Overthinking Adventure Time: Creation, Frustration, and Masturbation

Let’s compare All the Little People to East of Eden.

If we look at the above five readings, we can see they all have to do with one thing: creation. The AT writers and storyboarders create the show and characters, Magic Man creates the episode by slipping Finn the magic bag, Big Finn creates semi-pornographic stories about Little Finn and his little friends, and Adventure Time’s fans create actually-pornographic fan-fiction based on the show. All of these acts harm the creator, the creations, or, most likely, both.

At first, this reading confused me. Why would a bunch of writers and artists produce an episode about the evils of creativity? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that AT’s writers have been criticizing certain forms of artistic creation for a while now. As mentioned above, Jay T. Doggzone’s book Mind Games is a hilarious parody of modern books on pick-up artistry. As Richard mentioned in his excellent piece on “Fionna and Cake,” that episode is a satire of gender-swapped fan-fiction (as written by the hopelessly lonely and delusional Ice King). And Princess Bubblegum’s creations are almost always horrific – see Lemongrab for a rather high-pitched example.

In subtle ways, “All the Little People” references the above examples of bad creation. Finn reads Jay T. Doggzone’s book, he forces characters with no romantic chemistry together just as the Ice King did in “Fionna and Cake,” and he tortures little people like Bubblegum did in “The Lich”:

Assuming Jay T. Doggzone is actually a younger version of Jake (I don’t buy it when Mr. Ward says Doggzone is Shelby the worm), then those three characters are three examples of creative adults Finn can grow into if he’s not careful. Finn can become a bad version of Jake, who uses writing to convince readers that women are interchangeable archetypes who must be manipulated. Finn can become the Ice King (as he already sort of did in “Jake the Dog”), a delusional stalker who uses writing to convince himself that every woman in the world is secretly in love with him. Or Finn can become Princess Bubblegum, who uses her creative powers thoughtlessly, destroying real people as if they were paper dolls made for fun.

In all these examples, creation is masturbatory – the creation is meant to make the creator feel better, not to help the creator connect with other real people – and in each example creation is harmful. In all four cases the creators harm their characters by forcing them to do their bidding. Jay T. Doggzone doesn’t ask the women of the world if they like being imagined as mere “bu-bumps” in his books. The Ice King doesn’t ask Finn if he minds being made into a female fan-fiction character who announces that she’d love to date the Ice King. Finn doesn’t ask the Little People if they’d like to be forced into bizarre romantic pairings. Princess Bubblegum never asks her scientific subjects if they’d like to be cut into pieces or put in a centrifuge so she can make a sandwich:

All four authors force characters to do things they wouldn’t normally do so their creators can have the climax they think they want. In these bad creations, everything is solipsistic and planned. There is no collaboration, and nothing ever arises spontaneously.

Contrast these over-controlled acts of individual creation with the collaborative, dadaesque spontaneity of Adventure Time. This is a show where a bunch of writers and artists come together, and… well, this sort of thing happens:

And this!

And this!

And this!

All for no reason whatsoever! And it is wonderful.

So I don’t think Adventure Time’s writers are criticizing all art and all artists in “All the Little People.” Instead, they’re criticizing artists who force things, overplan, and live in their heads instead of relaxing, improvising, and collaborating with others. After all, Adventure Time is at its best and its characters are at their most fulfilled when they’re improvising songs and dances together on the spot. It is during these acts of spontaneous, collaborative creation made by an uncritical “group mind” (as improv comedians would dub it) that the characters truly enjoy themselves, connect to each other, and reveal themselves in ways they couldn’t otherwise:


MEGA-spoilers ahoy:


At the end of the day, what I think the writers were trying to say was, when you force characters to do things in your art, as Finn did in “All the Little People,” everything becomes a masturbatory fantasy that ultimately leaves the creator feeling unfulfilled and disconnected. But when you hang out with your friends, relax, and allow things to happen organically and randomly, you can have a dance party, and everyone will leave happy.

13 Comments on “Overthinking Adventure Time: Creation, Frustration, and Masturbation”

  1. Elephants #

    I agree that this episode was meant to criticize masturbatory acts of creation, but I disagree that the reason those acts are bad was because of their controlled nature. You seem to conflate control over other people with control of your own creative process.

    Also, I think that a strong case can be made that the purposeless creation which you read the authors as defending as an alternative is equally masturbatory. I guess I think that the authors are only criticizing a specific kind of controlling masturbatory creation, but that they’re okay with other kinds.

    In other words, I think that the authors thoughts on masturbation are probably more nuanced than you demonstrate here.


    • Elephants #

      Though, I have no idea what those thoughts actually are. I just think that there’s more to them than just this, because otherwise the message seems to have problems.


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      That should be Overthinking It’s new motto. “Overthinking It: Because the Author’s Thoughts on Masturbation Are Probably More Nuanced Than You Demonstrated”


  2. Jamas Enright #

    “Adventure Time is at its best and its characters are at their most fulfilled when they’re improvising songs and dances together on the spot.”

    And yet the writers are probably forcing that as much as they are forcing any other moments of the show. “Now they have fun… THEY HAVE FUN DAMMIT! THEY ARE SPONTANEOUS!”


    • Alan Morlock #

      Their writing process is pretty loose really. They have a few points they want to get to storywise but the writers have a free hand in how those things happen. Pen Ward often compares it to playing DND.


    • Granolafication #

      What I like about AT is the knowledge that the program is 100% contrived and controlled by the creators, yet still feels spontaneous. It’s one mark of a quality program, because as TV viewers we expect the production process of a show to be “invisible.”

      Furthermore, and in my experience, the process of creating a story or comic or illustration, etc, is as much a process of discovery on my part as it is contrived. There are times when I feel my mind has been hijacked by the thing I’m trying to create, as if my mind and body were merely the vehicle for the idea which exists independently. This episode of AT touches on that aspect of creation if we can regard Little Finn as an independent microcosm for Regular Finn.

      I think it’s possible to connect this episode of AT to the “Godfellas” episode of Futurama, in which Bender finds himself acting as god with disastrous results. And it’s a theme that reaches across genres and formats, bringing to mind “Bruce Almighty” and novels such as “God’s Grace” (Malamud), and The Sims and countless other media products. It’s a theme in which characters grapple with the ethics of perceived control over perceived freedom, and is a way to question whether what Christians think of as God is a being without limit, and whether free will is something we truly possess.

      As Finn continues to wrestle with hormones, identity, and alienation, perhaps he will find traces of his creators not in his world, but in the characters around him.


  3. Richard Rosenbaum OTI Staff #

    Totally math analysis, bro!

    When I first watched this episode I pretty much just thought it was the writers castigating me for those six months I spent playing The Sims nonstop.

    But the relationship between creation and, uh, relationships is definitely an theme in this show, now that you mention it. Your discussion of Princess Bubblegum’s creations was something I’d never considered before but it makes so much sense in this context. Her creation of Lemongrab and Goliad both follow the same (Frankensteinian) pattern: neither are what they are expected to be, both run amok, and both are only placated/subdued by the creation of an appropriate counterpart.

    While the Ice King and Finn both use their little people to live out romantic relationships vicariously, Peebles’s find equilibrium only with near-clones of themselves created deliberately and personally for them.


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      Good point about Lemongrab. I wrote this post pre-“All Your Fault,” so I may have to amend what I wrote above. On the one hand, Lemongrab certainly did a lot of improvisational creating this week, randomly turning everything in his palace into a new horrifying, destructive creature. So spontaneous creation in Adventure Time isn’t all good all the time.

      On the other hand, Lemongrab did have a plan going in: he knew in advance that he wanted to create more Lemongrabs so he could force them to love him. I personally feel that images of two Lemongrabs, er, loving each other have a somewhat sexual/masturbatory quality to them. They are grabbing their own lemons, if you will.

      Hmm, now I wish I had brought Princess Monster Wife into his conversation. Also Jake’s puppies (created spontaneously, by accident, by two real people, and they turned out great because Jake stopped micromanaging them).


      • Granolafication #

        So many episodes involve themes of creativity. There are very few episodes in which a character is bent on destruction. The episodes featuring the Lich probably show the most contrast between creation and destruction that I can think of. Even episodes involving death and the Dead World don’t usually regard death as a destructive force, but as a phenomenon that robs the living of companions who still exist somewhere else.

        I also think it would be fascinating to do a Freudian analysis of AT episodes, because I feel there is a lot of potential to explore the psycho-sexual neuroses of the characters. How do repressed sexual impulses drive AT characters to neurotic, antisocial behavior? Maybe the characters demonstrate alternative futures for Finn, whose inability to find a suitable sexual partner could drive him mad.


  4. wrist cuff blood pressure monitor #

    The main idea to purchase a blood pressure monitor is because you want a fast and accurate machine that you can easily operate at home. You want something that straps on and with a push of a button reads and finishes the reading in less than 3 minutes. That’s the standard you want to put up.


  5. Gavin crear #

    Magic man is the Devil. He is the only one that has contact with glob and was banished from a higher plane…. Plus, he makes everyone’s life difficult and introduces porn and masterbation to fin….


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