In Search of Identity: Fanfics, Cosplay and Character Building in 'Adventure Time'

Curator's Note

Just as we have seen Finn the Human develop from a simple-minded pre-teen to a complex and conflicted young man as the series progressed, so too has the plot of Adventure Time grown to include much more than just “mathematical” adventures. Similarly, what was at first a colourful children’s cartoon like any other has since become, for many including myself, a poignant portrayal of human struggles.

However outlandish or fantastical the people of Ooo might be, they are relatable and likeable, for the most part. Characters go through several phases as they mature and display real growth and depth. More importantly, the large variety of personalities, conflicts and relations shown in Adventure Time offers something unique and engaging to each viewer. Fans of the show can identify with the conflicts portrayed on screen, even if they are being played out by a magical dog, a lemon or a cinnamon bun.

Through cosplaying or fan-fiction, among other methods, spectators are invited to interact with these characters on a more personal level. This allows fans to either take on the traits of the characters they cosplay as, or through fan-fiction, make these characters live out scenarios that are not possible otherwise. In addition, online fandoms present participants with a (typically) welcoming community which extends the reach of Adventure Time’s potential further into the real world.

Interestingly, characters in Adventure Time also seem to partake in these processes of fandom. Fan-fiction, for instance, plays an important role throughout the series. Marceline, Ice King, and LSP each produce their own fanfics which allow them to play out relationships in a way not permitted in their own world, namely through genderswapping and shipping. By incorporating these practices into the narrative (and into their promotional materials), Adventure Time seems to acknowledge their existence and their importance.

Is it possible, then, that Adventure Time is more than just about “mathematical” adventures? How is it that this show is so different from other children’s cartoon? More interestingly, why do so many adults connect with Adventure Time, either through simple spectatorship or through more active channels such as cosplaying, fan-fictions and fan art?

Comments

Alexandre Dugas's picture

Adults connecting through creative freedom

This is an excellent outlook on the show and you raise an extremely significant question when asking why adults connect with AT through cos-playing and fan-fiction. I especially find your segment on how the show’s characters part-take in fan-fictions and how this allows them to gender-swap or ship. Would you consider this as a form of poke at gender issues as a whole since within these fan-fictions, boys become girls and vice versa? They do so, as you mention, in ways they couldn’t in their own world. Finally, many shows connect with their audiences through cos-play or fan-art and fiction though AT is different I believe, on account of its ability to include any form of diversity. Within the fan-fiction of the show, characters are able to become whoever or whatever they want. This I believe reaches out to anyone interested in expressing him or herself creatively.

Philippe Bédard's picture

Putting the Fan back into Fantasy

Thanks for this incisive comment Alexandre, you bring some interesting ideas I couldn’t discuss in my post. I recently found an interesting theory on the genderswapping in AT’s own fanfics that applies to this (http://fc06.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2013/054/8/a/finn_x_ice_king_____finn_...). This person proposed that genderswapping allows characters to work through their feelings, in a potentially safer way. They can fantasize about these relationships they can probably never really have.

I also agree that many other shows have a great connection with their audiences through cosplay and more, but I’m not sure I know of any other children’s cartoon that has this type of impact on an adult fanbase (“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” being a huge exception to this, albeit for other reasons entirely.) Also, it seems to me that the fact that AT takes part in this process is pretty important, and it gives credence to this practice.

Dewey Musante's picture

What about the Queer angle?

You bring up some great points, Philippe. AT seems to not only acknowledge fan interaction, but incorporates it into the canon of the show. One of the more interesting facets of the fan reaction to the show has been the insinuation that Princess Bubblegum and Marceline dated in the past, (which Pendalton Ward has confirmed, http://www.buzzfeed.com/skarlan/adventure-time-actor-confirms-princess-b...). Although we have had the insinuation of queer characters in kids shows (I’m thinking Pee-Wee specifically), I think its interesting that AT and it’s creators not only encourage queer fan interaction, but incorporate it into the complex storytelling of the show. Fan fictions and cosplay in AT become more about self-discovery and the inclusion of otherness (without normalization) than the commonly accepted and celebrated fanboy/girl giddiness. Besides being remarkably progressive for a popular show, this inclusion of otherness is yet another salient lesson the show teaches without being ham-fisted and preachy. Maybe we should use AT as a pedagogical tool???

Philippe Bédard's picture

BMO, Jake, and other queer elements in AT

Great comments Lawrence. I’d like to add the example of BMO to your idea of queer characters in the AT. Mike Rugnetta of PBS’ “Idea Channel” has suggested that BMO, with her fluid gender identity, is representative of third-wave feminism (http://youtu.be/uqtNSdDFGBM http://www.youtube.com/gif?v=uqtNSdDFGBM&g=aybV6kz88cA). I find this is a really interesting proposition, and I suggest you check it out. I would also add that Jake is sometimes as fluid in his gender identity as his body is fluid (http://i.imgur.com/ih7GTB2.png.)

So, I definitely agree that there is an important queer component in AT, and I specifically agree with Mike’s (and your) observation that this part of the character’s personality is not radicalized or made into a huge deal. This is just who these characters are, “but not necessarily ‘all’ they are.”

Finally the self-discovery aspect is something I wish I could have dealt with a lot more, but I definitely think that this plays an important role in the fan appreciation of AT, as well as in the show itself. Finn is the last of his kind, as far as we know, and there are big questions surrounding his origins. These questions come to play an important role in the series, especially the further it progresses. Marceline and Simon (as well as Marceline and PB as you pointed out) are other characters who have a dark and mysterious past which we, as viewers, slowly discover, adding more depth to already interesting characters.

Dewey Musante's picture

BMO, JAKE, AND OTHER QUEER ELEMENTS IN AT

Whoa. Those are awesome links! I’ve never even thought about how bodies and forms play a role in gendering of characters (outside of David Cronenberg). Great points!

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