effect of, "I used to agonize over my paintings, now I just enjoy it. Don't worry about how you're making it, just do what makes you happy. If nothing else, painting should make you happy."

Can we take a moment to appreciate how wholesome Bob Ross is? Why do we have an Arbor Day but not a Bob Ross Day?

Anyway, moving on.

When I say cartoons are important, I'm not referring to educational garbage. Paw Patrol and Dora the Explorer will never teach your kid anything.

But cartoons with actual plots and characters, where the heroes overcome insurmountable obstacles- those are the kind of shows everyone should be watching.

Try comparing Avatar the Last Airbender to Paw Patrol. Where in one, a flat, 2-D character (pun intended) talks to the audience awkwardly and asks basic math questions, only to exclaim the answer and shout "You did it!", the other is full of nomadic characters traveling the world, with engaging parables and intense emotion- it's full of wonder, funny banter, heroes and villains, monsters and magic-wielding elementalists.

Stories are important- and so it is important that cartoons have them as well.

Even shows like Spongebob can pull this off.

Spongebob has no overarching story or character development, but at least each episode has its own self-contained narrative, with a beginning, middle and end.

(At least Seasons 1-3, the rest are garbage.)

The first three seasons of Spongebob are iconic because the show masterfully captured the stark contrast between childhood and cynical adulthood.

The reason why Spongebob became the most popular and culturally significant cartoon in the world is because of two characters: Spongebob and Squidward.

When we first watched Spongebob as children, we related to Spongebob. And when we watch Spongebob today, we relate to Squidward.

This brilliant dichotomy is the whole reason why this show worked.  Sadly, in 2004 when Stephen Hillenburg left and the new team took over, things went downhill. I know I said the first three seasons were the only good ones, but season four was still good for the most part. While it wasn't as good as the previous three seasons, it wasn't bad at all... but each season progressively got worse. Season five was only OK and season six was undeniably bad, and so the rest of the show followed suit.

Was it just because of the new writers?

Sort of.

You see, when the new writers took over, it wasn't just the comedy that suffered- it was the dichotomy between Spongebob and Squidward that suffered most. And it was this dichotomy that made the show great in the first place.

I'd encourage you to watch this amazing video breaking down this dichotomy in an in-depth analysis.

And if the idea of watching a 30-minute intellectual analysis of Spongebob Squarepants makes you giddy with glee, then you're probably the kind of person this post is meant for.

For those who don't envision this as their idea of fun, well....

I'll just summarize it for you.

(I don't steal content, so do note that I'm just paraphrasing everything he said in the video above. These are his ideas and references, not mine.)

Basically, we grow up as this:

And eventually, we turn into this:

As the creator of the aforementioned Spongebob analysis states, "Somewhere along the line we become a Squidward."

And remember: No employee wants to be a Squidward.

Suffice to say, Spongebob became culturally significant because it's the only cartoon that captured the essence of what a millennial is. Companies, parents, teachers and organizations all across the world have burnt themselves dry trying to understand millennials, and as EmpLemon so eloquently put it, "None of these people will ever know what millennials want because millennials don't even know what they want." He then added this incredibly relatable image:

The thing is, that when parents, teachers and companies try to be hip by referencing Internet Culture, they're doing the very thing that we mock. The best example of this to-date is when YouTube released "YouTube Rewind 2018," and, well, we all know how that went.

Not only did it become the most disliked video on YouTube, even surpassing "Baby" by Justin Bieber, it also sparked incredible backlash and resistance. YouTube Rewind 2018 was the start of a massive campaign to dismantle everything the YouTube corporation stands for in favor of politically incorrect content-creators like Pewdiepie. "Subscribe to Pewdiepie" became two things: a meme and a serious call. It was simultaneously a massive joke and an actual movement with real support from people who didn't want to see YouTube become a corporate sell-out. Only millennials can create inside jokes that are simultaneously revolutionary commentaries on the importance of Internet Culture on the real world.

(I'm about to get all political so if you want to skip all my political commentary to get back to the cartoon discussion, skip the next 13 paragraphs.)

That's why trolls run rampant across the Internet.

Some are just bullies, sure, but that's not what the spirit of Internet trolling is really about. It's about humbling massive figureheads, creating a level playing field where ordinary people on the Internet can create strife for Hollywood giants, academic elitists and frothing lunatics at Vox.

It's because these people don't get it. Trying to buy us with money or convert us into boring SJW journalists by shaming us and calling us racists/sexist/homophobic bigots isn't going to work. Gamergate was significant to me and other alt-right Internet trolls because it was the first time a collective group of people stood up to these powerful people. (For those who aren't familiar, Gamergate was a movement five years ago when the media made the sweeping declaration that all gamers are sexist pigs, so gamers all over the world ripped them apart and the media finally backed down.)

Where others bent the knee and gave up the fight, like Glenn Beck, millennials stood their ground. It wasn't republican figures on television, like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee or Jeb Bush that stood up to them and said "No," it was teenagers and Internet nerds who play video games all day.

Who would have thought that in an age where elitism and political power reigns supreme over every little detail in our life, from what pronouns we use to what we're allowed to wear for Halloween, nerds on the Internet would be the first to stand up for themselves and win? The Gamergate controversy was way back in 2014, when the SJW lynch mobs were just beginning- and today no one else has done much about it. That's one of the reasons why Donald Trump got elected- because he was, as Milo Yiannopolous put it, "The Internet's choice for president."

I don't know what your political affiliation is, dear reader, and I'm not going to ask you to agree with my political views, but I do ask that you see why millennials and Internet trolls have become intertwined with politics and culture. In other words, you can disagree with me but still understand why I am the way I am.

That's also the difference between alt-right and establishment republicans.

It should be noted that alt-right and classic republicans are extremely different.

Establishment republicans like Ted Cruz and Glenn Beck don't understand millennial culture or our political views any more than the journalists at Buzzfeed do. Yet, there are still a few happy intermediaries between alt-right millennials and establishment republicans; these people are Milo Yiannopolous,  Greg Gutfield and Donald Trump- they combine the Libertarian political views of lower taxes, capitalism and constitutional rights with the outrageous meme culture of alt-right Internet trolls. They're often regarded as "fringe" figures who are somewhere around conservative but don't line up entirely with tradional conservative views. At times, figures like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson overlap with these groups (even if Ben Shapiro is generally more establishment than, say, Milo Yiannopolous).

That's why the real-world/Internet divide exists; it's why liberals control the real world and academia while meme culture and the majority of the Internet is ruled by alt-right trolls. The Internet may have been developed with the hope that people would read scholarly articles written by liberal professors and editors at the New York Times, but instead it's used to watch cat videos and make dick jokes.

And that's why young millennials and Gen Z kids like cartoons and video games. We don't want to grow up, we don't want to accept the reality that's being preached to us by academics, parents and mainstream media. We have our own reality- our own culture, our own likes and dislikes, and our own worldview. Gen Z is considered to be the most conservative generation since before the Baby Boomers, the first of many liberal generations that would follow into the 90s. There was a brief video summarizing it here.

And every generation was like this in some way- in the 90s teens would wear all black and act all edgy, listening to metal and sneaking out of their rooms at night to hang with their friends or boyfriends/girlfriends in the wee hours of the morning.

Only now the bar is set much lower for teenage rebellion; now all it takes to be an edgy and rebellious teen is to have old-fashioned Christian values and spread Pewdiepie propaganda all over the Internet. And when it's that easy to become outrageous and make all the journalists and professors write articles berating the "toxic youth," of course we're all going to do it.

So that's one of the reasons why I love cartoons, and it's why a lot of millennials and Gen Z alike are so fond of them. One might ask, "Why cartoons, and not just TV shows in general?" and to that, I say, because cartoons express taboos that TV can't. There are some exceptions- shows like Doctor Who are very whimsical and fun while also being able to take themselves seriously, but for the most part, millennials and Gen Z really like animated shows- both cartoons and anime- because they have more capacity for fantasy and sci-fi than most TV shows. Yet for the most part, being childish and silly is a social taboo. Like EmpLemon said in the video above, most of us have heard the term "Grow up" used as to shame us for being playful. In that sense, when society wants us all to grow up and be boring like everyone else, being fun and childish has become taboo. And cartoons perfectly enable an outlet.

Listen- Spongebob started in 1999. I was born in 1999.

That means that from my first breath to my first steps, Spongebob accompanied me.

And the same can be said for any other young person.

Anyone around the ages 8-29 can relate to this for the most part. Both adolescent children today and older millennials grew up with Spongebob.

But for teens and 20-somethings in particular, cartoons hold a great cultural role in our lives. They're an escape from the mundane world we've become accustomed to. We can enjoy the stupid and random humor of a sponge under the sea, the story of Aang and his friends trying to defeat the Fire Lord, of Finn the Human's journey across Ooo.

And it's not just Spongebob that has done this.

While Spongebob is the only cartoon to perfectly encapsulate the dichotomy of childhood vs adulthood, other cartoons do just as good a job of creating a fun and insouciant world.

And that's where Adventure Time comes in.

Adventure Time is my favorite cartoon because it's poetic, mythical and endearing. The story of the characters are brilliantly woven together, and the lore is deep and meaningful. The genius of Adventure Time is that it manages to capture all the fun and silliness of childhood as well as tell a meaningful story about love, loss and existentialism. On the surface, it seems like it's just a nonsense cartoon full of dumb jokes, but there's so much more under the surface that most adults would never look for.

The show isn't merely childish nonsense- in fact, the series explores a lot of rather mature ideas. Around season 3 and season 4 we start to see how breakups affect people and weaken their passion. There's another episode where the protagonist Finn meets his hero Billy, only for reality to slap him in the face once he finds out that Billy became a cynical asshole ages ago. There are episodes where important characters die, where characters we thought we had pegged down have a much more complicated past than we could ever have imagined (looking at you Simon and Marceline), and the show does a good job of creating sonder.

Sonder is term coined by the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and is defined as:


n. "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk."

In other words, the show creates a massive atmosphere of empathy. There's one episode in Adventure Time where the heroes briefly encounter a snow golem in the middle of one of their adventures, and the rest of the episode follows the life of the random snow golem. He finds an orphaned lava pup, and tries to take him in, but he's too hot and instantly melts everything around him with his cuteness, including the snow golem. The lava pup is incredibly destructive and high-maintenance, but the snow golem is determined to take care of him.

Eventually, after melting the snow golem's house, as well as his heart, the lava pup is reunited with his kind in the wild and the snow golem goes about the his life.

(Minor spoilers ahead)

And this is just one random background character! Almost every episode is like this. At the beginning of the show we meet the Ice King, the resident douche of Ooo. He's made out to be this grumpy old pervert who kidnaps princesses and forces them to listen to his bad fan-fiction.

But then half-way through the show, his past is revealed- and we discover that he was once a scientist who survived an apocalypse, and raised the 1,000 year old vampire Marceline when she was just a toddler. He was separated from his wife Betty, and inflicted with a cursed ice crown that took over his mind and turned him into an ice wizard with no memory of his former life. And when he lost his wife Betty, who he tenderly referred to as his "princess," this subconsciously manifested itself in his mind for hundreds of years, and now he goes around kidnapping princesses because he's subconsciously trying to find Betty. It was truly a "Hodor" moment. And the reason why Marceline is always trying to help the Ice King is because of her history with Simon- that was the Ice King's name before the crown cursed him- and despite losing his sanity, she feels an obligation to protect him, even if he has no recollection of her and acts like an imbecile.

I'm amazed that a cartoon manages so much in so little time. In only 11 minute installments, it manages to create a massive ensemble cast that rivals that of Game of Thrones, and gives each of them a time to shine. Even some of the most random and seemingly insignificant characters usually get an episode or two going into what their life is actually like outside of the main story's perception. In the episode "Up a Tree," Finn is shrunk down to the size of a fist and climbs a massive tree, where he discovers a cult of squirrels and chipmunks keeping captives, and stealing any and all belongings that end up in the tree, chanting, "In the tree, part of the tree."

There's another where the child-like game console BMO is left alone at home, and while Finn and Jake are away, we see him talking to himself, dressing up animals and playing detective, and crying when the imaginary cops don't believe him. He takes his imagination way farther than we ever would have expected and the whole episode is dedicated to showing us how BMO sees the world.

The show respects its characters- each and every one of them has a detailed story and is as complicated and real as an actual, flesh-and-blood person. I talked about this concept a lot in my post about why good fiction transcends the boundary between real and fake, and that point is especially relevant here.

Adventure Time is tender, funny and wholesome. I'll be damned if someone could watch the entire series from start-to-finish and not come close to shedding a tear at some point- especially with a finale like that.

Now, it's not all mature and dark stuff disguised as a children's show. The show genuinely does have a lot of stupid funny moments.

The first two seasons of the show aren't mature at all, they're nothing but shits and giggles. And it was clever for the writers to do this, because we get a light-hearted introduction to the characters before things start getting more serious around season three onward. But even in its most darkest moments, the show finds ways to maintain optimism and fun. There's one scene where Finn is going through a horrible breakup, and then if things weren't bad enough, one of his arms is severed off- and to clear his head he sits on the walls of the Candy Kingdom watching the silly banana guards when this happens.

(Unfortunately the full clip was copyrighted, so this only a part of it. A moment later the other 24 clones show up, and the banana guards spend like 2 minutes comparing them to the picture before realizing they're the perps)

Adventure Time captures the same dichotomy of childhood vs adulthood but in a completely different way. Rather than have one character who embodies the naive optimism of childhood and the other who embodies the cynical jaded mundaneness of adulthood, the entire show shifts tone. It can show the worst realities of growing up while simultaneously denying falling victim to them. Bad things happen and things will go wrong, but you can always keep your chin up.

Whether it's financial insecurity, loneliness, breakups, the loss of a loved one- Adventure Time has you covered. And when you watch the show from start to finish, you really feel their strife- you feel all their victories and triumphs, their defeats and hope. You experience their story with them, rather than just being a passive audience member observing from afar. The show doesn't treat you like you're stupid or like it's trying to teach you something, rather it succeeds in teaching you things you already knew. It does a masterful job of revealing things you've felt but never came to terms with.

When the characters lose, you feel their pain, and when they come out victorious, their victory is your victory.

And just like how Spongebob started the year I was born, Adventure Time entered my life at the exact right time. I had just gone through my first breakup, and since all we did in my Digital Design class was dick around on the Internet, I thought it'd be fun to watch the first two seasons of Adventure Time on Netflix using the school computer. After finishing the first two seasons in class, I wanted to continue watching, so I watched the rest of the show at home on those sketchy streaming sites that are always loaded with ads for erectile dysfunction pills and "Russian Singles in Your Area!" (use adblock, people).

So after downloading adblock I started watching the rest of the show at home, and was not prepared for it whatsoever. The show was so endearing and well-written that to this day it blows my mind. I never would have gotten over my ex and resumed my passion for prolific reading and writing had it not been for this underrated cartoon that doesn't even air on Cartoon Network anymore.

Take it from me.

Rice pudding sucks.

Life is short, so watch cartoons and make dick jokes while you can.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

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