Monday, 31 December 2012

Miscellaneous Mondays: Anne Hathaway’s Awesome Interviews

Welcome to our first Miscellaneous Mondays post! Every week we will be providing a link, a quote, a timely rant, or an insightful piece of commentary (written by the brilliant people who inhabit the Internet world outside SFC) that deals with an issue related to the representation of women in media.

We’re kicking things off with a post dedicated to a woman who’s been having a banner year: Anne Hathaway. She’s starred in two blockbuster films this year (The Dark Knight Rises and Les Misérables) and was arguably the best part of both, bringing life to two legitimately compelling characters. Unfortunately, it seems that all the media cares about are her marriage, her weight loss, and her crotch. Luckily, Anne has given some excellent responses to completely asinine questions asked in interviews.

Take, for example, Anne’s answer to Extra’s Jerry Penacoli’s question about her exercise regime in preparation for her role in The Dark Knight Rises (at 1:20 of the following video):

This is the response of a woman who has been asked stupid questions about her appearance far too many times. Even her teasing comes across as frustrated instead of light-hearted.

Her frustration is equally palpable in an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer that took place only a few weeks ago. Although she was on the show to be interviewed about Les Misérables, Lauer decided to open the interview with the comment, “Seen a lot of you lately,” referring to Anne’s wardrobe malfunction at the film’s premiere. Then, instead of asking relevant questions, he asked what lesson she had learned from the experience. Apparently not one to let the opportunity to call another interviewer out on his inappropriate line of questioning go by, she answered thusly:

“It was obviously an unfortunate incident. It kind of made me sad on two accounts. One was that I was very sad that we live in an age when someone takes a picture of another person in a vulnerable moment and rather than delete it, and do the decent thing, sells it. And I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants, which takes us back to ‘Les Mis,’ because that’s what my character is.”

In a move that’s been described as “tenth-degree black belt media judo,” Anne simultaneously condemned the sexism inherent in Lauer’s question and brought the interview back to the actual topic: her work.

While the media is obsessed with women’s bodies and love lives, the women who do their work in front of the camera generally want to focus the public’s attention on that work. We’re glad to see a rising tide of support for these actors -- a group from whom we’ve selected Anne Hathaway as a timely example -- even if that support is mostly coming from the Tumblr set. We’d like to hear from you, dear readers; leave us a comment with your favourite instance of a famous woman (politician, actor, writer, you name it) pointing out and smacking down sexist questions.

Friday, 28 December 2012

I’m Holding Out For a Hunka Hunka Burning Cookie

In last week’s post, we talked (and talked and talked) about the subversive work that the Adventure Time crew has done with Marceline. This week, we’d like to tackle the way in which this subversive spirit has affected a few of the more minor characters.


We start with someone who, despite her limited screen time, isn’t actually minor at all. Fionna is the gender-swapped version of the show’s hero, Finn; with the help of her cat, Cake, she must keep Ooo (and Prince Gumball) safe from the evil Ice Queen.

According to Rule 63 of the infamous Rules of the Internet, for every given male character, there is a female version of that character, and vice versa. Gender swapping is so pervasive a phenomenon that the rule’s popularity is only dwarfed by that of Rule 34: “There is porn of it. No exceptions.” However, while Rule 34 only proves what Avenue Q’s Trekkie Monster has been telling us for a decade, Rule 63 has a more complex function.

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that, in G-rated films released between 2006 and 2009, women and girls only comprised 32.6% of the characters onscreen. This number only decreases as the rating goes up. Essentially, in mainstream Hollywood, the ratio of men to women is 2:1. Now imagine a world in which the opposite is true: women star in nearly all blockbusters, women make up the majority of background characters, and the “womance” becomes a common trope. Women play all of our admirable action heroes, all of our bold world leaders, all of our iconic villains. When a film starring a man or a group of men succeeds at the box office, it is nevertheless dismissed as a “male tale.” Gender swapping, taken to its logical conclusion, shows us just how messed up our current media norms really are.

Although the show is certainly engaging in this conversation, in its use of gender swapping, Adventure Time seems to be responding to a very specific -- and ultimately negative -- application of the trope.

Let me explain. (No, there is too much. Let me sum up.) Although she appears to be a few years older than her male counterpart, Fionna closely resembles Finn, possessing his thirst for adventure, his crush on Bubblegum (now Gumball), his friendship with Marceline (now Marshall Lee), his canine best friend (now feline), and a very near approximation of his wardrobe. However, whereas many of Finn’s personality traits are considered pretty standard for a thirteen-year-old boy, they are somewhat less common among cartoon representations of girls in their late teens and therefore take on a slightly different significance.

Fionna is labelled as a tomboy, seemingly just because she loves adventuring and finds wearing dresses to be a chore, to the extent that she wears her everyday clothes underneath the one that Cake recommends she wear. As she says, she is “all about swords” and prefers a wardrobe that accommodates their inclusion. When she is being serenaded by a false Prince Gumball, she provides the pyrotechnics by chopping through a swarm of attacking creatures. She is an accomplished hero, saving Gumball on several occasions and holding him in the very definition of a heroic pose. She is less competent when it comes to romancing or actually talking to her crush; in fact, it is only by the end of their evening together that she can confidently and excitedly state, “It was a date! There was singing and junk!”

Their next rendezvous doesn’t go so well. Gumball urges Fionna to join him in his bedroom, and she’s clearly very uncomfortable with the idea of the sudden shift in their relationship. She gets even more uncomfortable when she notices that the real Gumball is frozen to the ceiling and the prince that has been wooing her is the Ice Queen in disguise. The end of this scene is the pivotal moment of the episode, not because it clears up the plot, but because it reveals the subversive function of Fionna.

We’ve all noticed that Hollywood has a tendency to make movies starring men about universal ideas and experiences, and movies starring women about love, usually of the romantic variety. A recent television-based example is a much-criticized aspect of The Legend of Korra. Whereas its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender, focused on a major plot arc and used romance either as a subplot or a device to enhance character development, the first season of The Legend of Korra became bogged down in endless love triangles that took time away from the plot arc and, arguably, regressed Korra as a character. The most glaring difference between the two series? The last airbender, Aang, is a thirteen-year-old boy and Korra is a seventeen-year-old girl.

Taking the very same difference into account in its own episode, Adventure Time manages to avoid making a similar mistake. The episode does focus on Fionna’s romantic troubles, but, while Finn struggles for three seasons with his crush on Bubblegum and tries to deal with a potentially life-threatening relationship with Flame Princess, Fionna decides over the course of an eleven-minute-long episode that she don’t need no man to complete her. After the real Gumball offers to take her out on a real date, she not only tells him that she isn’t interested, but physically shoves his face away, stating, “I think the reason I got all these guy friends and no boyfriend is because I don’t really want to date any of them. I don’t need to feel like I’m waiting to be noticed. I know who I am, and I’ll know what I want if and when it ever comes along.” The episode focuses on one girl’s love life in order to argue that there is more to a girl’s life than love.

Perhaps the greatest part of this episode, though, is the reveal that it all occurs in a piece of fanfiction written by the Ice King, a character to whom Jake has said, “Your constant harassment of the female gender makes me sick.” The fact that a person like the Ice King can write a female main character who is happy with herself and has no need for male validation serves as a pretty clear condemnation of the writers and producers that have populated our screens with women who can’t live without a man.

Verdict: Actual strong female character

Flame Princess

Flame Princess is explicitly introduced as Finn’s new love interest, some time before Finn has even met her. The situation itself is more than a little dubious: Finn, heartbroken by Bubblegum’s rejection, has descended into an almost catatonic state of grief, and Jake decides that the only way to get him out of his slump is to provide him with a new girl to pine over. Thinking that Finn should perhaps go for someone a little more attainable than Bubblegum, Jake has the brilliant plan to hook his best friend up with a girl made of fire. The fact that this situation leads to a lot of pain is not surprising; what is astounding is the fact that Flame Princess turns out to be a compelling character in her own right.

When we first meet her, she is incarcerated in a lamp: the Fire Kingdom equivalent of a maiden stuck in a tower. Jake must essentially woo her father with gifts in order to gain her hand for Finn, and it is only after the whole courtly routine is complete that the Flame King lets Jake know that his daughter is evil. When Jake attempts to get out of the deal, telling her that Finn no longer likes her, she attacks the tree fort, snapping Finn out of his funk in the process. Hurt by Finn’s unknowing rejection, she tells him not to mess with her ever again. Unfortunately, this encounter leaves him smitten with her.

Adventure Time does a lot of interesting work with Flame Princess’s forced innocence and ignorance. Flame Princess comes to learn that the world outside of the Fire Kingdom is a dangerous place, for her and for anyone who gets close to her. Everything she touches is reduced to ash, so she cannot truly discover things like trees or flowers. She comes to learn that she can be physically hurt as well, whenever her flames are put out. Instead of depicting her as an uncontrollable, natural force, the show portrays her as a young girl just beginning to learn exactly what it means to harm and be harmed.

As if that weren’t difficult enough, as soon as she seems to be carving out a place for herself, she learns that she can hurt others just by being a normal teenage girl. When she is released from the lamp, her father describes her as “an unstoppable force of destruction,” and the cruel irony is that the full force of her power is unleashed only when she finds something that she doesn’t want to destroy. As Princess Bubblegum explains, “Her elemental matrix can’t handle extreme romance! If Finn tries to kiss her, she’ll burn so hot, she’ll melt right through the planet’s crust, down through the molten core, then she’ll be thrown back and forth by gravity until she burns up the world from the inside! Why do you think I had her father keep her locked up?” Setting aside for a moment (and another post) the incredibly interesting idea that one princess had another locked up, Adventure Time is suggesting that sometimes princesses need to remain in the tower for the good of the world. Sometimes, Beauty and the beast are the same person, and the villagers need to be protected.

But sometimes, what is better for the world doesn’t trump what is better for the girl. Finn and Flame Princess bring out the best in each other, even if together, they produce an inferno that threatens to destroy Ooo. What we find particularly lovely is the fact that Finn makes a point of making the adjustments so their relationship can work. They want to hug, so he has Jake wrap him up in tin foil. He doesn’t let her think that she is a burden to shoulder or a problem to be solved, and in this way he tries to keep her from getting hurt. This doesn’t come across as some sort of misguided attempt to protect her because she is in some way weak; if anything, he’s protecting himself so he can continue to seek out and enjoy her company. At the same time (and we’re giving the Adventure Time writers major kudos for this), Finn and Flame Princess’ affection for each other doesn’t magically resolve the difficulties inherent in their relationship. Instead, it allows the show the opportunity to represent an interesting partnership that both people have to work to maintain, which we’ll take any day over an unrequited crush and several seasons of moping.

Verdict: Strong Female Character™ (just because she hasn’t been developed very much beyond Jake and Finn’s perceptions of her)

Princess Cookie

This analysis is the result of a special request by our illustrator, Jai. While Princess Cookie goes by masculine pronouns in the episode and could therefore be excluded from the category of “strong female character” based solely on that, we’re pretty confident we can defend his inclusion.

We first meet Princess Cookie as Baby-Snaps, a chocolate chip cookie person who has taken hostages in a grocery store and refuses to let them go until Princess Bubblegum gives him her crown. While this initially seems a bit like a very poorly staged coup d’état via small-scale domestic terrorism, it soon becomes clear that there is something else at work. Once Jake and Finn have infiltrated the store, the former in the guise of a milkman, Jake befriends the nervous Baby-Snaps, who then tells Jake why he has taken such extreme action.

Baby-Snaps was the new kid who tried and failed to make friends with the perpetually depressed children at his orphanage. One day, Princess Bubblegum visited and brought with her an influx of joy and optimism. Baby-Snaps describes that day as the most important -- and most crushing -- of his life: “Everything was different. Everything was... was better with her around. And something inside me changed that day too. And then later she told me I could be anything I wanted. … And I told her I wanted to be a princess like her, so I could make all the children happy. And she laughed in my face, man! It really messed me up.”

After hearing this story, Jake starts to call Baby-Snaps “Princess Cookie,” not in a patronizing way, but with genuine respect. He tries to secure Cookie’s safe departure in exchange for the hostages, but Bubblegum refuses to entertain any proposal that does not eventually end with Cookie rotting in the dungeon. Still, Jake decides to help, turning himself into Cookie’s trusty steed and temporarily turning his back on his Bubblegum-supporting buddy. When Jake and Cookie reach a cliff with a sheer drop, Cookie gives up, knowing that he cannot escape. He attempts to commit suicide, but Bubblegum’s forces merely gather up the pieces and deposit them in a mental institution. In the final scene, Jake delivers a specially made crown to Cookie and bows before him, driving the rest of the people in the room to acknowledge Cookie as the princess he always wanted to be.

There are a number of issues at work here, but we’re going to isolate two. The first hearkens back to a major issue already tackled on Strong Female Character: the idea that every little girl wants to be a princess and that, accordingly, every female character must be royal. Princessery is therefore an intensely feminine pursuit. The fact that Baby-Snaps wants to be a princess and assume the duty of pleasing his royal subjects makes a solid argument in favour of the awesomeness of typically girly things. Throughout their lives, the boys who watch Adventure Time will likely receive the message that they shouldn’t like things intended for girls, because our culture champions the stereotypically masculine and denigrates the stereotypically feminine. This episode, however, argues that embracing feminine pursuits is a legitimate endeavour, to be celebrated just as much as any typical path.

The other issue that emerges is one that perhaps validates Princess Cookie’s inclusion on SFC: his apparent genderqueer identity. In a show where just about every female character is a princess, there is a suggestion that “princess” is synonymous with “girl.” What Princess Cookie is doing then, more than breaking laws, is violating the unwritten societal assumptions with regard to the binary nature of gender. He seems to identify as male, nevertheless yearning to break free of the social restrictions (here represented by Bubblegum, the show’s head princess in charge) and become a kind of model of femininity.

It would have been subversive if Adventure Time had merely represented this story and portrayed Princess Cookie sympathetically. Instead, they went one step further. Not only did they give Cookie a heartbreaking backstory of dreams dashed, but they gave him a supporter who made every effort to help him realize those dreams. They told a tale about being yourself and deserving the opportunity to achieve your dreams using a princess story that Disney wouldn’t dare produce. Unfortunately, Adventure Time offers no miraculous solutions; Cookie is institutionalized, and his subjects are his fellow inmates. He achieves his dream, but at a tremendous cost, trading his credibility for his crown. In the rest of society’s view, his story remains, at best, a cautionary tale.

Verdict: Supporting role

Monday, 24 December 2012

Novel Recommendations

This one goes out to all you last minute shoppers.

One day to Christmas
One day to Christmas
Not enough time to do our Christmas shopping
We're not the shopple who peeped in time
We're not the sheeple who popped in time
We're not the people who shopped in time
Shopped in time, not enough time
We are the people who always wait until it's much too late, OH!

One day to Christmas
One day to Christmas
How will we ever do our Christmas shopping?
Why did we ever delay so long, who can recall?
Some of the family may not get a Christmas gift at all!
- She Loves Me, “Twelve Days to Christmas”

The Discworld Series

Looking for a satirical SF/fantasy series that addresses Shakespeare, the film industry, the postal service, collegiate sports, feminism, musical theatre, the nature of belief, the transition from snail mail to email, the ethics of interfering in other people’s wars, and dirty songs about the mechanics of sex with hedgehogs? Look no further than Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

The series encapsulates a number of sub-series and stand-alone novels, all set on a disc-shaped world, balanced on the backs of four elephants who stand on the shell of a gargantuan turtle. In Ankh-Morpork, the City Watch calms tension between the various ethnic groups (trolls, dwarves, vampires, etc.) and tries to keep the city at its optimum level of madness. In Lancre, a group of witches -- two of whom are basically versions of the grandmother you can’t take anywhere without her embarrassing you -- make it their mission to neutralize supernatural threats. In every part of the Disc, Death intersperses his regular duties with acts that prove that he’s actually a pretty swell anthropomorphic personification.

I will freely admit that this one could be seen as double-dipping since we already recommended the Hogfather miniseries. I will also admit that I don’t care. The Disc is populated with a ridiculous number of amazing women, like Granny Weatherwax, the witch whose (well-earned) reputation enables her to convince people of her awesome magical power without having to do much of anything, and Mal, the vampire who keeps their cool at all times, save for situations in which their unsatisfied coffee addiction leads to Apocalypse Now-style flashbacks. And if that’s not enough to convince you to check out the series, let me assure you that it’s really funny... and surprisingly poignant, but mostly very funny.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

If you’ve spent any time over the past decade or so watching movie channels, you’ve probably come across Fried Green Tomatoes. It is a well-known tribute to the power of women and the relationships they forge with each other. Released in the same year as Thelma & Louise, the film seems to fulfill a similar need for woman-positive stories.

The same spirit informs much of the original book. The story begins with Evelyn Couch, a middle-aged woman trying to define herself as a person after her children leave home. While she and her husband make weekly pilgrimages to visit his mother in a nursing home, she is banished to the waiting room. There she meets Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly woman who tells Evelyn almost unbelievable stories about her friends’ misadventures in the town of Whistle Stop, adventures that span decades and generations. Evelyn comes to know the characters of Whistle Stop and to allow their stories to shape her own.

The thing that really differentiates the book from the film is the sheer number and scale of these stories. While the movie focuses on four women -- Evelyn and Ninny, as well as the stars of Ninny’s recollections, Idgie and Ruth -- the book documents the life of Whistle Stop itself. Fear not, though, because these women still form the heart of a novel that is significantly more progressive than its adaptation. In the original, Ruth and Idgie’s relationship is not reduced to subtext, and Big George’s family has a thorough, engaging narrative of their own instead of serving as supporting players. We recommend that you track down both the book and the movie, but try to watch first and read second. Although the performances are well worth seeing, after you’ve immersed yourself in the textual Whistle Stop, the filmic version just seems a little sparse and unsatisfying.


If you’ve been keeping up with happenings on the Great White Way for the last ten or fifteen years, you’ve probably seen some kind of advertisement for the musical Wicked, and therefore know that “there are two sides to every story.” So it might not come as a surprise to you that there are two sides to Wicked as well.

Both the musical and the novel on which it is based are retellings of The Wizard of Oz, focusing on the development of the misunderstood green girl, Elphaba, into the fearsome Wicked Witch of the West. The book follows Elphaba through the strange and foreboding circumstances of her birth, to her enrollment at Shiz University, where she nurtures a righteous activism and rooms with Galinda, the future Good Witch of the North. From there it chronicles her journey into witchdom, set against the backdrop of a totalitarian state that needs a villain to demonize and eradicate.

As with Fried Green Tomatoes, we’d recommend that you track down both the adaptation and the original novel; in this case, however, it’s mostly because they are vastly different stories that should be enjoyed based on their own respective merits. While the musical is a family-friendly tale of female friendship (and the guy that they fight over), the book is a dark, fantastical, adult work that exposes the problematic aspects of life in Oz and introduces a wonderfully, painfully compelling character in the form of Elphaba herself.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I love media that teaches me things; from the generally useless trivia on the BBC panel show, Quite Interesting, to the important tips imparted by books like The Zombie Survival Guide, I adore anything that aims to help me learn. So, when I was twelve years old and The Ersatz Elevator promised to teach me the difference between “nervous” and “anxious,” I was pretty stoked.

The Ersatz Elevator is the sixth in a set of alliteratively titled novels known as A Series of Unfortunate Events, the tale of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, whose lives take a terrible turn when they arrive home from a day out only to find that there is no home left to return to. Having lost their parents to the fire that consumed their house, they are sent to live with a distant relative named Count Olaf, who quickly proves himself to be an evil man desperate to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. The series follows the orphans as they try to derail Olaf’s dastardly plans and solve the mystery of their parents’ deaths.

Like Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket depicts a world in which adults come in three main flavours: useless, evil, or dead. Meanwhile, the child protagonists are intelligent and endlessly resourceful, working to overcome the authority of some pretty ghastly grown-ups. Violet is a world-class inventor, Klaus a voracious reader, and Sunny a powerful biter (and brilliant chef). Together, they solve crime (usually with very few repercussions for the perpetrators -- this is a series that embraces the idea that life is unfair, after all). What really makes the book worth your time, however, is the narrative voice. Not only does Lemony Snicket teach you things that will come in handy in highly specific situations, he also works into the text hints about his own tragic tale. It’s a bit like getting two depressing, yet hilarious, stories for the price of one.

World War Z

Today, hundreds of thousands of people will trudge toward their local mall in search of that last forgotten gift. They will shuffle between stores and congregate in hordes to feed, then, by the end of the day, form a teeming mass of shambling, bleary-eyed, spiritless shells. So, I ask you, what’s more Christmassy than zombies?

A lot of things, probably. Still, the storytelling spirit that infuses the holiday season is alive and well in this oral history of the zombie apocalypse. The book is presented as a true account of the Zombie War, written when the narrator, who conducted interviews for a UN Postwar Commission Report, was told that the report itself was not the proper forum to present “the human factor” of the story. Told in the words of the survivors, World War Z chronicles the spread of the zombie infection, the steps humanity takes to survive, and the messy aftermath as the world tries to rebuild itself.

It is precisely “the human factor” that makes this novel a stand-out among zombie fiction. Each vignette is a snapshot of an individual experience, and the true brilliance of the story is that it manages to convey the global scale of the events with all the pathos of a personal account. Among my favourites are the stories of Mary Jo Miller, the almost painfully normal woman who designed the zombie-proof house and became mayor of the first town built out of them, and Colonel Christina Eliopolis, a pilot with the National Guard whose tale of survival I won’t spoil except to say that I will never forgive the makers of the upcoming film adaptation for giving up their chance to portray it.

(On that note, don’t dismiss the novel after seeing the trailer. While the movie looks like it’ll be a generic action film about one white, American man saving the world so he can get back to his family, the book is a story about the psychological cost of survival, told from the perspective of a diverse group of people.)

Friday, 21 December 2012

Red in Tooth and Claw

This is your brain.

This is your brain on Adventure Time.

If you’ve been reading our recommendation posts, you know that I was not an easy convert to the Church of the Flying Rainbow Monster. For the first few episodes, all I could do was stare at the screen, admiring the show’s boundless creativity while struggling to connect to it in any meaningful way. And then Marceline was introduced.

Despite being introduced as a kind of legend, Marceline the Vampire Queen acts as a much-needed grounding force in Adventure Time. Even in a show filled with impossible creatures, Marceline is a pretty improbable addition. She is a part-demon turned vampire with telekinetic and shape-shifting abilities. However, she is also the only character who remembers a world before the Great Mushroom War, who knew Earth before it became Ooo. In a slightly different story, she would be the main character, and we would follow her as she made her way through the ruins of civilization and watched it rebuild itself as an irradiated, technicolour fantasy. In this one, however, she is a throwback to a world nearly forgotten who nevertheless carves out a place in the new one.

Unlike a standard love interest, sidekick, or supporting character, Marceline has intriguing, complex relationships with a number of the show’s other denizens. We’re going to plumb the depths of Marceline’s character by breaking down each of these relationships. (These depths are several fathoms deep, so you’re going to want to settle in.)

Let’s start with Marceline’s origins. She has the kind of daddy issues that are usually reserved for male characters. Her father, Hunson Abadeer, is quite literally a soul-sucking demon who wants his daughter to take over the family business of running the Nightosphere (which is essentially Hell). He seems to bring out two conflicting aspects of Marceline: the child starving for affection and the teenager who just wants to be left alone. The former is probably best demonstrated in the bizarrely moving “Daddy, Why Did You Eat My Fries,” in which she sees her father’s tendency to take what he wants as proof that he doesn’t love her. When Finn summons Hunson to Ooo for a little unscheduled family bonding time, the demon takes Marceline’s bass (that she made using the family axe) on his journey to harvest all the land’s souls. Her single-minded focus on retrieving her bass from Hunson, even at the expense of other people’s souls, seems callous, but is certainly understandable in light of her father’s inability to let her have even this one thing of her own. She claims that she wants to be left alone, but what she really wants is to be left to make decisions on her own; she wants to be able to spend time with her father without him determining the course of her life. Her bass is actually an excellent symbol of this: it’s a family heirloom that she’s altered to suit her own purposes. She wants familial support, but only if it allows her to express herself on her own terms.

Because Marceline is too complex to have just one heart-breakingly genuine relationship with an inept father figure, the show gave us her relationship with Simon Petrikov, the man who became the Ice King. In “I Remember You,” we learn that Simon helped the young Marceline after the nuclear apocalypse wiped out humanity. He gave her Hambo, a stuffed toy that comforted her after he himself had to leave, driven mad by the crown that saved his life. A thousand years later, the Ice King approaches her about helping him write a song to “lure the honeys in,” using his old journals as inspiration. Marceline agrees to help him, knowing how much it will hurt to work with him when he can no longer remember her. When she finds a message that he wrote asking for her forgiveness after he inevitably lost his memory of her, she turns it into a song. She’s left helping the Ice King to sing her an apology that he will never understand. She is ultimately the one who suffers from his memory loss.

Next, on a much lighter note, it’s bro time with Finn and Jake. Marceline enters their lives as a seemingly malevolent force, evicting them from their tree fort when she proves that she lived there first. After they finally manage to find a new place to live (a bat-infested cave, so we can all see where this is going), Marceline turns up and informs them that this, too, is one of her abodes. Finn fights her and Marceline, having enjoyed their battle, lets them have the tree  back. In the episode that cements their friendship, “Henchman,” Marceline convinces Finn to help her do a host of apparently evil deeds, only to prove with each one that she’s actually a thoroughly decent person. This pranking spirit is something that she shares with Finn and Jake, who eventually come to consider her one of their best friends. This is especially impressive as it suggests that Marceline’s general awesomeness helps Jake overcome an intense fear of vampires. The friendship between the three involves pranks, jam sessions, dating advice, and journeys inside each other’s heads to save one of them from an eternity of sleep; basically, in a show that revolves around bromance, Marceline earns her status as another bro.

Although Marceline does seem to understand bromance, romance is another story. When Finn needs help convincing Bubblegum to go to the movies with him, Marceline suggests that he wrestle with her, because girls like fun. When that fails, she isolates the only thing that women like more than fun: excitement. Being chased by wolves will surely drive Bubblegum into Finn’s arms. When this plan not only fails, but gets Finn temporarily banished from the Candy Kingdom, he turns his attentions to Marceline, who transforms into a giant tentacle monster in response to his offer. They eventually do go to the movies together, once Marceline has been assured that Finn only wanted a platonic date. When everyone else in the audience pairs off to lock lips, Finn and Marceline not only leave, but destroy the screen. To say that Marceline has an unconventional approach to romance for a female character in a cartoon would be an understatement.

The writers don’t just subvert the trope of the romance-obsessed teenaged girl, but the recently popularized concept of vampiric love in its entirety. In “Memory of a Memory,” Finn and Jake must go inside Marceline’s head and remove a specific memory in order to restore her to wakefulness. This recollection is of the moment when she broke things off with her ex-boyfriend, Ash, after he knowingly sold Hambo, her most prized possession, in order to get himself a wand. It turns out that Ash had Finn and Jake destroy the memory so that Marceline would think that they were still dating, compounding his horrible betrayal by denying her the agency of her original decision to break up with him, with the added grossness of literally sending someone into her mind to do it.

Their relationship is clearly abusive, as Ash controls her access to other people, telling her who she can spend time with. He also expects her to serve him, reminding her that he eats dinner at a specific time and informing her that she needs to make it for him. Although she is more than a thousand years old, he infantilizes her and calls her “Mar-Mar.” His decision to sell her “favourite thing in the whole world” is indicative of his disrespect for her as a person; he’s willing to sell Marceline’s one link to Simon, now lost forever in the Ice King, just because it will allow him to produce more potent spells.

The Ash-Marceline relationship is important for a number of reasons. First, it shows that even someone as strong as Marceline can fall into an abusive relationship. Second, it shows that someone as strong as Marceline, aided by a caring support system, can break out of this situation. After Finn has reminded Marceline of the break-up, Ash legitimately tells her to go into the kitchen and make him a sandwich. With a righteous anger, Marceline kicks him in the crotch (Pow! Right in the Twilight!), and continues kicking him while he writhes on the ground. It’s awesome.

While Adventure Time handled that issue with aplomb, especially considering its intended audience, it stumbled a bit with an issue raised in one of Marceline’s other relationships. I am speaking, of course, of the somewhat infamous fallout from the “What Was Missing” episode. In the episode, a Door Lord steals beloved objects from the main characters before hiding behind a massive door that only opens in the presence of truth set to music. “I’m Just Your Problem,” Marceline’s attempt to open the door, begins as a sad sort of serenade and then, after Bubblegum deems it “too distasteful,” becomes a bitter, desperate plea for Bubblegum’s attention. The song hints at some serious past history between the two and reflects on the disintegration of their relationship, either friendly or romantic.

Once they get through the door and reclaim their belongings, it becomes obvious that Marceline didn’t actually lose anything and just went along to help her friends. However, Jake assumes that a black T-shirt emblazoned with an image of heads on spikes is Marceline’s, forcing Bubblegum to step forward and claim it as her own. Marceline is shocked to learn that Bubblegum kept the shirt she gave her, and Bubblegum tells her that she wears it all the time... as pyjamas.

This, in and of itself, would have prompted speculation among fans. This, in concert with this recap video, released by one of the show’s production companies, suggested that Adventure Time was, as they say, going there. Unfortunately, the there where it was apparently going was not actually a destination sanctioned by the Cartoon Network or the show’s creators. By that time, though, even people outside of the show’s fandom had heard that they could get in contact with the production company and voice their opinion. Fred Seibert, the show’s executive producer, issued a statement about the incident, claiming that they “got wrapped up by both fan conjecture and spicy fanart and went a little too far” and that he “let us goof in a staggering way and [he’s] deeply sorry it’s become such a distraction for so many people.” The producer of the video, Dan Rickmers, was fired and the “Mathematical!” promotional video series discontinued. And thus Adventure Time accidentally made itself the focus of a discussion about LGBTQ representation in children’s programming.

The thing is, this issue is not just a “distraction” for the people who made their voices heard. I hope you will indulge me in a little rant in the middle of this character discussion. In a world where people can be made out of candy and a dog and a rainicorn can reproduce, LGBTQ people and same-sex relationships should hardly strain the imagination. The problem is not just that the world of Adventure Time could use some queer content, but that children’s television in general could.

When the powers that be decided to backtrack on this particular issue, turning the possibility of a same-sex relationship into a matter of interpretation that might never be confirmed and could still be plausibly denied, they perpetuated a dangerous attitude. They implied that LGBTQ content was not acceptable in children’s television. This is not a new idea, as North American society still has a tendency to sexualize queer people, equating the presence of a gay character with the presence of gay sex. What is often forgotten is the fact that LGBTQ people, both adults and children, comprise part of the audience; when shows refuse to represent LGBTQ people onscreen, they are telling these audience members that they have no place in the world that the show creates. They cannot be heroes or princesses or badass vampires; they can only be silent and invisible. In this particular situation, the powers that be not only said “No homo” but, if you’ll forgive the term, “No homos.”

It’s too bad, because it would be amazing to see Marceline (and/or Bubblegum) become the first major out character in a children’s cartoon. Still, the writers have managed to make Marceline an incredibly subversive character just as she is. She’s a queen, not a princess (it’s a minor point, but we appreciate it). She has a typically masculine set of daddy issues, all revolving around their opposing ideas about legacy and autonomy, but she also tries to let herself acknowledge that her father loves her. She doesn’t wallow in her tragic past or avoid it, instead making a point of confronting it head-on. Although she could easily have become one of the show’s major antagonists, a demon vampire angry at the world and the people who displaced her from one of the few places she had managed to secure for herself, she becomes Finn and Jake’s ally and friend.

As a character, Marceline is a lot like her house: a quaint, normal home surrounded by the dark depths of a massive cave. She could have easily been transformed by her millennium of horror, twisted into a creature as dark and terrifying as the craggy blackness that surrounds her. Instead, she made herself into something more human, more civilized. She made it through the end of the world with her mind intact, and she continues to fight for the right to live in the way that she sees fit.

Verdict: Actual strong female character