[Opinion Piece] A New Generation of Devotion
Adult humor in children’s cartoons is not anything new. For decades, sexual innuendos have existed in the confines of animated shorts and films. Typically it is believe that hidden sexual content is meant to appeal and keep the interest of older audiences to help drive the studio’s revenue by appearing to have a sense of depth and maturity to its plot. It has been also said that such content is sprinkled in to entertain parents who are watching these programs with their children. Or perhaps the start of sexual innuendos spawns from the show’s creators just having fun with their canvas and taking a few risks to see what they could get away either. Regardless of where adult content originated from, it has been an ongoing controversy between artists, parents, and viewers alike on where the line is drawn and crossed.
I stumbled upon a forum post (now deleted) where the author was expressing his growing disgust towards Adventure Time and Bravest Warrior creator, Pendleton Ward. The poster began discussing how sexualization in children’s cartoons where starting to get out of hand and states the obsession of finding a girlfriend is an inappropriate theme. For those familiar with either of Ward’s works, you are already aware of the subtle adult humor thanks to the terminology used and context it is used in. You are also aware that one of the main undertones of the show is the characters’ quests to find love. The whole dynamic behind Ice King’s villainous behavior centers around his personal desire of finding a wife. A lot of the princesses fancy Finn for his heroic nature and Finn’s had a variety of crushes.
Recent Adventure Time episodes, however, have begun including more risque references to things like masturbation, lust, and fetishes. It can be argued that the suggestive content is “necessary” in order to paint a picture to the younger audience that adjusting to puberty can be confusing and difficult, but it is going to be okay. The show has canonized the fact that Finn does progressively age throughout the seasons, meaning that he is now in his mid-teens.
Like any teenager, Finn is going through puberty and starting to think/feeling things he did not before and turns to his closest friends for guidance. Jake – Finn’s adoptive brother and best friend – has been his main mentor. Jake in general might not be the prime role model for children since he has lazy tendencies and moments of being self centered, but you cannot argue with Jake’s view when it comes to a love life. In the episode “Go with Me”, Jake advises Finn to swoon Princess Bubblegum through romantic gestures. He is also among the first to always try to put Finn on the right path to find someone truly special to him.
Sure, there are hints that Jake has a kinky side to him, but he still keeps everything restricted to who he is with. He mentions there being different levels of things you are capable of doing with a girlfriend; it is also believed by the fan base that author, Jay T. Doggzone, of the dating advice book, Mind Games, is really a pseudonym Jake created. After all, he constantly reminds Finn that the book gives terrible advice regarding committed relationships. Even with a wild side, the one factor of Jake’s character that makes him stand out both in the show and in modern cartoons today is his strong devotion to his girlfriend, Lady Rainicorn. To simply put it, Jake and Lady are this generation’s Filburt and Dr. Hutchinson.
If you are unfamiliar with Filburt and Dr. (Paula) Hutchinson, then you are probably on the wrong website, but I will catch you up to speed. The couple is from the animated series Rock’s Modern Life that aired on Nickelodeon in 1993 until 1996. Filburt had always been a secondary character on the show while Dr. Hutchinson was introduced later on after it was brought to the studio’s attention that they needed a positive female role model. She may have had a few quirks like her hook for a hand and clumsiness, but was generally presented to be a relatively intelligent and caring individual. This ultimately led to Filburt developing feelings for her. He quietly whispers to Rocko how he finds her to be cute in “Rinse & Spit” and at the end, it is implied that he asked her out on a date – which she was very interested in.
Their relationship is predominantly off screen, sadly, with very few mentions of it during a handful episodes. It is suggested that the two had been seeing each other for awhile as Dr. Hutchinson often refers to Filburt by his pet name “Turtledove”. By season three, Filburt becomes determined to make her his forever and asks for his friends’ help in proposing to her. Throughout the episode, “The Big Question”, he constantly expresses how terrified he is to lose her when he begins to suspect that she has fallen for a hunky old high school friend.
Looking back, they were one of the few children cartoon couples that went through a genuine courtship during the show’s airing – at least for us. Much like Filburt and Dr. Hutchinson, Jake and Lady’s relationship is very similar but more actively explored and developed. Adventure Time has had multiple episodes that both referenced and were devoted to showing their blossoming relationship. What makes their bond so unique is the fact that the audience has been with the couple every step of the way. Early descriptions of the characters when the show first began stated that the two were dating but the depth of their intimacy has increased off screen. The episode “Slumber Party Panic” has the couple playfully flirting before engaging in a suggest make out session during a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven. There have been dozens of instances where Lady and Jake have whispered to one another and blushed hinting at possible sexual interactions between them.
The sexual mannerisms is tasteful, however. What keeps them from being offensive or sending the wrong message comes from the fact that Jake stresses the importance of exclusivity and commitment. There have been a variety of other girls that have shown interest in Jake upon which he is quick to turn them down by stating that he has a girlfriend. Even when pushed, he shows a sense of discomfort due to his strong bond with Lady. Jealousy also explodes in Jake whenever he feels threatened that another male is getting too close to her.
The serious of their relationship is farther explored to show that there is far more to a relationship over just calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend. “My Two Favorite People” states that Jake remains a loyal boyfriend by visiting Lady every day at 4:00pm. The episode then shows the struggles that can come from trying to balance out one’s personal life as Jake realizes how he misses opportunities to adventure with his best friend due to hanging out with his girlfriend At the same time, he is aware that Lady has royal duties to attend to and does not want to break his promise to her about their daily afternoon date. Later on, Jake confesses to one day wanting to settle down with Lady.
There is more to a serious relationship than just the two people involved. While the two together are the center of it all, eventually each other’s families will get implicated into the relationship as well. Both Rocko’s Modern Life and Adventure Time took the time to display how to handle your significant other’s family. The two couples from both shows share similar dilemma; their families dislike each other as we discover that the adorable couple are really star-crossed lovers just like Romeo and Juliet. In two-parter Rocko’s Modern Life episode “The Big Question”/”The Big Answer”, we discover that Paula’s mother (the Widowed Hutchison) despises Filburt due to a species rivalry between cats and turtles. The Widowed Hutchison is seen trying to scare Filburt off when he arrives at Dr. Hutchison’s apartment to propose to her and expresses great displeasure over her daughter accepting the turtle’s proposal. The two have a heart-to-heart where Dr. Hutchison tries to reason with her mother by asking her to see past Filburt’s shell and see what he has to offer since she was once in love herself. Her mother refuses and in their second one-on-one conversation, she says she will remain supportive of her daughter’s decision. However, she states that the family is now disgraced and that she could never be happy about the marriage.
On the day of the wedding, Dr. Hutchinson is nowhere to be found. Filburt randomly stumbles upon her while dashing to the park after recovering from an ice cream hangover he got during his bachelor party. The couple unite on top of a skyscraper where she confesses that she has been thinking and finds it too difficult to go on with the marriage. Luckily, it is implied that the couple worked things out. They arrive at the scene of their wedding to discover that the families had broken out into a fight during their absence. Rocko and Heffer ask them where they had been and why were they late to their own wedding. The couple happily and proudly presented a marriage license explaining that they decided to elope instead in order to avoid conflicts from their families – ultimately presenting the idea that you do not need your families approval to be with someone you truly love.
Adventure Time tells a similar story for Jake and Lady. Much like the cat and turtle rivalry, Jake is extensively nervous about meeting Lady’s parents for the first time in “Her Parents”. He goes on to tell Finn that Rainicorn-Dog Wars was a territorial war that lasted for thousands of years to gain control of the Crystal Dimension. As his nerves begin to get the best of him, he decides to disguise himself as a Rainicorn by stretching out his body and painting himself with ketchup/mustard. He tries his best to impress her parents through his knowledge of Rainicorn games and traditions as he fears their disapproval would result in them banning him from ever seeing Lady again Chaos breaks loose as Lady’s parents – Bob and Ethel – try to eat Finn since human flesh was a delectable treat. Jake exposes his true identity as a dog, but much to his surprise, Bob and Ethel are overjoyed since a dog had saved Bob’s life in the war. Ethel later on then refers to Jake has her future son-in-law – ultimately presenting the idea that you should not be afraid to be yourself or fear rejection from your significant other’s family.
Married with Children
A lot of cartoons feature families. However, most cartoons have your generically created, cookie cutter family that is suppose to paint a picture of what the average family is. There is the mother and the father that are often portrayed as being fairly lovey-dovey with one another. Then there is normally two siblings. Sometimes a boy and girl; other times it might be two of the same gender. The siblings are often polar opposites of one another which makes them have issues being compatibility with each other. This image is suppose to make the show relatable to a lot of kids (at least during the 90s), but there were plenty of shows that featured single parents or no parents at all. Rarely though did we see a protagonist or a secondary character form their own family.
Filburt was driven to marry Dr. Hutchinson due to have fallen deeply in love with her. The two-parter episode featured him repeating that he loved her more than anyone in the world. He describes that loving a woman as much as he did made him feel like “your soul burning like a thousand suns”. Like the early days of their relationship, the later half takes place off screen but it is suggested that Dr. Hutchinson moved in with Filburt after their honeymoon. “From Here to Maternity” takes their relationship to the next level as they become parents. The episode starts off as a parody of the popular answer to the question – where do babies come from? We see Filburt and his friends racing a stork down the highway to the hospital. The expecting father is determined to arrive at his wife’s side before the babies are delivered…from the stork’s delivery truck. Upon reaching the hospital, an egg is given to the parents with instructions to keep it warm. The rest of the episode is made up of some shenanigans between Filburt and Heffer as they argue over whether or not the baby will be a boy or girl when the egg hatches. Dr. Hutchinson and Filburt end up having four children total: two twin turtle boys, a girl cat, and a fourth boy resembling Heffer (since he aided in keeping the egg warm).
“Future Schlock” is among one of the final episodes in the series and shows the children as teenagers. Once again most of the bonding took place off screen, but enough evidence exists in each episode that points to the family growing up closely. The four children visit their aging father in a retirement home after two of the boys raided Rocko’s old house. A picture is found in the abandoned bedroom of the group of friends together with the four children as babies indicating that Rocko and Heffer were important roles to their childhood as well. The four even refer to them as uncles.
Adventure Time has received a bit more criticism in this field. This is mainly because the show never confirms – but also never denies – a marriage between Jake and Lady. Unlike Rocko’s Modern Life, there is no defining episode that states the committed couple ever had a ceremony that bind them together. In “Lady and Peebles”, Lady confirms that she is pregnant with Jake’s puppies. A lot of viewers were furious at the fact that the show was breaking the tradition that two people should be married before starting a family. Quarrels arose that the show was trying to teach children that it was acceptable behavior. While society does push marriage on us and even as a person who does highly value such commitment, I would not go that far nor would I say Adventure Time glorifies broken families. It stays true to its roots with Lady and Jake which is that the couple shares an incredibly strong, loving bond.
“Five More Short Graybles” shows Lady developing a baby bump in her stomach while Jake seems to glow whenever she kisses him. “Up a Tree” confirms that Jake’s commitment to his woman never deteriorated as he carries the picnic basket for her and spreads the blanket out quickly to give her a place to rest. At the end, he escorts her home where the two share another kiss. “Paper Pete” featured Finn and Jake going to an old library so Jake could study Rainicorn history for his future children. His desire to be a fantastic father has him become so absorbed in his studying that he pretty much ignores Finn for the rest of the episode.
Jake temporarily moves in with Lady once the five puppies were born in “Jake the Dad” to help care for them. (Note: He has stayed with Lady in the past; “All the Little People” confirmed that he spent over four months with her.) Jake informs Finn and BMO that he can no longer play with them since he has new responsibilities as a father. Over protectiveness kicks in as Jake finds himself relying on his mother’s old advice to help raise his own pups. The episode shows that he falls under a lot of pressure in trying to protect his family and give his children the best environment to grow up in; he is then seen reading stories to them (unless the book becomes too violent) and provides breakfast each morning until the kids get old enough to live on their own. Jake returns home to the tree fort where he tells Finn and BMO that apparently Rainicorn pups grow up quickly and that the children had already moved out; it is believed that this was a decision to keep Jake from falling out as the co-star so that the writers would not need to stress over restrictions that would have arisen if he spent every episode with the babies.
Yet continuity remains active between Jake, Lady, and their children. Jake still often talks about his children and it is not uncommon for any of the five pups to cameo in an episode. “Another Five More Short Graybles” features Jake trying to cheer one of the pups – Jake Jr. – up as she approached her father to discuss her fears of the future and getting old. Jake Jr. also was featured in “One Last Job” where Jake receives a letter that she had been kidnapped and needed to steal the Baker’s Shard which is said to be the purest sugar in the world. It is later discovered that the whole thing was a set up by Jake Jr. herself because Lady had told her stories of Jake’s old criminal days and she only wanted to make her dad proud of her. Jake then takes the time to help set her up on the right path by explaining that being a criminal is wrong which is why he stopped and that she did not need to fight for his approval for him to love her. T.V. – another of the pups – had a cameo in “Jake Suit” where it showed him still living at home with his mother; though neither parent has quarrels over allowing their pup to stay with them.
Even with the pups grown and no ceremony, the bond between the family remains. Jake still regularly visits Lady and vice versa while the shows of affection never stop. Regardless of how you view the lack of an official marriage between them, the one thing that cannot be overlooked is the dedication both show to one another and to their children. Jake constantly expresses his concerns of wanting to be a good man to Lady and also being a reliable father to his children – which is what truly matters.
Arguments can still stand regarding the thin line between what is and is not appropriate for a children’s cartoon. In all honesty though, the sexual innuendos and relationship obsession present in modern cartoons are not much different than those we grew up with in the 90s. The only difference now is that networks seem to be allowing more details and direct approaches to more mature themes like building relationships, pregnancies, and raising a family. I do believe that there are certain boundaries that cartoons directed towards children should not cross, I do give both Rocko’s Modern Life and Adventure Time admirable credit for how they have presented relationships. At least both shows display commitment in positive lights and give some insight on what it truly is like to really be with someone.