Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Adventure Time: Exploring The Land of Ooo

Part 1: "In the Land of Ooo There's a Candy Kingdom"    

Is it a coincidence that “The Land of Ooo” where Adventure Time takes place shares its letters with the often-used abbreviation for Object-Oriented Ontology, OOO? I don’t know.


Princess Bonnibel “Bonnie” Bubblegum, one of the stars of the postapocalyptic children’s cartoon Adventure Time, is a scientist. She created and rules the Candy Kingdom. And true to her name, she is made out of mutated bubble gum called “Mother Gum.”  Her brother Neddy, made from the same Mother Gum, plays a key, but hidden role in the creation of the Candy Kingdom. Through a series of flashbacks interspersed throughout the eight seasons of the show, viewers learn Princess Bubblegum and Neddy’s origins in the Mother Gum that appeared sometime after the apocalyptic event known as the “Mushroom War,” which created a giant crater in the Earth and killed nearly all forms of life. We learn how Princess Bubblegum made the Candy Kingdom and all its citizens, in the part of Earth known as “The Land of Ooo.”

Adventure Time never explains the cause or time of the “Mushroom War.” Numerous references to a mushroom cloud and to radioactive waste strongly imply that an all-out nuclear war most of the earth approximately 1000 years before the time of the show. The world of Adventure Time comprises many kingdoms, wastelands, and unexplained topographies, from the Candy Kingdom, to the Ice Kingdom, to Lumpy Space, and the Crystal Dimension. The show does not spend much time establishing the origins of these varied lands, but we do learn a lot about how Princess Bubblegum created the Candy Kingdom.

Exploring how and why the Candy Kingdom comes into being can point toward a formulation of a post-apocalyptic and post-human form of desire that can prove immensely relevant to thinking about the human desire to destroy (and re-create) the world through ecological catastrophe. Adventure Time is almost literally post-human; “Finn the Human,” a 13-year old boy is thought to be the only living human in the Land of Ooo. Humans are not at the center of the story; they don’t hold domain over consciousness; they don’t start a new post-apocalyptic civilization. Instead, a vampire and multitudes of sentient beings simply inhabit the land and sometimes form communities. Flames, clouds, breakfast foods, berries, hot dogs, bananas, all have something to say. In the land of Ooo, life and consciousness have redistributed themselves everywhere.

Following Timothy Morton, one can call the Candy Kingdom a hyperobject. The tree at the center of the kingdom, the candy inhabitants of the land, Princesss Bubblegum and Neddy, the streets and buildings, the Gumball Guardians, all, to use Morton’s words, “end the idea that things are lumps of blah decorated with accidents, or not fully real until they interact with humans.”
Each part of the Candy Kingdom exists as itself, but the parts can be reconfigured and rearranged. The line between selves becomes invisible. The Candy person James, a wafer candy, illustrates this point. James falls into radioactive waste and becomes a goo monster. Princess Bubblegum then produces a clone of James, James II, who tricks her into cloning him 25 more times. When the now monstrous first James returns to destroy Princess Bubblegum, the clones heroically pile on James I, and become an amalgamated multi-James. Bubblegum then exiles multi-James to the desert, and says “I won’t miss him.” James is still James, whether there is one, two, or 25 of him.

James’ James-ness doesn’t reside in any one place. It finds him in multiple shapes and numbers. Multi-James in the desert embodies what Steven Shaviro calls “discognition,” which he defines as “something that disrupts cognition, exceeds the limits of cognition, but also subtends cognition (49). Multi-James literally subtends himself when the clones merge. Each clone sticks out at an angle where it joins the whole.  The whole walks off into the desert on two legs, and viewers are left to wonder where James’ sentience lies.

In short, the Candy Kingdom is weird and Princess Bubblegum might even be evil. She instills cognition in her subjects and sends them into the world, even when they are flawed. But she feels no Dr. Frankensteinian guilt or remorse for her creations. Her first experiments produced a being called Lemongrab —she deems him a failure, and sends him off to form his own weird kingdom.  She creates Goliad to be her heir, but deems her too violent to rule. Instead, Bubblegum makes Stormo (from candy and human DNA)  to engage Goliad in eternal psychic combat. As I’ve noted, she sends James into the desert with no remorse. She creates a whole kingdom in order to become its benevolent ruler. Princess Bubblegum renders a hyperobject from her self, so that she can populate a post-apocalyptic world with new things.   

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