Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Perils of Fandom: A Case Study of "Adventure Time" Part Deux

In case you missed it last week, I began my two-part examination of some trends developing in the hit Cartoon Network show Adventure Time that, if left unchecked, may lead to an untimely demise.  I've already looked at the shows attempts to establish continuity, and now it's time to look at an even more insidious force at work:  the fandom.

The fact that "fan" derives from the word "fanatic" is not lost on me, and with the uniting efforts of the internet, fandom has reached an unparalleled level in popular culture.  This is not a bad thing unto itself; what other people choose to be enthusiastic about is their own business. This is not to say that they are a perfect bunch.  Fans are never completely satisfied with the thing they love and always crave more of it.  It's less about appreciating the product that is being produced, and getting the next hit of their popular life-blood.

Adventure Time's immense popularity has naturally spawned legions of fans that celebrate the show through fanart, fanfic, and fan-everything-else.  They love the show and the show loves them.  The best expression of this is the creation of characters Fiona and Cake, gender-swapped versions of Finn and Jake that feature in a fanfic written by the Ice King.  The single episode that stars these two has made them as popular as the two actual stars of the series.  Now, there is a second one in the coming weeks that feels like nothing less than fanservice with it coming out so soon after the first one.

The problem here is not that there are fans.  The show deserves fans because it is a great cartoon.  The problem is what happens when fans become the central focus and the core of the audience.  Too many in-jokes and other efforts to please fans is a surefire way to turn off the casual viewer, the most crucial demographic for keeping a show afloat.  Don't believe me?  Ask a fan of Doctor Who.  One of the reasons that the show's original run was cancelled back in the 80's is that it became more concerned with its own continuity and pleasing fans rather than staying in touch with contemporary issues and keeping a broad audience.  It's why the show's revival has only increased in popularity every year. Not every program gets that lucky though, and most simply fade away forever.

It seems though that the Adventure Time crew is aware of the perils of fandom.  A recent episode titled "All the Little People" is a deliberate jab at the obsessive and self-serving nature of many hardcore fans.  Finn discovers a bag of miniature sentient versions of himself and every other character from the show.  He then spends literally every waking moment manipulating each one into bizarre dramas featuring ridiculous and completely illogical pairings, ignorant of his own slow descent into madness.  "OTP" run amok much?

Pretty much sums it up.

My theory is that Pen Ward and the rest of the Adventure Time gang are acutely aware of what is going on, hence the making of "All the Little People."  We're starting to get a new generation of animators that are a part of the millennial generation.  They're just as into Twitter and internet memes as many of their fans, and it shows in their work.  YouTube is full of shorts that they make "just for the lulz." Need proof, check out this funny bit featuring Pokemon.  Maybe there's hope yet.  I just hope they don't overdo it.

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