Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Adventure Time 2

Part 2: Ooo-ian ethics

So, if the origin of the Candy Kingdom goes back to PB’s separation from the Mother Gum, what did PB desire in creating the Candy Kingdom?  She doesn’t really know. She notes that when she was in the Mother Gum, “my mind and my gum was in touch with dozens of others, like a crowded womb. I guess I miss that.” Adventure Time doesn’t tell us what the Mother Gum is or where it came from. We see what looks like a big piece of chewed gum, and we see Neddy and Princess Bubblegum fall from it like viscous rain drops. As Princess Bubblegum notes, the Mother Gum held “dozens of others.” Other whats, though? Minds? Beings? It’s not clear. What is clear is that the Mother Gum contains differentiation. Pieces can drop off and form something new.  In this way, the Mother Gum functions as a kind of hyperobject factory. Pieces drop off and become new hyperobjects. Neddy falls off and hits a pointy rock, so he runs off in fear until he finds a tree to suck candy juice from. Princess Bubblegum falls off, comforts Neddy, and then begins to build the Candy Kingdom. She cannot really explain the different trajectories that she and her brother take, though. When Jake asks her why she and Neddy are so different, she says, “People get built different. We don’t need to figure it out; we just need to respect it.” For me, this statement marks the introduction of ethics into the Land of Ooo.

Princess Bubblegum cannot articulate the “why” of difference. Even as she and Neddy drop from the same Mother Gum only moments aparts, their difference manifests itself immediately. Neddy takes the form of a weird dragon, and Princess Bubblegum takes a humanoid shape. Like snowflakes falling through the atmosphere, complex, minute interactions multiply difference as they fall. In contact with the atmosphere, the ground, the Land of Ooo, Neddy and Bubblegum become radically different in ways that cannot be fully accounted for. “People get built different” serves as the perfect explanation. This explanation fits nicely with Morton’s description of hyperobjects. Hyperobjects force us to see and feel that intersubjectivity cannot fully account for difference. It doesn't work to think of Princess Bubblegum and Neddy as two people who simply have different motivations. Even as they drop from the same gum, they are different in both “mind” and “gum.” Even if the Mother Gum looks like a consistent blob, it is something more.  Morton writes, “the notion of bland, consistent substance is not deep enough to account for hyperobjects. The very notion of a consistent substance is a species of accident, no different from the regular candy sprinkles of color, shape, and so on” (1187). Difference must already reside in the Mother Gum. It might be invisible until it drops off, but once it drops, it sticks to everything, exhibiting the “viscous” quality that Morton gives to hyperobjects “which means that they “stick” to beings that are involved with them.” Neddy and Princess Bubblegum are incredibly viscous. Neddy finds his tree; Princess Bubblegum sets to work building the Candy Kingdom, with Neddy and his tree a central component of it.

Princess Bubblegum creates a Kingdom by extracting difference from candy. Candy becomes being. Princess Bubblegum transforms what Morton calls “the regular candy sprinkles of color, shape, and so on” into life itself. These things become less the window dressing of a “bland consistent substance,” and more components of time and space itself where objects have what Finn calls “aspirations” and life. Princess Bubblegum and her subjects are all objects at heart. They have no organs; they are built from the same stuff but they are different. There is no distance in the Candy Kingdom, only proximity. Everything is candy—the ground, the buildings, the people. Princess Bubblegum has built an ontological space where being sticks to everything. At first, this saturation might seem evil, like a dream of total control. Princess Bubblegum makes herself ruler of the Candy Kingdom and asserts control over her candy subjects. But then everything in the Candy Kingdom constantly impinges on her. She cannot escape her entanglement in her Kingdom. In this way, the “evil” of despotism gets replaced by the “evil” of proximity. Morton writes that ecological awareness depends on a kind of enmeshment, an inability to for one object to feel itself separate from others. Hyperobjects affect being so that objects stick to one another, just like James stuck to himself.

“This impingement is not susceptible to being pinned down. It is as if I hear the thing breathing right next to me. And that is the true origin of the uncanny inertia we sense in its proximity. Something slightly ‘evil’ is happening: something already has a grip on us, and this is demonic insofar as it is ‘from elsewhere.’ This ‘saturated’ demonic proximity is the essential ingredient of ecological being and ecological awareness, not some Nature over yonder. (Dark Ecology 2595)

This “demonic proximity” is exactly what Princess Bubblegum has built. She is in and of the Candy Kingdom. She has made being stick to every thing, or being has stuck her to every thing. In the Candy Kingdom, being is not a special property of the human, or of the Gum. She is not evil; she is sticky. She is not, with Heidgegger, stuck in what Morton calls “the cupcake aisle of the ontological supermarket” (325), where being only belongs to man. She has, in fact, turned the ontological supermarket into the cupcake aisle. The cupcakes in the Candy Kingdom roam through the ontological supermarket, sticking to the goods in the animal aisle and dripping being onto them, knocking over the shelves of the man aisle, breaking open cans and bottles of being so that it oozes across the floor, and covers every single thing.

In this saturated Candy world, Morton’s “demonic proximity” becomes manifest. There is no discreet self inhabiting a separable environment. Despite her calling them her “Candy subjects,” Princess Bubblegum and those who reside in the Candy Kingdom, and the candy which comprises the structure of the Kingdom, show us a viscous time and space of “ecological being” and “ecological awareness.” Every thing exists in its way: gumdrops, donuts, cookies, ice cream, soda, peanut brittle streets, cake walls. Morton writes, “We might add that OOO radically displaces the human by insisting that my being is not everything it’s cracked up to be—or rather that the being of a paper cup is as profound as mine” (385).   In the land of Ooo there’s a Candy Kingdom that argues the same thing. One human lives in Ooo. His being is no more important than a shape-shifting dog’s, a banana’s, a worm’s, or a Root Beer Guy’s.  

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