Speculative cuteness. Adventures of ideas in Adventure Time

The world dreams of things to come, and then in due season arouses itself to their realization. Indeed all physical adventure which is entered upon of set purpose involves an adventure of thought regarding things as yet unrealized.

Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (1933)

All of my jokes are cries for help.

Princess Bubblegum, Adventure Time:Stakes (2015)


Finn the Human has just turned 17 as Adventure Time enters its final, tenth season, meant to conclude in 2018. The television show created by Pendleton Ward is about to run its course, much to the dissatisfaction of loyal fans, after having taken the main protagonist on a long journey from boyhood to the brink of maturity. In his first appearance in the pilot episode aired in 2007, Finn (then named Pen) was 12. After the show was picked up by Cartoon Network, premiering in 2010 and continuing to this day, the boy’s age was not frozen in a TV stasis, which granted him the rare opportunity (in the world of cartoons, that is) of actually developing and coming of age, with various adventures deeply transforming him as a person. In fact, questions of personal growth and maturing may be regarded as crucial with respect to both the general story arc of the show and the question of its reception. Given that the audience of Adventure Time would grow together with the series, one might expect it to offer a Bildungsroman-style narrative, concluding with a sense of closure regarding the emotional and moral development of its protagonist. Nothing of that sort actually happens. Although Finn and his adoptive brother Jake – a shape-shifting dog – learn vital lessons and evolve, there is no sense of their socializing into any standardized function in society, complemented by working out youthful dilemmas and settling for a “mature” subjectivity. Curiously enough, Adventure Time refuses to grow up, reveling in outright antics and unabashed cuteness, as well as jumping back and forth between adolescent drama and universal philosophical issues.

This has greatly confused many commentators. Jennifer Luxton posed the fundamental question in TheSundial: “Who exactly is the show intended for, and what is it trying to say?” Pointing to Adventure Times “signature style of discontinuity” and “anti-climactic non-endings,” she argues that, formally speaking, it is geared towards an adult audience, yet the “slap-stick animation” makes it “almost unpalatable for adults.”1 Ultimately, she pins the show’s popularity on prevailing nostalgia for childhood-era flights of imagination, with enough “infantile innocence and the right amount of twisted humor to lure in even the most discretionary man-child.” The slightly condescending tone of such observations dovetails with today’s widespread consensus among more grave critics that the culture of nostalgia feeds off the infantile cravings of millennials who have failed to adapt to the harsh realities of late capitalism and who fantasize about a return to the golden age of childhood innocence.

The story of millennial-anguish-turned-juvenile is now widely circulated – a mantra repeated ad nauseam by those bemoaning the “death of adulthood” in modern culture. Adventure Time is a perfect case in point. Offering a trip down memory lane to the world of 8-bit consoles, classic role-playing games, bouts of gorging on candy, and agonizing over how to speak to girls, the show might seem to embody a clichéd safe haven for withdrawn adults unable to rise to the challenges of a demanding job market. However, as Neil Strauss emphasizes in an article for Rolling Stone, Pendleton Ward – himself a stereotypical 30-something reclusive introvert – has managed to create a show that goes far beyond offering escapist consolation to himself and his peers: it “connects in the deepest way with children, teens and adults alike.”2 Strauss digs deeper in an attempt to identify what actually made Ward capable of achieving this feat, and what later drove him to give up his position as the show’s director (though remaining on the storyboarding team). Ward’s answer – one that does not really come as a surprise or reveal any “deus ex machina” workings – is “just general depression.” “Everyone battles the same thing,” he continues, adding that his sensitivity as a child and obsession with being a good person have also contributed to his social anxieties.

Can the profile of Ward that emerges from the Rolling Stone feature fully account for the show’s trippy weirdness? Is it the case that Adventure Time has proven capable of reaching out across a spectrum of ages and sensibilities by concocting the perfect antidepressant from the misery of its creator? This explanation seems equally reductive. If we are to credit the show’s success – as Oliver Sava claims – to its “surprising emotional complexity,”3 then it cannot be regarded as a mere home-brewed cure for the hang-ups of ill-adapted adults, creatively mixed from ingredients cherished by millennials and sprinkled with a morality lesson, thus making it suitable for children’s television. Its emotional complexity is perhaps rooted in something quite different – a quality rarely encountered in run-of-the-mill, nostalgia-driven television programming.

Emily Nussbaum, who praises the show for its “gorgeous existential funk,” which can be “enjoyed, at varying levels, by third graders, art historians, and cosplay fans,” has provided one possible explanation for Adventure Time’s broad emotional resonance, widely displayed across the media.4 The show’s strength, in her view, lies in the depth of its setting, which has slowly revealed a surprising and “eerie” backstory to the “candy-tinted world” in which the adventures of Finn and Jake unfold. The many, frequently off-handedly developed threads, she argues, “cohere into a broader cosmology,” engaging in what has often been referred to in the humanities as “world-building”: fundamentally, an exercise in ecological imagination. Such imagination is necessary to fathom the myriad connections that tie us to the natural environment, and to grasp the fact established by the natural sciences that our habitat – or ecology as oikos, a home – is a complex web of interdependent entities, in which we necessarily coexist with many other beings, relying on them to a degree we are often unaware of. As a result, the show’s ostensibly cute surface proves surprisingly plastic and capable of sustaining what Nussbaum calls “a larger universe of loneliness and connection,” where pure creativity can plot a course out of depression. Offering a “dream-like” or even “drug-like” experience, Adventure Times bizarre world entices its audience by freely experimenting with emotions in a reality that seems ludicrous and sugar-coated, yet strikes an uncannily familiar tone as it reveals its “childlike, nonlinear, poetic” character, “just outside all the categories that the world considers serious.”5

Traversing traditional boundaries between children’s and adult fiction, as well as between the serious and the wacky, the “candy-flavored fever dream”6 of Adventure Time is driven by a special kind of adventurousness that facilitates its freewheeling exploration of metaphorical possibilities and emotional depths. The fundamental premise of the show can be identified with “speculation” understood in the sense developed by philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. His influential definition, contained in Process and Reality, presents it as an applicable and adequate generalization of ideas achieved through imaginative constructions of a metaphysical character.7 Many directions recently taken in philosophy – including two notable currents: speculative realism and new materialism, as well as the thinkers loosely associated with these two – have been greatly inspired by Whitehead’s ideas, exploring new ways of approaching some of the major challenges facing humanity and the humanities today, especially with regard to environmental crises, the onset of the Anthropocene, as well as the necessity of developing new ethics for this era, and reinvigorating the ecological imagination. The aim of this essay is therefore to examine how Adventure Time revels in metaphysical speculation, problematizing weighty issues by imaginatively playing with its apparent cuteness and inviting its hugely diverse audience to forge new subjectivities that do not fit the old forms of “adulthood” and “childishness.”

Unsettling these notions, cuteness is the key aesthetic category deployed in Adventure Time. Sianne Ngai – one of the few scholars to elaborate on this notion theoretically – argues in Our Aesthetic Categories (2012) that cuteness is one of the three key aesthetic modes that index today’s social reality (the other two being “the zany” and “the interesting”). Ngai demonstrates that this category’s deep ambiguity – clearly displayed in the cultural commentary quoted above – “designates […] the site of a surprisingly complex power struggle.”8 Indeed, the observations cited here are marked by the profound difficulty in grasping the show’s weirdness and ambivalence. The theory developed by Ngai, however, can shed light on the way that Adventure Time frames this power struggle in terms of “basic human and social competences increasingly encroached by capitalism” – in the case of the cute, these would specifically be “intimacy and care.”9 In this sense, the series can be interpreted as bending the category of cuteness to its limit, exploiting its ambiguity, and thus gesturing towards wider social and political concerns specific to the generation of millennials: the sense of powerlessness and the urge to make use of it.

Meet Finn the Human

Adventure Time.

Adventuring lies at the heart of the show, not only because of its 10-minute format, which favors tight narrative arcs of build-up-exposition-resolution, but also because Finn is constantly led by the urge to help others. This drive, initially rooted in a black-and-white perception of reality, gradually makes him realize that his willingness to extend care over others profoundly transforms him, leading to serious emotional breakthroughs, traumatic experiences, and physical metamorphoses. Originally a boyish thrill-seeker battling witches and crawling dungeons, Finn grows up in many ways, embracing moral complexities entailed by duels with ever-less-stereotypical villains, conquering intimate phobias, and learning to navigate relationships. Finally, as suggested by the changing voice of actor Jeremy Shada, Finn is going through puberty, which involves intense adolescent fantasies regarding his sexuality and social agency.

Though framed in chivalric terms filtered through a role-playing-game sensibility, Finn’s questing does not confirm and solidify his approach to life’s challenges as an impeccable knight, but rather makes him prone to a wide range of metamorphoses. At various moments Finn is turned into a giant foot, a zombie, a crystal-being in the Crystal Dimension or a lumpy version of himself in Lumpy Space, a hugging wolf, a demon ruling the hellish Nightosphere, a crusty bread-Finn, as well as into Flame Finn, who succumbs to war frenzy. Finn loses an arm twice, both times in dramatic circumstances: firstly, when unsuccessfully trying to stop his father from abandoning him once again, and secondly, when his organic arm replacement – the Grass Sword – is fused with his personality from an alternative timeline (encased in the Finn Sword) to create Grass Finn, a doppelgänger that Finn inadvertently kills (although he is later reincarnated as the Green Knight). Aside from these, Finn is revealed to have had a number of past lives: as a comet, a butterfly, a possibly elemental “thing,” and a mutated humanoid named Shoko. Last but not least, Finn has a gender-swapped version of himself named Fionna.

The aesthetic means employed by the show do not immediately suggest its wilder side. The “unpalatable” bright colors and simplified character design carry the hallmarks of conventional cuteness, especially if we consider the numerous forest animals such as foxes and birds, the sing-song “butterflies and bees” that appear in the closing credits, as well as the robots (especially the iconic BMO – a Game Boy-like, gender-ambiguous friend who lives with Finn and Jake in the Tree House), penguins, princesses, “rainicorns” (rainbow-unicorns), Jelly Bean People, Peanut People, an assortment of tiny worms, snails (one is featured in every episode), Party Bears, the tiny elephant Tree Trunks, and the many candy citizens of the Candy Kingdom, including Cinnamon Bun and Root Beer Guy. Even when Candy People are transformed into candy zombies – as happens in the very first episode – they retain a grotesque-yet-cute aura defined by smallness, simplicity, and the suggestion of softness (after all, candy citizens are edible, and Ngai is quick to point out the connection between the culinary and the cute). Finn himself is, visually speaking, not highly detailed: a generic boy with just a line and two dots forming his face, framed by a goofy white hat. He loves dancing, laughing, making music, and theme parties. It is Jake, a similarly drawn generic bulldog, who introduces a greater degree of strangeness through shape-shifting: he can stretch his body indefinitely, changing form and extending his limbs, which nevertheless emphasizes the cutely malleable, fundamentally undifferentiated physicality that Ngai locates at the heart of the aesthetic. As a cheerful companion and good-hearted elder stepbrother, Jake essentially comes across as a lovable, laid-back yellow dog with characteristic large eyes that elicit tenderness and cuddliness.

Against such a visual backdrop – garish and unhinged, pastel and fluffy – Finn’s adventures might appear to be pranks and antics, but the show’s ostensible cuteness is regularly subverted as we learn about the difficult backstories of some of the characters (e.g. a penguin who is in fact a demon, or the arch-enemy Ice King turning out to be a real hero suffering from dementia) or watch Finn deal with deeply traumatic experiences (e.g. losing parents, confronting mortality and loss, learning the consequences of enacting fantasies). Cuteness is thus revealed in the show as capable of channeling darker and more speculative ideas, relaying wildly contradictory emotions, and engaging with larger subjects such as nuclear warfare or senility. In this way, cuteness is itself adventurous, revealing the full-blown ambiguity that Ngai suggests it can. The notion of adventure, which emerges as crucial in this context, was elaborated on by Alfred North Whitehead, who gave it profound significance.

Adventures of ideas

The post-apocalyptic landscape of Ooo © Cartoon Network

For Whitehead, adventure is one of the five major principles he discusses in the section on civilization in Adventures of Ideas, on a par with truth, beauty, art, and peace.10 The unique status of adventurousness in Whitehead’s philosophical project owes its significance to his emphasis on the predominantly processual character of reality. In his view, the world never stands still, but evolves – constantly unveiling new possibilities inherent in the ever-shifting present. In this light, experiencing adventures is synonymous with attuning to the processual character of reality and sensing its transformations in experiential terms. In a wider sense, all adventures are also adventures of ideas because – as he argues in the passage that serves as the motto of this article – every true adventure involves positioning oneself at the edge of experience, at the tip of the breaking wave of the present, which tumbles into the future.11 Thus, true adventurousness not only concerns discovery and exploration, but also entails a speculative component by indicating what may yet unfold, revealing a vast expanse of possibilities branching into a myriad of potential universes. A powerful sense of awe accompanies such realizations, stimulating the imagination to move in ways that have not been realized so far. There is always a metaphysical revelation at hand in such experiences of plunging into the unknown.

The young boy Finn is doubly challenged in his adventures, because we are led to believe that he is the only human around. The gradually revealed history of Ooo – the world that acts as the setting of the show – hints at a nuclear war that has wiped humanity off the face of the planet. Although this does not turn out to be entirely true, Finn, for the most part, is forced to grow up merely imagining what humanity was like and what it could possibly mean, both in the past and for him in the present. In this way, by aptly utilizing elements of the post-apocalyptic convention, the show lends Finn’s emotional and ethical struggles an inventive dimension. There are no socialization models or conventional patterns of humanization that would help him orient himself in the process of maturing. The Enchiridion, a quasi-mythical grimoire that was supposed to help Finn firmly grasp notions of good and bad, itself becomes an ambiguous tool that can be dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands. Hence, without instruction and guidance, he is forced to remain forever in the process of becoming, with just the promise of more adventures and metamorphoses, and no guarantee of settling comfortably into a fixed, “grown-up” form. This markedly post-humanist trait of the show’s storytelling resonates strongly with the idea that humanity has not reached its final stage of development, despite having ascended – as some claim – to the top of the evolutionary ladder. Finn is never allowed to reassure himself about having successfully progressed in any suitably teleological sense. “If just being born is the greatest act of creation,” he asks in a moment of reflection in the episode “Astral Plane,” “then what are you supposed to do after that? Is not everything that comes next sort of a disappointment? Slowly entropying until we devolve into a pile of mush?”

In this way, he must always remain vigilant about how the environment he operates in transforms him, at the same time attempting to make sense of the process and make the effort to gain some control over his evolution. What he effectively does is to learn how to use his brain, in the sense meant by Catherine Malabou: by developing a consciousness of his consciousness. Introducing Malabou’s concept of “plasticity” can provide another angle on Finn’s processual nature, framing the question of maturity in novel terms, and thus enabling the connection of Whitehead’s account of becoming with a particular affective ecology, i.e. late capitalism. In her seminal work What Should We Do with Our Brain?, Malabou delineates an original account of brain plasticity, which can be successfully deployed to shed light on certain ethical aspects problematized by Adventure Time, especially in terms of the supposed immaturity of millennials. Through this lens, the series can be interpreted as a narrative about the adventures of a certain young brain in a highly specific environment – a narrative that uses cuteness as its major aesthetic mode in reaction to the affective ecologies of late capitalism.

Adventures of the brain

Candy Kingdom © Cartoon Network

“C’mon bro,” Finn says in the episode “Jake Suit,” “taking pain is easy. You have to imagine that every bruise is a hickey from the universe. And everyone wants to get with the universe.” Finn’s metaphor embraces two fundamental ideas (the former can be aligned with Whitehead’s processuality; the latter – with Malabou’s plasticity): that there is no growth without self-transformation, which also incorporates imagination, and that being bruised by the universe is part and parcel of the brain’s plasticity, which is ambiguous, since it involves openness to both positive change and harm.

What Malabou emphasizes in her ground-breaking study is not just the brain’s adaptive potential or its resilience in the face of trauma. She specifically points out that throughout its existence the brain changes physically, “forming itself” by way of establishing and modelling neuronal connections, which amounts to a “plastic art of the brain.”12 This occurs, in her account, in direct relation to the environment, i.e. in response to material stimuli and through the behaviors adopted by the brain in reaction to them. What this means is that, ultimately, “plasticity is precisely the form of our world” or “the real image of the world.”13 For Malabou, this has tremendous ethical consequences, insofar as the discovery above facilitates “political emancipation of the brain,” by way of which we can actively partake in remaking our brains. Producing such a new consciousness may be a way of liberating ourselves from flexibility – in her definition a “false plasticity” that deludes us by suggesting that today’s neoliberal capitalist regime promotes creativity. It does not, argues Malabou, following Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello; instead, it imposes a one-sided impression of form. Flexibility is thus the mode in which, for example, the neoliberal brain is molded by global economic principles, leaving no room for natural creative development rooted in the unleashing of self-forming powers. The liberation of the brain would therefore consist of recognizing that it not only receives its form from external forces, but can also be actively shaped through one’s own efforts.

Plasticity lies at the very core of Finn’s adventures. Viewers are constantly led to believe – also through Finn’s aspiration to become the perfect chivalric hero – that one day he will perhaps become a “harmonious” and “mature” individual, fulfilling all the criteria of a genuine hero. He even finds a role model to follow – Billy, an old-timer giant who once battled terrible monsters – but finds that his idolized, evil-slaying hero has turned pacifist, confounding Finn with advice to be “non-violent” and “active in the community.” As the show progressed, it became abundantly clear that Finn would forever remain in the process of negotiating what heroism and masculinity mean to him, never actually coming to embody any preformed version of those qualities. What prevents him from settling into one fixed form is adventuring, which becomes – in the Whiteheadian sense – a form of experimentation with ideas made physical: a work of plasticity, to employ Malabou’s concept. Ultimately then, Finn’s engagement with adventures is effectively a way of warding off the idea of a “successful personality” that marks the achievement of a mature form.

These themes dovetail and crisscross with the aforementioned questions of how adulthood is regarded as suffering from a severe crisis today – questions surfacing in many discussions about Adventure Time. A. O. Scott discusses this “crisis” at length, indicating that part and parcel of rethinking patriarchal authority is that we have, “perhaps unwittingly, killed off the grown-ups,” in the sense that “nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore.”14 Regardless of whether such a concept ever actually existed (Scott proposes that it didn’t), the model of adulthood that was developed in the post-war era has become “conceptually untenable.” This perspective has been embraced, Scott suggests, by television, but not by mainstream cinema. It is in the modern TV series that we come to recognize the crisis of masculinity and the discovery of a cultural feminism that seeks to redress the patriarchal bias of yesteryear. Summing up, he warns readers that “bemoaning the general immaturity of contemporary culture would be as obtuse as declaring it the coolest thing ever.” Neither option is healthy, as defending the old ways is virtually impossible, insofar as the former, “mature,” lifestyle has generated such inequality and caused such ecological impact that it cannot be rationally regarded as sustainable. Similarly, hip detachment and escapism are merely modes of sealing oneself off from this crisis of authority, and consequently entail the risk of rejecting the responsibility of steering it in new directions, which – as he concludes – “can be scary and weird and ambiguous.” “But it can be a lot of fun, too,” Scott adds at the end, as long as we embrace the fact that play, in the deepest sense of evolutionary creativity found in all nature, always has consequences – in our current case, worldwide consequences fathomable only on a global scale.

Adventure Time can be read as an imaginative convergence of the questions above. It certainly invites one to think about the world more ecologically, acknowledging the complex interrelations that all ecosystems display. It does not posit a single, “Apollonian” perspective from which the world is easily brought into coherence; rather, it poses a series of ethical questions that challenge us to examine the ways we – as a civilization – conceptualize the world that sustains us. Whitehead proves to be a good guide to this when he points out that Adventure and Art (capitalized by him so as to indicate their general character) are still underappreciated in their significance for sustaining and expressing humanity. “It is in respect to these two factors,” he writes, “that prevalent concepts of civilization are weakest.”15 In the context of this analysis, Adventure corresponds to the processual character of reality, which makes the preservation of “vigor” in culture dependent on the propensity to “adventure beyond the safeties of the past,” or on taking “the leap of imagination […] beyond the safe limits of the epoch, and beyond the safe limits of learned rules of taste.”16 Art, on the other hand, involves the “production of individuality in the component details of its compositions.”17 This could be seen as a way of saying that art manages to capture that which is idiosyncratic, acknowledging both the individuality of a detail and its embeddedness in a larger whole. Adventure Time’s world-building ethos is guided by these principles. The show’s creators have created a universe that is filled with quirky, curious entities, and yet comprises a totality, with respect to which the protagonists have to position themselves, embracing and partaking in its fluctuations. As Jonathan Bradley observes, “[n]either weighed down by the Tolkienesque seriousness of high fantasy nor falling victim to surrealist […] anomie of reference and randomness, Adventure Time takes small ideas and makes them large, building its vividly realized universe from the bottom up.”18 In this way, the show creates an ecologically sound environment that evolves and bristles with life. Its many recurring background characters have become, with time, self-motivated and independent, which enables the show to indulge in several spin-off side-stories that do not feature Finn and Jake, but foreground minor characters populating a thriving multiverse. The superficially innocent Tree Trunks is revealed to have had an affair with an extraterrestrial, while BMO, the tiny, cute robot, has an imaginary friend in the mirror, and they switch places. From a larger perspective, the geography of the show’s world embraces multiple kingdoms, magical realms, and otherworldly dimensions, all of which are interconnected through various interlocking narratives. With its own cartography, post-apocalyptic lore, political tensions, religion, economy, and linguistic diversity, the Land of Ooo is a complex setting, brought to life not with a single stroke, but gradually constructed from the ground up, through stories told from various perspectives that always take the environment that shapes them into account.

To be better able to attune themselves to change, Adventure Time’s protagonists cannot endorse the kind of subjectivity that compartmentalizes human experience by assigning maturity to some of its aspects while deeming others infantile. In this light, the show can be regarded as an expression of a shift in sensibility that millennials are experimenting with – a shift from pursuing and replicating fixed social forms to a world-building ethos of discovery and empathy. According to Shaun Scott’s study Millennials and the Moments That Made Us, the generation born between 1982 and the first decade of the 21st century is marked by its struggle with the boundary between adolescence and adulthood in the face of deregulation, austerity, and global-scale conflicts – forces responsible for both the generation’s diversity and its anxiety about the future. Scott points out that only recently has the stereotypical image of millennials as tolerant yet narcissistic, broke yet coddled, received more scrutiny, complicating it and establishing links between the generation’s condition and the neoliberal, marketeering logic of “business ontology” he discusses, following Mark Fisher.19

Having inherited a world that is unsustainable in terms of former “norms of maturity,” millennials are trying to reinvent their subjectivities in a way that can help them deal with economic precariousness and the lack of perspectives for the kind of stability that preceding generations enjoyed. One of the crucial fault lines of this generation gap – which also marks the painful transition from thinking in local terms to a possible new mode that embraces global issues such as global warming – is the question of conceiving adulthood. In this respect, Adventure Time indeed “feels like quite a landmark,” to quote Todd VanDerWerff, because of its “embrace of the idea that maturity means more than hitting a certain age. It means looking out for others before you look out for yourself.”20 To achieve this, the series broadly employs the category of “cuteness,” exposing its pivotal role in how maturity is defined, problematizing the ethical ramifications of the Anthropocene, and inviting ethical questions regarding the models of subjectivity that would constitute a proper response to the current challenges of globalization. Cuteness, it turns out, can be a surprisingly effective way of addressing those issues.

Adventures of cuteness

Finn and Jake heading off to explore new lands © Cartoon Network

In The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness, the volume’s editors critically assess the category in the introduction, indicating several of its crucial parameters. First of all, they argue that “indulging in and communicating through cuteness provides an important coping strategy for subjects caught up in the precariousness inherent to neoliberal capitalism, and is thus central to the establishment of contemporary (inter)subjectivities.”21 From this perspective, “cute” is better understood as historically related to “acute” (Ngai’s observation), because it can be regarded as a critical vehicle for many issues, offering a “metaphoric condensation of affective power.” Therefore, the excess involved in the emotional overflow of closeness and warmth can be seen as a mode of compensating for the insecurities entailed by modern life. Specifically, cuteness is diagnosed as symptomatic of an affective gap at the heart of the precarious subjectivities of millennials. At the same time, the rapid rise in the popularity of cuteness may indicate that “the affective re-positioning and cultural valuing of maturity are in evident transition.” Cuteness can therefore be regarded as a mode in which systems of domination can be criticized and subverted, for example “offering alternatives to hegemonic masculinity.” Ngai elaborates on this extensively, arguing that the strongly ambivalent empathy typical of cuteness “calls forth specific ways of relating to other subjects”22 by dramatizing asymmetrical relations of power that oscillate between domination and passivity, cruelty and tenderness.23 She locates cuteness’ “internal instability” in the deverbalizing or disarming effect of the cute object that imposes its own cuteness on the perceiving subject.24 This is because cuteness is predisposed towards dissolving strict subject-object boundaries, allowing the establishment of affective relationships across formerly unbridgeable divides, i.e. specifically between humans and non-humans, thereby ushering in new forms of compassion and empathy. Such reconfigurations appear to be indispensable in the Anthropocene.

This is perhaps best visible in two recent mini-series within Adventure Time (both of them almost film-length, comprising eight episodes each): “Islands” and “Elements” (2017). In the former, Finn embarks on a journey to an island where – we are led to believe – other humans might still live. The latter traces his return to Ooo, which he finds completely transformed, posing a philosophical challenge and simultaneously calling for action. “Islands” sees Finn on a quest for self-discovery that finally turns into a meditation on technology and technocracy. On his way to the mythical Founders’ Island, where what remains of humanity dwells, Finn visits two vastly different places: an (almost-) deserted, mysterious, pristine island where nature reigns, completely indifferent to and autonomous from humanity, and a seemingly abandoned high-tech world, where people are found resting in coffins while hooked up to a virtual reality that serves as the only environment they wish to exist in. The opposition is quite symbolic, offering two extremes that Finn has to avoid: that of a “world without humans,” and that of a fully realized techno-utopia of “humans withdrawn from the world.” Navigating between this Scylla and Charybdis, Finn finally lands on Founders’ Island, where humanity exists in a docile state, rightly diagnosed by Zach Blumenfeld as an approximation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “last men.”25 Though comfortable and egalitarian, the human society is meek and entirely reliant on the technology that sustains it. For Finn, however, the crucial discovery lies in the fact that this utopia is run by his mother, who has uploaded herself into the vast computer network encompassing the society, ready to help everyone with the aid of cyborgs that she controls. Finn cannot accept such a static and dispirited world, and departs, bidding farewell to his mother Minerva after a painful confrontation that involves her understanding that she cannot protect him anymore, because Finn’s exposure to danger is precisely what has allowed him to grow. Distraught yet reconciled, he returns to the unpredictable, topsy-turvy Land of Ooo.

Finn’s rejection of the techno-utopia has other significant overtones. It suggests that his adventuring cannot be limited to the mere reproduction and reworking of Oedipal structures. Finn desires to explore and discover; his cartographic venture – to map out a larger world for himself and chart possible ways to grow as a person – is a project that exceeds the boundaries of an origin-fantasy: he dreams of a bigger world, a larger reality in which the assuredness of motherly care cannot alleviate his curiosity and his dedication to engage with something greater than himself – a totality he intuitively feels part of. His budding ecological sensibility, and the grasping of new speculative adventures in store for him at the forefront of ethical enquiry, become the staples of “Elements” – the second mini-series, which traces his return to Ooo, where he needs to face a home that has changed dramatically.

Due to a powerful spell cast by one Patience St. Pim, the world of Ooo has become unbalanced, with its four fundamental elements – ice, fire, slime, and candy – acquiring greater independence and eventually carving Ooo into a four-land realm, with each domain exhibiting a rampant monoculture of its particular element. The Candy Kingdom ruled by Princess Bubblegum becomes, in this way, radically “candified,” as everything inside it is turned into actual candy, which takes over the characters and terraforms the landscape into a homogenized candy-land. In this way, the show stages what Ngai calls the “epitome of cuteness”: everything becomes “an undifferentiated blob of soft, doughy matter.”26 Although this is a “delightful showcase of this show’s candy design”27 – as Oliver Sava puts it – the change feels awkward, as almost all the characters are transformed into caricatured versions of themselves. Patience St. Pim, at the same time, is disheartened by the outcome of her magic and reclusively stuck in a deep malaise, withdrawn from a world she has badly deformed. Eventually, the salvation of Ooo depends on Lumpy Space Princess, an apparently self-absorbed “Valley-girl type” who turns out to be an anti-elemental, an agent of “lumps” – a “glue” that binds the other elements together and ensures their balance. After teaming up with Finn, she performs the heroics, transforming things back to normal.

“Elements” forms a counterpart to “Islands,” in the sense of providing a literal metaphor of a “world changed” when Finn returns, himself changed, to Ooo. Indeed, the show’s design is pushed to the limit by foregrounding and redoubling the trademark cuteness of Princess Bubblegum’s Candy Kingdom. Due to Patience St. Pim’s selfish desire to boost elemental powers in the hope of tapping into greater reservoirs of energy so as to achieve her (unknown) goals, the candy element is unleashed upon the world as a blind force that absorbs everything around it, turning all it encounters into itself, “melting, reducing, congealing” everything in the process of material poiesis, which Ngai demonstrates is a key component of cuteness as an aesthetic category.28 All four elements are disturbed from their former places in Ooo’s reality, but candy seems the scariest since its cuteness gradually turns into sheer horror. Cuteness here reverses into its opposite (as Ngai shows it is prone to), simultaneously freezing Finn’s discursive abilities to impose form on reality. The suggestion made on a metaphorical level may be that Finn’s growth and change – as his dreams grow and he becomes ready to take on new responsibilities – run parallel to unprecedented changes that are affecting Ooo on a geological scale. The “elementalization” could be read as a force similar to global warming – one that sweeps through the world, causing it to transform in previously unfathomable ways, revealing a vast complexity of interrelations binding the world-system understood as an immense ecology – a “hyperobject,” perhaps, to employ the term coined by Timothy Morton.29 There can be no “magical” solution to the problem, Adventure Time seems to suggest. In its universe, magic is synonymous with intellectual shortcuts and immediate gratification; rather, the show’s protagonists are forced to engage in a series of adventures, tackling each element individually and exploring their unique characters, finally reintegrating them in a way that readjusts the balance in a sustainable manner. Surprisingly, it is the underdog Lumpy Space Princess who achieves this, a character voiced by Pendleton Ward himself and fashioned as a stereotypical, shallow teenager, displaying the superficiality and craving for attention that have been ascribed to millennials for over a decade now, as Jia Tolentino demonstrates.30 Although “LSP” might not be the heroic type, and is largely unaware of the powers she has at her disposal, the task of rebuilding the world and reassigning value to the bonds (relations) that tie various affective dimensions together is hers alone. Ultimately, this proves to be dangerously draining the life out of her.

Perhaps it is in this figure, who somewhat shames Finn with her new-found heroism, that we find an important connection forged by Adventure Time. The emotional burden put on millennials certainly finds apt expression here: they are, after all, a generation that has had to come to terms with lower standards of living, and accept their fate as harbingers of a future transition towards sensibilities, lifestyles, and modes of engagement with the world that must be developed if humanity wishes to respond with care to global-scale problems entailed by the unchecked growth of neoliberal capitalism. The aesthetic mode by which millennial anxiety and the internal struggle with responsibility are made manifest may be cuteness, understood as a general affective tendency that acts not only as a tool for compensation or a short-term coping strategy, but also as an expression of a new ethics of care, one that is perhaps only budding. Ngai’s discussion of cuteness enables the recognition that cuteness not only indexes the states of the social world, but also dramatizes a deficit of power and the resulting resistance to dominant political forms, especially neoliberalism, through its “utopian edge,” which favors a qualitative world over abstract exchange.31 As the “aesthetic of powerlessness,” cuteness redistributes agency, indicating the necessity of reconfiguring intimacy and care as they are dismantled by the prevailing capitalist regime.

Adventures in seeing

Adventure Time cast © Cartoon Network

As Eric Kohn remarked, Adventure Time is a “trailblazer that nobody saw coming.” “Cartoon Network,” he argues, “never knew quite how to handle its success,” initially assessing it as a “risk”; at first, there was no model “in which to manage its ever-growing popularity.”32 Neither fully fitting teen-geared sales models, nor conforming to the “adult cartoon” format, the show feels eccentric and out of place as it heads towards its resolution. In fact, this has been true throughout its many seasons: it has never remained focused on a major storyline, but has instead branched off, exploring the curious corners of the universe conjured by its creators. As Shana Mlawski suggested, its “collaborative, dadaesque spontaneity”33 meant that the series indulged greatly in the aforementioned world-building – today considered to be one of the greatest joys among various fanbases within popular culture – thereby ensuring the show’s lasting impact and influence. It is only against the background of a deep, evolving world that true character-building can occur – as Eric Thurm emphasizes – and Adventure Time “has managed to do both of those things simultaneously – using its expanding universe to give us a sense of perspective on their [the protagonists’] flaws that would not be possible if every episode were still just Finn and Jake fighting monsters.”34 This is the secret of the show’s “emotional frequency” and “genre flexibility,” which have allowed it to gain a life of its own, confirming that perhaps, as Thurm boldly states, “great television series are like children, starting from baby steps before growing into the people (or shows) they were meant to be.” Though it remains unclear what Adventure Time is exactly “meant to be,” it certainly underscores that “to live is to change,” simultaneously asking the often unspoken question: “how do you accept the changes you do not want or expect?” Thus, in order to remain relevant, as Oliver Sava argues in an article that begins with the question above, the show could not have taken any route other than interrogating itself, thoroughly investing in its “willingness to venture outside the children’s cartoon norm.”35 In the quoted piece, Sava examines the episode “Abstract” – the first to follow the “Elements” mini-series – and ponders the show’s ability to be educational without smacking of didacticism; in this particular episode, which features Jake transformed into a weird blue monster, change – both internal and external, or in fact both simultaneously – is outlined as an abstract principle that nevertheless guides the very real unfolding of life as we know it: reality’s processual nature.

It is in this dimension that Adventure Time fulfils some of the important educational criteria laid down by Whitehead in“The Aims of Education,” where he ascertains that “[t]here is only one subject-matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations.”36 Life involves all that we can effectively utilize in an active way: “inert” ideas, according to Whitehead, are basically harmful, and proper attention is necessary (crucially for education) in order to utilize every idea by “relating it to that stream, compounded of sense perceptions, feelings, hopes, desires, and of mental activities adjusting thought to thought, which forms our life.”37 In the light of this quotation, it seems that Whitehead’s key to education is akin to Malabou’s “gaining the consciousness of consciousness,” or discovering the brain’s plasticity. Life, for Malabou, is resistance to flexibility, which she sees as docile reproduction of a certain political or social mode of functioning. Instead of blindly replicating the “caricature of the world,” we should rather exercise what she calls (after Antonio Damasio) “poetic activity,” which manifests itself in “energetic discharges” or “creative bursts that progressively transform nature into freedom.”38 Cuteness – especially in its being piercingly “acute” – facilitates such discharges in Adventure Time, by exploding the tension between maturity and immaturity, demanding that we restructure our understanding of both. The adventure that awaits humanity in the face of global crises requires us to become aware of the Anthropocene and thus “lose” our former consciousness, insofar as we are “not a human animal anymore but a geological force.”39 In this, Malabou embraces Félix Guattari’s “ecosophy” – a harmonious combination of environmental, social, and mental ecology40 – which demands that a new form of consciousness, a new subjectivity, be formed. To do that, we should perhaps become like children, who are inevitably tasked with discovering the world anew and seeing it constantly with fresh eyes. This trope extends from Charles Baudelaire’s “childhood recovered at will” in order to relive that “strange kinship” with the bizarre world seen for the first time through children’s eyes, through Viktor Shklovsky’s “defamiliarization,” which counteracts the processes of perceptual automation, to Graham Harman’s ontological “weirding,” and Steven Shaviro’s “discognition”41. All of these examples involve an important shift in how we perceive, and all demand a reconfiguration of our cognitive coordinates, revealing hitherto unprobed “modes of sentience” (as Shaviro calls them) – ones that could perhaps help us terraform better ecologies in the future. Though indicative of different intellectual positions, all nevertheless partake in reforming ways of seeing so as to better grasp key changes unfolding in a given epoch (e.g. the new, post-Romantic urban culture in Baudelaire; the modernist shift in media ecology in Shklovsky; and finally, the post-anthropocentric correction of speculative realism in Harman and Shaviro). Adventure Time can be seen as staging many possible ways of learning that making the familiar strange can reveal both how seemingly innocent things become instruments of capitalism, and how they can be playfully embedded in different contexts that reveal their hitherto unreleased potential, offering alternatives for the future. This move involves creative distortion, as proposed by Whitehead, whose modus operandi is to begin with experience and then “stretch your usual thinking […] so far that it takes you places you have never been before, but that you will recognize when you get there because it will be a better description of your experience and the world than you have had before.”42 Such speculation is made possible in the show by employing the aesthetic category of cuteness and taking it to its limit, so as to reveal its ambivalence and thus liberate the capacity to practice care through forging new, hybrid subjectivities in response to contemporary affective ecologies.

These considerations also entail rethinking ontology, especially along the lines of certain post-humanist tendencies in which humanity is no longer the measure of all life, and which also find their reflection in Adventure Time. Finn is not only the sole human around (and certainly in no position to install himself as the crown of all creation), but the whole world of Ooo is curiously alive and kicking. This can be interestingly aligned with certain developments in speculative realism and new materialism, both of which take inspiration from Whitehead and Malabou. The Land of Ooo is a post-apocalyptic world filled with fantastic life-forms that have emerged due to post-nuclear mutation and the ubiquitous transformation of matter into sentient beings. The weird realities of Ooo’s universe welcome readings that foreground the agency of matter and the necessity of developing an ontological imagination capable of conceiving alternative ecologies in which humans exist on a par with non-humans.

Adventures in materialism

Finn surrounded by zombified Candy People

One of the key notions in the post-humanities is the revival of materialism. It has been argued that matter can indeed have more agency than has been previously assumed. Adventure Time invests its world with less-obviously-understood “life,” thus reconfiguring its structure and distributing the agency of individual components in a more democratic way. Moving towards less anthropocentric ontologies, a suggestion is made that imagination – i.e. fictive, metaphorical mediation – can actually augment a realist understanding of how ecologies are assembled, and how it is possible to intervene successfully in them. Ultimately, this seemingly young-adult television show can be interpreted as a serious philosophical exercise in post-humanist new materialism, reviving and reinterpreting concepts such as panpsychism (the idea that thought is present everywhere and, to some degree, in everything), recently rejuvenated by Steven Shaviro, as well as Jane Bennett’s “vibrant materialism” (the idea that matter is not just inert and passive, but creative, and has its own “thing-power” beyond human use or thought).43

After the so-called Great Mushroom War obliterated the world as we know it, inducing intense mutagenic transformation of flora and fauna, and killing all of humankind, Finn is the only human being who exists in the Land of Ooo. The idea of mankind no longer existing leaves us with human meanings that no longer exist for humans alone. This paradox has been explored by Quentin Meillassoux in After Finitude, where he contemplates the significance of what he calls the “arche-fossil” – an excavation that, logically speaking, has to have its own, non-human meaning beyond its meaning forus, as it existed long before humanity emerged.44 In Ooo, as in any post-apocalyptic setting, the paradox of a human world suddenly made senseless reinforces the depths of meaning inherent in objects that reveal a reservoir of being that humans or human perception simply cannot exhaust.

Furthermore, the multitude of speaking, sentient beings in the show is not subsumed under any system, thus exemplifying one of the fundamental principles of object-oriented ontology: that “all objects equally exist, but not all objects exist equally.”45 Life is overabundant in Ooo, appearing in unexpected forms: robots (like BMO or Neptr), affects (e.g. fears), Candy and Flame People, a sentient sandwich, and a speaking lamp that unabashedly asserts “I have yet to find out who I really am. I have freedom, no longer bound by the limits of my cord, freedom to shape my reality and, in turn, be shaped by it.” Although many of these examples are related to some kind of scientific or magical tinkering, the bulk of life in Ooo seems to have emerged spontaneously after the war, in the process of autopoiesis. This lends matter in Adventure Time far more agency than would conventionally be assumed. As Poom Navol put it, the Great Mushroom War obliterated people, at the same time “fusing their consciousness into inorganic matters such as candy, food, rocks, wood, and fire.”46 As a result of this, Ooo is, Marty Jones writes, “one of the most ecologically diverse worlds imaginable”; “exploring and charting” it for our entertainment, we derive pleasure from the “constant deepening and enriching of its world.”47 Thus, the joys of the show can be seen as deriving from world-building, which can also be viewed as a mode of “eco-poetics”: oikos means “home” in Greek, while poiesis – “making.” Seen in this way, ecopoetics is about shaping the ways in which we interact with the world. The world of Ooo has been reset: previous hierarchies have been inverted. Thus, new ecologies need to be formed and balanced on the basis of these new premises and conditions.

This point of view is developed by Jane Bennett, whose concept of vibrant materialism involves a revamped understanding of agency, not as something asymmetrically distributed, chiefly applicable to humans, but as a continuum: “a power differentially expressed by all material bodies.” She conceptualizes it as “thing-power” that “issues from one material assemblage and is received by others,” forming ecologies that display a high degree of complexity in terms of their interrelations – a complexity that extends far beyond human conceptual capacities.48 Assemblages, understood as “groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts,” are “living, throbbing confederations” lacking any “central head” and forming an “open-ended collective.”49 Thus, assemblages show the limits of human-centric accounts. Likewise, as she demonstrates, ecologies are formed by material flows of human and non-human origin, and the balance between the two needs to be redressed if we are to assemble more adequate, fair, and sustainable ecologies.

The even more radical concept of panpsychism is discussed by Steven Shaviro in The Universe of Things. He considers the “world-for-us” problem raised by Meillassoux, which consists of discerning the hubris entailed by reducing reality to a human construct, and concludes that, to some extent, it is self-induced, relying here on Whitehead (self-enjoyment) and Spinoza (conatus). Both of these notions foreground a kind of self-propelling force within everything that exists – an inherent, internal existential power that does not rely on any external primus motor. The crucial element in this discussion is that, if we are to overcome correlationism (which, according to Meillassoux, always tends to link being and thought in a single unbreakable correlate), we have either to accept a version of panpsychism (everything is at least somehow sentient), or face eliminativism, which entails the acceptance that being is radically disjoined from thought, resulting in the endorsement of a thorough material determinism without any real sentience, except for random firings of neurons in the cortex.

A serious consideration of “self-enjoyment” – the idea that some form of “thought” extends throughout the material world – is also contained in the final chapter of Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy?, where they write that “not every organism has a brain, and not all life is organic, but everywhere there are forces that constitute microbrains, or an inorganic life of things.”50 In their geophilosophy, the relationship between subject and object is unhelpful in understanding what thinking really is; it is rather the relationship between earth and territory that is crucial for understanding thought. Levi R. Bryant’s theory of geophilosophy seems to be of particular relevance in this context. In his account, which takes its cue from Deleuze and Guattari, he formulates his own variant of geophilosophy that comprises three dimensions: cartography, deconstruction, and terraformation. Cartography aims to examine the composition of ecologies so as to produce speculative maps of these complex assemblages – not in order to juggle abstractions like “capitalism” or “patriarchy,” but to discover how they are actually embedded and realized in the material world. Deconstruction consists of cutting ties and creating “lines of flight,” while terraformation involves building new assemblages, i.e. fashioning new subjectivities and thus changing our relationship with the world, producing sustainable multi-species habitats in which all beings can thrive.51

This is what we encounter, as practiced imaginatively, through fictive play, in Adventure Time. After a heavy reconfiguration of the world’s material basis, and the elimination of an anthropocentric hierarchy (effecting a Bryantian deconstruction), new ecologies need to be mapped, resulting in the creation of cartographies that would paint a more balanced picture of the world, insofar as they distribute agency less anthropocentrically and display the complex interconnectedness of all ecologies. Such mappings would also point out those places where successful intervention is possible, “for the sake of producing more just, equitable, and sustainable worlds.”52 Play is certainly brought to the foreground here. As Daniel Vella puts it, referring to Jürgen Habermas’ concept of play, “play can create new worlds that can reshape reality.”53 Since our play-worlds reflect the real world, they can show how things could be different. “In recognizing the truths of the Land of Ooo that bubble up to the surface during episodes of Adventure Time,” Marty Jones writes, “we also recognize new sides of our own, living reality”; thus, “we create whole new worlds of understanding and shared experiences. Adventure Time reminds us that play, the act of losing ourselves repeatedly and sharing meaning, is essential to life.”54 In this sense, participating in imaginative play, which materializes metaphors and reconfigures reality, teaches us how to assemble better ecologies, or simply – to make better, more sustainable homes. To create better worlds we also need to make new metaphors. As Julia Fiedorczuk and Gerardo Beltrán point out, ecopoetics is fueled by the invention of new styles of living that offer us alternative modes of engagement with the world.55 As such, it is essentially a materialist and metaphorical activity – it employs fictional modes in order to imagine one’s place in the world, and utilizes imagination to facilitate engagement in more responsible ways with that reality. Adventure Time can therefore be read as a speculative exercise in ecopoetic sensibility.


All in all, Adventure Time’s unique blend of epic fantasy, post-apocalyptic gloom, pure weirdness and uncanniness, gender-bending, horror, the problems of adolescence, twisted storytelling, great songwriting, high and low humor, the unintuitive metamorphosing of fairy tales, psychoanalytic boldness, and its complete avoidance of referencing self-consuming popular culture, all contribute – mixed in rich color and sound – to the show’struly unique character. Little wonder then that it has sparked both a torrent of merchandise on the one hand, as well as fandom- and academia-based interpretations on the other. Showered with accolades, its consistently crafted imaginative world constantly expands, not only in the series itself, but also in comic books, video games, guides, art books, and fan art.

Notably, however, beyond constituting a “collection of thought experiments,”56 it elicits a staggering affective response. Mobilizing cuteness in a way that has connected with audiences around the globe, Adventure Time not only capitalizes on cuteness’ immediate effect, but also deploys it as a tool in an urgent debate about the supposedly “infantilized” state of contemporary culture. By moving freely between the childish and the mature, it demonstrates the deeply speculative potential inherent in the aesthetics of cuteness by utilizing its ability to subvert the accepted norm of “maturity.” Cuteness is thus revealed to be a mode by which millennials may be communicating the sense of urgent transformation currently pressing down on the shoulders of the younger generation with respect to an uncertain future. This future is being shaped by human and non-human forces that we find very difficult to conceptualize, but will have to account for in the days to come. To do that, new ontologies will be necessary, perhaps like those developed in the new speculative and materialist accounts briefly discussed in the latter part of this essay. Just as the name of Adventure Time’s universe – Ooo – curiously coincides with the radically democratic object-oriented ontology (OOO) of Levi Bryant and others, the show also leans towards such accounts, providing in many cases an entertaining illustration of such philosophical theories, and enabling their practice in an engaging fictive setting.

At one point in the series, Jake Jr. tells his dad the following: “We are on, like, the bleeding edge of history. Everything ahead of us is totally unknown and there is no guarantee that everything’s going to be alright. It is exciting, but it is also pretty scary. You know?” Adventure Time is capable of making such bold statements, inviting us at the same time to join in the fun without letting fear overtake our consideration of the future, helping us to balance anxiety and depression with excitement and care. Cuteness, taken to dazzling speculative heights, can therefore be diagnosed as an important affective response to the environmental and economic challenges faced by millennials, who relish the ambivalence of this aesthetic category, turning it into a vehicle for expressing their own uncertainty about the future and imaginatively engaging with their precarious ecology of late capitalism.

1Jennifer Luxton, “‘Adventure Time’ might not be the right show for kids,” The Sundial, March 27, 2013, http://sundial.csun.edu/2013/03/adventure-time-might-not-be-the-right-show-for-kids (accessed April 31, 2018).

2Neil Strauss, “‘Adventure Time’: The Trippiest Show on Television,” Rolling Stone, October 2, 2014, https://www.rollingstone.com/tv/features/adventure-time-the-trippiest-show-on-television-20141002 (accessed April 31, 2018).

3Oliver Sava, “Beneath Adventure Time’s weirdness lies surprising emotional complexity,” AV Club, October 9, 2013, https://tv.avclub.com/beneath-adventure-time-s-weirdness-lies-surprising-emot-1798241190(accessed April 31, 2018).

4Emily Nussbaum, “Castles in the Air,” The New Yorker, April 21, 2014, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/04/21/castles-in-the-air (accessed April 31, 2018).

5Nussbaum, “Castles in the Air.”

6“How Adventure Time Tells A Story – Wisecrack Edition,” YouTube, December 2, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOIwZSXF1Ec (accessed April 31, 2018).

7Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1978), 3-4.

8Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012), 11.

9Ibid., 13.

10Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: The Free Press, 1967), 274.

11Ibid., 279.

12Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do with Our Brain? (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 18-19.

13Ibid., 38-39.

14A. O. Scott, “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” The New York Times Magazine, September 11, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/magazine/the-death-of-adulthood-in-american-culture.html (accessed April 31, 2018).

15Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 274.

16Ibid., 279.

17Ibid., 282.

18Jonathan Bradley, “Princess Politics: Power and Prosperity in a Post-Apocalyptic Ooo,” Adventure Time Forum 1 (Winter 2014), http://www.adventuretimeforum.com/Bradley.html (accessed April 31, 2018).

19Shaun Scott, Millennials and the Moments That Made Us (Winchester: Zero Books, 2018), 10-11.

20Todd VanDerWerff, “Adventure Time’s ‘Islands’ miniseries tackles American self-absorption – but for kids!,” Vox, February 5, 2017, https://www.vox.com/2017/2/5/14502548/adventure-time-islands-review-miniseries (accessed April 31, 2018).

21Joshua Paul Dale, Joyce Goggin, Julia Leyda, Anthony P. McIntyre, Diane Negra, “The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness,” in: The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness, eds. Joshua Paul Dale, Joyce Goggin, Julia Leyda, Anthony P. McIntyre, Diane Negra (New York: Routledge, 2016), https://books.google.pl/books/about/The_Aesthetics_and_Affects_of_Cuteness.html?id=ZGmuDQAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y (accessed April 31, 2018).

22Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories, 11.

23Ibid., 108.

24Ibid., 87-88.

25Zach Blumenfeld, “Adventure Time’s Islands Miniseries Is a Dark Meditation on Technology and the Human Spirit,” Paste,January 30, 2017, https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/01/adventure-times-islands-miniseries-is-a-dark-medit.html (accessed April 31, 2018).

26Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories, 64.

27Oliver Sava, “Adventure Time: Elements has a simple story, but strong character moments,” AV Club, April 21, 2017, https://tv.avclub.com/adventure-time-elements-has-a-simple-story-but-strong-1798191390 (accessed April 31, 2018).

28Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories, 72.

29Morton coined the term to denote vastly distributed objects whose scale exceeds that of human cognitive capabilities, pushing the boundary of our imagination. See: Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

30Jia Tolentino, “Where Millennials Come From,” The New Yorker, December 4, 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/04/where-millennials-come-from (accessed April 31, 2018).

31Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories, 13.

32Eric Kohn, “‘Adventure Time’ Is Slowly Going Off the Air, And Everyone’s Moving On,” IndieWire, February 24, 2017, http://www.indiewire.com/2017/02/adventure-time-ending-cartoon-network-1201785332 (accessed April 31, 2018).

33Shana Mlawski, “Overthinking Adventure Time: Creation, Frustration, and Masturbation,” Overthinking It, January 29, 2013, https://www.overthinkingit.com/2013/01/29/adventure-time (accessed April 31, 2018).

34Eric Thurm, “Maturity in Adventure Time,” Adventure Time Forum 1 (Winter 2014), http://adventuretimeforum.com/Thurm.html (accessed April 31, 2018).

35Oliver Sava, “A powerful Adventure Time explores how art enlightens personal change,” AV Club, June 17, 2017, https://tv.avclub.com/a-powerful-adventure-time-explores-how-art-enlightens-p-1798191764 (accessed April 31, 2018).

36Alfred North Whitehead, “The Aims of Education,” in idem, The Aims of Education and Other Essays (New York: The Free Press, 1967), 6-7.

37Ibid., 3.

38Malabou, What Should We Do with Our Brain?, 74.

39Catherine Malabou, “The Brain of History or the Mentality of the Anthropocene” (21 January 2017, Moderna Museet in Stockholm), YouTube, February 27, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJPLGEdRGGc (accessed April 31, 2018).

40Félix Guattari, “Remaking Social Practices,” in: The Guattari Reader, ed. Gary Genosko (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 264

41See: Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life,” in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon Books, 1995), 7-8; Viktor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique,” in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, trans. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965), 3-24; Graham Harman, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (Winchester: Zero Books, 2012); Steven Shaviro, Discognition (London: Repeater Books, 2016).

42C. Robert Mesle, Process-Relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead (West Conshohocken: Templeton Foundation Press, 2008), 19.

43See: Steven Shaviro, The Universe of Things (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014); Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).

44Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008).

45Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 11.

46Poom Namvol, “Oh God, Where the Glob Art Thou?,” in: Adventure Time and Philosophy, ed. Nicolas Michaud (Chicago: Open Court, 2015), 113.

47Marty Jones, “Play Time? Interpretation Time!,” in: Adventure Time and Philosophy, 113 & 139.

48Jane Bennett, “The Force of Things: Steps toward an Ecology of Matter,” Political Theory 32.3 (June 2004), 355 & 365.

49Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 23-24.

50Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson & Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 213.

51Levi R. Bryant, Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 279.

52Ibid., 257.

53Daniel Vella, “Imagined Worlds and Real Lessons,” in: Adventure Time and Philosophy, 210.

54Jones, “Play Time? Interpretation Time!,” 140 & 142.

55Julia Fiedorczuk & Gerardo Beltrán, Ekopoetyka / Ecopoética / Ecopoetics(Warszawa: Biblioteka Iberyjska, 2015).

56Greg Littmann, “Ice King Blues,” in: Adventure Time and Philosophy, 81.