Friday, 14 December 2012
My Lovely Lady Lumps
C’mon, grab your friends
We’ll go to very distant lands.
With Jake the Dog
And Finn the Human,
The fun will never end,
It’s Adventure Time!
So begins the animated tale of an epic bromance set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic fantasy land... And so begins our analysis of basically everyone but Finn and Jake.
It’s not that we don’t appreciate the profound friendship between a boy and his shape-shifting dog; it’s just that we’re more interested in a sucrose-based scientist, a corporeal cloud, a royal red-eater, a pyrotechnic princess, and, well, the gender-swapped versions of the aforementioned bros.
We are also interested in any show that recognizes and interrogates our cultural obsession with princesses, and Adventure Time seems to have made this one of its major causes. Obviously, a show about a capital H Hero having capital A Adventures has to have a plethora of damsels in distress, and tradition dictates that as many damsels as possible should be princesses. This compensates the Hero for his efforts when he marries one of them and becomes a Good and Virtuous King. The thing is, this model generally assumes the presence of one princess, not dozens, per hero and it sort of precludes any situation in which the hero has to save a girl made of slime or compressed pseudo-meat.
Not so on Adventure Time, where the idea that every little girl can be a princess is taken to its logical conclusion. In this world, almost every female character really is a princess, even those who are merely cursed with a particularly royal surname. Though we won’t be covering Dr. Princess in these posts, we will be dealing with four monarchs or heirs to the throne.
As you can probably tell from the title, we’re starting with the inimitable (though oft-cosplayed) Lumpy Space Princess. LSP is the princess of a cloud realm where you have to travel everywhere by car if you don’t want to risk falling into the abyss of space. So, L.A., presumably. Accordingly, she is a bit of a drama queen, blowing things out of proportion and reacting to seemingly minor problems with extreme displays of temper. This tendency to exaggerate and embellish leads her, on a few occasions, to become a pretty self-aware parody of teenage existence. Our favourite example takes place when Finn’s army of friends is about to take on the Cuties and LSP outlines her personal game plan: “First, I’m going to fall in love with one of those little guys, and then I’m going to fall out of love, and then I’m going to totally fake die of a fake heart attack! Oh, my heart! My heart hurts because I fell out of love! And now I have to die! Aaaaaah!”
Her flair for the dramatic also leads her to perform very interesting acts of self-narrativization. In “The Monster,” LSP recounts the story of how she ran away from home and was raised by wolves, before being rejected by her lupine family and forced to become known as a monster in order to survive (all over the course of what seems to be a few days). During this harrowing adventure, LSP proves her resourcefulness, by making a failed shelter out of acorns; her adaptability, by becoming part of a wolf pack; her sense of honour, by exposing a cheating scandal within the pack; and her concern for others, by eating an entire village’s food supply and helping them to lose weight. As she tells it, she even saved the village that she actually terrorized. In a world with an official hero, it’s pretty awesome to see someone else cast themselves in the role, even if they’re perhaps over-selling it a bit.
We also appreciate a very specific way in which LSP’s self-centered world view manifests. LSP resembles every other stereotypical teenage girl character in every respect save, of course, for the actual physical resemblance. There is no way around the fact that she is a lumpy, purple blob living in a world where there is tremendous pressure to be smooth. In an early episode, she seems to succumb to these beauty standards, punching out her lumps in order to make herself more attractive. However, as the show goes on, she clearly comes to embrace her lumpiness and expects everyone to do the same, sometimes literally. This leads to a rather brilliant gag in “Gotcha”: as LSP is attacked by ants, snakes, and vultures, she tells them to stop hitting on her, saying that they “just want her for her lumps.” She also calls each of them by a ridiculous moniker; it’s not wild creatures attacking her, it’s Ricky, Billy, and Chad. She’s like a lumpy Adam, naming the animals in a 1990s Eden.
She also redefines inner beauty according to her new standard of lumpiness. Having initially planned to write a book about how Finn fell for her irresistible looks, LSP instead decides to write about Finn’s inner beauty. While we’re not exactly ecstatic that the whole “beautiful on the inside” validation came from a guy, we are very happy that LSP didn’t have to give up her pride in her physical appearance in order to appreciate inner beauty. She can rest assured with the knowledge that she is fresh to death inside and out.
As the series progresses, LSP’s portrayal becomes more nuanced and genuine. In “The Creeps,” an episode from the third season that gave us the immortal image of Lumpy Space Princess in a ballgown, she has a breakdown as she explains the circumstances of her break-up with her ex-boyfriend. As she recounts: “Brad! He kissed me on the mouth! And I was like, blah blah blah! And then I was like ‘Oh gross, go away Brad!’ and he was like ‘Obvi you’re not ready for me’ but what does that even mean you guys? What does it lumping mean?” She is facing the uncertainty of adolescence and being confronted with the fact that thinking you’re mature doesn’t mean that you actually are. She continues: “What do you want from me, Brad? You said I was the hottest one. Isn’t that enough?” She seems to think that Brad’s approval of her physical appearance should make her ready to take the next step in their romantic relationship, and she hasn’t yet figured out that she’s the only one that can decide when she’s ready. By the end of the episode, she is saying, “I’m ready for you now, Brad. Isn’t it obvi? I’m so ready.” It’s a strangely subtle B-plot: the confrontation of previously unexamined personal issues allowing a teenager to take one more step toward growing up.
Growing up and, we hope, pursuing a lucrative career of writing trashy books for ladies. I’m just saying, I could be seen in public reading Fifty Shades of Lumps.
Verdict: Actual strong female character