I’m currently watching Adventure Time series three (I’ve been waiting for the full seasons to come out on Blu-Ray), and really dug the episode “What Was Missing”. It kind of brings some closure to the unrequited love thing they set up between Finn and Princess Bubblegum (known to Finn and fans as PB), while introducing some interesting texture to Bubblegum’s relationship with Marceline, the Vampire Queen. (Yes, I just typed that.) It made me think about “shipping”, the fannish term for pairing up fictional characters in shows, and how it often has almost nothing to do with the intent of the writers or anything that actually happens on screen. It’s often labelled derogatorily as a fangirl activity, but that’s nonsense; we all do it. My first proper serious ship was for President Roslin and Admiral Adama during my recent first-time watch of Battlestar Galactica, but I realise in hindsight I have plenty of others: Hawkeye and Black Widow (in the Avengers films), Aiden and Annie in Being Human… Where I’ve resisted it, I think it’s mostly been because I also think it’s important that not all relationships we care about should be romantic or sexual. I resist Holmes/Watson for this reason (and also because it’s clearly nonsense), but I think mixed-gender friendships are even more important to depict on screen. This is partly why, for the record, I don’t ship Finn and PB (though oddly I do kind of ship Fionna and Prince Gumball, where the text is that she doesn’t need him or any man to feel confident and happy).
Back to “What Was Missing”, though, which was the first time anything on screen seemed to suggest the possibility of one of the most enduring and popular fan pairings in Adventure Time: PB and Marceline. I thought I’d see what the community had to say about it, and read up about it on the wiki – where I discovered something I never expected. During season three there was an official recap/analysis video series called “Mathematical!”, produced by Frederator, the Adventure Time production company. The episode for “What Was Missing” talked openly about a possible relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen, even showing some fan art of the two canoodling (nothing too racy, but certainly going further than the very chaste schoolyard kissing seen in the show), and asking viewers to call in and let them know if they thought it was a good idea. And it caused a massive stink, resulting in the whole series of videos being cancelled and taken offline, and the producer being fired! (It started of course with just that episode being taken offline, but equally of course it’s been re-uploaded to YouTube.)
Putting aside the issue of discussing a potentially sexual relationship in a show whose primary audience seems to be aged between 6 and 11, it seems sadly predictably that the heat that came down on the show was all about same sex relationships. Though that’s not reflected in the official statements, which focus on the former. “In trying to get the show’s audience involved we got wrapped up by both fan conjecture and spicy fanart and went a little too far,” said Fred Seibert in the apology when it was taken down, but more enlightening I think is Adam Muto, who said a fan video saying those things would be fine, but an official video couldn’t do the same. “The video took something that was a possible subtext and declared it, in effect, text and made it seem like the production was actively seeking out input on plot development.” As much as I wish the company had stood its ground and told the anti-lesbian complainers where they could stick it, I think this last point is kind of important. Probably could have just fixed it with an apology rather than cancellation and firing, though.
It’s really weird finding all this out three years after the fact. Weirder, even, than discovering the huge list of all the stuff Cartoon Network Australia edited out of Adventure Time – it’s like the ABC cuts to The Goodies all over again. Are we really this reserved and uptight in Australia?
PS – for the record, I don’t ship PB and Marceline, because I don’t think Marceline is good enough for PB (in both the usual and D&D-alignment senses of “good”).