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Animated Resistance: Counter-Hegemonic Ideology in Adventure Time

Note- I wrote a bunch of essays for class and I want to upload them since they are taking up space in my computer.

 

Bare-bone definitions:

Hegemony– “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group” (Merriam-Websters)

Ideology– ” a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture”(Merriam-Websters)

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“It’s not whether children learn from television, it’s what children learn from television… because everything that children see on television is teaching them something” –Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop.

Children are the future, and the media that they consume now will influence them and the way that think in the future. That is why it is important to study what ideological values are present in television programs made specifically for them. What is this show saying about society? How is race being presented? How is sexuality being presented? How is gender being presented? It is impossible for a show to not have a stance on the dominant ideologies that exist within our culture because ideology encompasses everything. Many modern children television shows both reproduce and challenge the dominant values of America ad similar nations. The animated show Adventure Time is a great example of a currently running show that constantly combats the dominant ideologies of gender and acceptance that exist in our culture through positive representation. Adventure Time is just one of many contemporary children shows that challenge the hegemony presented in media.

The Males

Since the main character of Adventure Time is a young boy named Finn, his age begins at 12 in season one and is 16 as of seven, the concept of masculinity is addressed and challenges quite a bit. Chase Wesley Raymond states in his essay that, “Fairclough (1995) describes the relationship between media and society as a dialectal one in that the former is both shaped by as well as shapes the latter, to a great extent a cyclical process” ( Raymond, 24).   In many ways, Finn is a young boy enamored by our societies definition of masculinity and attempts to live up to it. In this way, the show is shaped by cultures definition of masculinity. The basic premise of the show suggests that it upholds the ideology of masculinity as it is defined by our culture. A boy and dog goes on fun adventures slaying monsters and being knights for a princess. In many ways, it does uphold this belief system. In episode five, “The Enchiridon”, Finn saves the princess when she falls from her tower. He is then sent on a series of quests in order to find the The Enchiridon, which is, ‘…guarded by a manly minotaur… waiting for a truly righteous hero to claim it”. Many of the trials are solved through violence and the minotaur, whose name is Mannish Minotaur, is shown to be overflowing with muscles. All of this upholds the standard definition of manliness. Most of the first two seasons establish Finn as a fairly standard male action hero. By setting Finn up as the definition of masculinity, the creators can establish forms of masculinity that are alternate to the dominant ideology by having Finn experience them.

There are two ways in which Adventure Time combats the standard ideology of masculinity. The first is by having Finn’s definition of masculinity being challenged directly. In the episode “Blood Under the Skin”, Finn wears a thimble as an armor to protect himself from splinters. The other knights, all of them men, then ridicule him for not having real armor. He is sent on a series of trials to get the best armor. Unlike the Enchiridon trials though, each of these trials are meant to embarrass him and make him less manly. When he finally gets the armor though, it is “lady armor”. His friend Jake, who is not the standard definition of masculinity, wears the armor however and saves Finn from being killed.

As a short aside, Jake is the second most viewable male in the series as Finn’s best friend, roommate, and older brother. While he may be a source of much of the comedic relief, he is also seen as a source of wisdom for Finn. Finn goes to him when he has emotional problems, especially when they relate to women. Jake has his own ideal of masculinity. While he too goes on adventures and resorts to violence sometimes, he is also lazy and prone to avoid confrontation. With experience comes a watered down version of Finn’s masculinity. He cooks, accepts the eventuality of death, does not see the world as simply good and evil, and even settles down and has kids. Jake does not take masculinity as seriously as Finn does, and often act as a counterweight for Finn’s ideology. However he can be problematic sometimes, since he can reaffirm gender expectations, like when he tells Finn, “Make her think it was her idea. That’s how you make the ladies do what you want”.

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The second way in which the show combats “Hyperheterosexual hegemonic masculinity [as] a socio-cultural product”(Meyers, 128) is through the showing of emotions. While the American ideological definition of masculinity forbids the showing of emotions that makes one looks weak, such as fear or sadness, Adventure Time does not shy away from showing Finn depressed and sad. When he is rejected romantically by his princess he is shown on the ground, depressed. He sings,

Can’t keep pushing this down any deeper,

Why do I keep trying if I can’t keep her?

Every move I make,

Is just another mistake,

I wonder what it would take,

Because it feels like there’s a hole inside my body,

Like there’s a hole inside my heart.

It’s like this feeling is gonna consume me,

If I keep waiting for this thing to start.

Oh, I feel like I’m all gummed up inside,

It’s like I’m all gummed up inside,

It’s like I’m all gummed up inside

This open expression of melancholy and helplessness is a clear crack in his manly façade.   He is later seen punching his tear ducts in an attempt to stop his crying. Finn is shown to cry openly, write poetry for the flame princess, and lose his temper. While Finn strives to be the Hollywood textbook version of a manly adventurer, his emotional reactions undermine this. Adventure Time does not only focus on masculinity though.

The Females

            One of the most striking features of Adventure Time is that most of the characters with authorities are female. Most of the world leaders are princesses, including Princess Bubblegum. Princess Bubblegum is an interesting character due to her role as the sovereign ruler of the Candy Kingdom. She is one of the most intelligent people in the world as a leading scientist, a pragmatist who is willing to sacrifice herself and others for the Candy Kingdom, and probably the most mature person on the show. The character Marceline the Vampire Queen is one of the strongest individuals in the show, with abilities that far surpass the hero Finn. Just like Princess Bubblegum, Marceline separates from the hegemonic display of women in media. She is a free spirit that loves to play pranks on others. In the first episode that she appears in, she kicks Finn Jake out of two different houses. When they all fight, Jake and Finn only survive and get their first house back because the fight amuses Marceline. In their relationship, Marceline tends to be the more active and superior one. Her next appearance shows her tricking Finn into becoming her henchman, where she harasses him by making him think that she is doing evil deeds. Marceline is the definition of Kathleen Rowe’s unruly woman. She is a spectacle and excessive(Both good things). She tends to be the dominant personality in whatever scene she is in and can only be restrained by Princess Bubblegum. Jake is scared of vampires and Finn usually adheres to her strength and cunningness. Banet-Weiser wrote in one of her essays that,

In the world of children’s television, programs about self-confident, assertive, and intelligent girls such as Nickelodeon’s 1991 hit, Clarissa Explains it All, and more recent animated programs such as As Told By Ginger, Rocket Power, and The Wild Thornberries initiated a new trend in programming that actively rejected the conventional industry wisdom that children’s shows with girl leads could not be successful (Banet-Weiser, 120).

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The women in Adventure Time come in all shapes and sizes, with different personalities and moral codes.  They do not exist simply to assist Finn or be his romantic interest. Bubblegum rejects him and later another suitors advances claiming that, “Oh, Braco, I don’t want any of that mess. I do love you, but it’s the undifferentiated love I feel for all candy citizens”. Despite her many suitors, it is commonly accepted by the Candy people that she does not date. Flame Princess broke up with Finn and rebukes his attempts at getting her back, instead focusing on herself and her kingdom. Very little of the conversations between female characters are dedicated to talking about men, meaning the show would likely pass the Bechdel test with flying colors. The latest season was focused on expanding Marceline’s backstory and growing her character, a season that Finn and Jake played only a nominal role in. The role of women in Adventure Time is counter-hegemonic because of their own agency. They turn down the main characters love advances for both responsibility and personal growth, they are given adequate screen time and characterization without even the mention of male characters, and all of the main females are shown to be able to hold their own in confrontations. Despite Finn’s role as an adventurer and knight it is acknowledged many times on the show that each of the three women that I have mentioned are either significantly physically or mentally stronger than Finn. Finn accepts this reality and does not particularly care that he is weaker than them, another characteristic that shows how counter-hegemonic the show in when dealing with gender roles and expectations.

Another main ideology present in Adventure Time is the concept of unadulterated acceptance. In society we tend to have conditional acceptance, though we frame it as unconditional. For example, a family member may say that they will unconditionally love another family member. However, societal standards tend to see this as circumstantial and changing with the times. We are finally starting to see LGBT+ characters being treated with unconditional love by their family members, though this is usually done after some soul searching and only covertly done on shows for children since queer characters are still seen as risk in youth television. Character traits are not seen as something deserving of unconditional. Usually if a character has trait that is deemed undesirable, they either change or are rejected. Self-determinism plays a big role in American culture. Unfavorable personalities are things that we have to overcome. Adventure Time denies this narrative though. In the episode “Bonnie & Neddy”, Princess Bubblegum’s brother Neddie is introduced. Neddie is shown to be scared of almost everything and is shown to only be calm when alone or with his sister. When the princess explains that how she enjoyed being connected with others while forming in the mother gum. Jake protests, “ But Neddie’s from the same place you’re from and he’s a wet hotdog around everyone”. She calmly responds, “ People get built different. We don’t need to figure it out, we just need to respect it”. This is not the first time that Bubblegum preaches about acceptance. When talking about the cankerous and mentally unstable Lemongrabs, Jake asks Bubblegum, “But how come we don’t just fix their hearts like we did with Lemonjon so they’re more selfless and less selfish?” Bubblgum responds, “Oh, no, no. Their hearts are fine. They’re just like this”. In the episode “Donny”, Finn attempts to cure Donny of his jerkiness. However, it is shown that by changing him, Finn changed the natural order of the environment he was in and put many lives into danger. Marceline has a whole entire arc in which she must come to terms with being a vampire. Though she initially attempts to expel the vampire aspect of herself, which creates the antagonists of the season, she comes to terms with it by the end. Adventure Time does not discriminate against personality types, and calls for acceptance of others and their differences. The few times that people attempt to force others or themselves to change, the consequences tend to be dire. This could be seen as a reflection of our society that is moving towards unequivocal acceptance as a new dominant ideology.

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            I do not believe that mainstream television can ever be truly counter-hegemonic. It must adhere to the dominant ideologies to be well received by its viewers and more importantly, the advertisers. However, shows such as Adventure Time have the ability to be counter-hegemonic in small ways, challenging the vanguard ideologies and replacing suggesting alternate forms of ideology that are generally accepted by the young-adult culture that the creators live in. It is the generation of the shows creator Pendleton Ward, age 33, that began to learn what post-feminism meant in the classroom and grew up in a world where television studies was already an established field. Adventure Time is not simply a passing fad or lone shout against the current ideology. It is one of many shows that are participating in the changing of the ideological guards. These young show creators who grew up in the same time periods and went to the same colleges are now established show runners, at least in the youth animation field. Very soon, the ideologies of gender representation equality and acceptance will not be counter-hegemonic, but simply the norm.

-Grant

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Works Cited

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “Girls Rule!: Gender, Feminism, and Nickelodeon.” Critical   Studies in Media Communication 21.2 (2004): 119-39. Web.

Myers, Kristen. “”Cowboy Up!”” The Journal of Men’s Studies 20.2 (2012): 125-43. Web

Raymond, C. W. “Gender and Sexuality in Animated Television Sitcom Interaction.”         Discourse & Communication 7.2 (2013): 199-220. Web.

 

 

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Avatar the Last Airbender: when East meets West

I wrote this a long time ago, so be gentle.

Ionic versus Pentatonic.   Nuclear family versus extended. Chopstick versus fork. For as long as the cradles of civilization have been around, there has been a difference between Eastern Culture and Western culture that has gone beyond the physical separation by the Ural and Caucasus Mountains.  Whether it be by the main differences in philosophy and religion or the way to hand a business card, it obvious that there is a major divide between how things functions between the cultures. However, every so often lightning strikes and that great red line dissipate to create something truly awe-inspiring.   In the year 2004 at Comic-con, the world saw lightning struck once again. Avatar: The Last Air bender was ready to shine.

Like many great animated television shows, ATLA(Avatar The Last Air bender) began in Burbank California. The two men who came up with the main idea were Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko in 2001. It took them only two weeks to come up with the idea and pitch it. By February of 2005 it was an overnight hit. Since that fateful day there has been three seasons, a few hour long specials, and a successful second season to grace the avatar universe. The Avatar universe tells the story of Avatars, one person every lifetime who has the ability to use all four of the elements in comparison to only one, to bring harmony to the land. ATLA tells the story of how Aang, an avatar trapped in a block of ice for 100 years, and his companions defeat the fire nation after it had waged an all-out war for domination. Avatar: The Legend of Korra, is about the Avatar after Aang named Korra who must live in a world where although people with elemental abilities live in harmony,  a resistance of normal people is formed to stop bending.

So why is Avatar special? Well, that is multi-part answer. One would be the fact that Avatar is a serious drama.  Even though there is humor involved, most notably involving the character Sokka and his trusty boomerang, it would be a lie to say that ALTA does not tug on the metaphorical heartstrings. The creators masterfully play with music, storyline, and character developments that make mature characters that are relatable despite the odd universe in which they live in. I found myself emphasizing with Anng’s attempt to get Katara to notice him and crying with him when the frustration of being born into responsibility became too much to handle.  What we were given was a show not just for the demographic of 8-11. We were given an epic story that blended western and eastern ideas to give a masterpiece. It is understood early on that eastern philosophy, art, and martial arts heavily influenced the show. The amazing thing was, it was not based off of tired old stereotypes that would often show up in western shows including Eastern elements.  ATLA was a celebration of Eastern culture.

Recently, Avatar: The Legend of Korra was renewed for a second season. A greater diffusion between western and eastern history/ideas is created, with jazz and automobiles painted next to Chinese folk music and bamboo trees.   The future for this show is unknown to everybody except the small group of dedicated artists in Burbank. What is known is that Avatar will continue to meld the hearts of mind of Eastern and Western fans for years to come.

God I love the track Team.  (M. Knight Free since  ’05)

-Grant

Pixar Power: A lesson in Nostalgia

Ever since I was five years, I understand the power of nostalgia. My mother and grandmother both collected animated movies for me and my sister to watch. My mother would always purchase a Disney movie as soon as it came out on VHS, adding countless movies to our collection that seemed to grow exponentially. Some of my favorite and best kept memories are of my family sitting in the living room, the small area alight with excitement, captivated by the mysterious wonder that movies bring. When done right, and Disney did it right, you could feel an overwhelming amount of emotions for a time that is not your own. I feared the fires in Paris that my burned my brethren and I missed the days of yore when Gods walked among men and champions were made, not just born. During Disney’s renaissance (This was a period of time circa. 1985-2000 where Disney returned to making kick ass movies including but not limited to The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Mulan, and of course Lion King) Disney mastered the art of perpetual nostalgia with the unique ability to take any time period or situation and add modern day allusions and twists to the story line. A great example of this is in Hercules when they called Thebes the Big Olive or when the sizzling satyr Philoctetes name was shortened to Phil. This connection of two time periods draws the audience in with something recognizable and at the same time allow us to accept the unbelievable or unknown as fact. Very few other film companies can accomplish the feat. Do you really see yourself sitting down with your kids or grandkids in ten years and watching Madagascar three? I didn’t think so.

 Enter Pixar.

The Disney Renaissance is dead. The Age of Pixar has begun. Long live the king. The mantle of majestic nostalgia in animated films has been passed on. Before I continue, I must warn you. I love Pixar even more than I love Disney. I love the music of Giacchino, the Newman’s, and the newest member to the club Patrick Doyle (Don’t worry. I have an especially long essay to write about nostalgia, the music of Pixar, and why Pixar Is Jazz). I love the quirky characters like Dory the……what was I talking about again, Doug the dutiful dog, and the three silent yet wild princes DunBroch. I love everything Pixar. The way the company is run shines in the movies. Pixar is the new king of nostalgia. They made an exact witches brew filled with comedy, drama, and transcending life lessons that can rival Disney in its tenacity. I recently saw the movie Brave, and it is of little wonder why Brave became the 13th Pixar movie to premiere at number one. Sure, there are certain things that I can happily say I have never experienced (No spoilers for you. See the movie!), but I can fully appreciate the struggle between a young adult and their parent. The feisty Merida’s spats with her strict yet loving mother brought forth powerful memories of slammed doors and raised voices that I thought were long gone. The reason why Pixar’s nostalgia is different yet similar to Disney’s can be found in the type of love that they exemplify. While Disney focused in the love between two strangers who eventually found love, Pixar focused on the types. Maternal/paternal love, self-love, and love between friends. All of these loves are valid on their own way. Each company made these loves their own.

Ever since I was five understood the power that nostalgia has. In the blink of an eye a blank canvas can be filled with the most beautiful and most wretched colors that have ever been seen. The paintbrushes needed to create these perfect pieces of art can be found now in the minds of every single person who works at Pixar. These people who can make you feel like robots can fall in love, houses can fly, and toys can form lifelong friendships hold the keys to the lock that is your heart. In ten years I can cannot wait to sit my child(or children, who knows!) upon my lap and allow Pixar to unlock their hearts and show them the power of Nostalgia.

    -Grant

P.S. I will never refer to Pixar as Disney Pixar. As far as I am concerned,  Pixar is and always has been its own identity that shall never be truly assimilated. Disney=distribution.

The jock is dead. Long Live the Geek!

At my grandma’s house and we got thr record player to work. Jamming out to the original cast of Sesame Street!

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