In an age where the Internet breaks down the barriers between creators and fans, fandoms can gain traction in a matter of weeks. Once upon a time, fanartists and fanfic writers were seen as fans with way too much time on their hands, but now you can find impressive fan works of every kind for just about anything. One of the fascinating things about fan culture is the way people apply one story to another through crossovers or sometimes seemingly irreverent renderings of religious icons and figures.
There has always been a conversation between religion and popular culture. Some draw strict lines between the two and dismiss anything that’s irreverent on the surface as worthless, unwholesome, or even threatening to a religion’s reputation. This happens especially in cases where religious icons are repurposed or deconstructed into Internet memes.
I don’t hold Christian iconography in such a high regard where any parodies of famous paintings offend me. My understanding of the purpose of iconography is that it exists as a pointer to God and is not holy in and of itself. Icons are only paintings or statues trying to capture something that cannot ever be fully captured by human creations. Not to mention the fact that most Christian iconography is Eurocentric and is the reason why Christians and non-Christians alike conceptualize God as a white man. Therefore, it can never be held as a pure representation of the divine.
So whenever I see parodies of famous icons, I either laugh or feel indifferent. However, one parody immediately captivated me because of its detail, subject matter, and surface level irreverence (but the Christian who would turn away from this would be missing out on a poignant metaphor, which I’ll get to later).
Of all the things I like, I never expected Adventure Time to even remotely connect itself with Christianity, but someone on the Internet got this clever idea and went with it (although the fanart does not imply that its creators are religious). If the references are already eluding you, this picture is a rendition of “The Creation of Adam” found in the Sistine Chapel.
This painting depicts the story in Genesis where God creates Adam. What stands out the most are the hands. Adam is barely holding up his hand while God is fervently reaching out to him. Adam’s face is nonchalant. He doesn’t seem to care much about reaching God, but God’s face is more alert and it’s clear that God is putting much more effort into trying to reach Adam. With God reaching out, Adam could go the rest of the way. This is typically how we understand humanity’s relationship with God. Since God does not force us into a relationship, God reaches out and allows us to decide whether or not we will put in the effort to respond.
Given the deep implications of the original icon, it’s only natural that a Christian’s first reaction to the fanart above would be offense or disgust. After all, it’s replacing biblical figures with cartoon characters. Plus, if you think that God is a man and/or can only be represented as a man, then Princess Bubblegum as God is totally unacceptable. However, there’s actually a great metaphor to be found in all of this, one that wouldn’t exist without this tendency of fan culture to, for lack of better words, apply the thing you like to all the things.
Lemongrab as Humanity: Sour and Decrepit
Lemongrab has got to be one of the strangest cartoon characters to ever exist. He came to life as one of Princess Bubblegum’s failed experiments, and she considered him such a failure that she banished him from the Candy Kingdom. He is high-strung, easily angered, and so unstable that no one knows how to handle him. Even Princess Bubblegum’s solutions never work as well as she plans because Lemongrab has his own agency. With that agency, he constantly pursues a path of destruction. By placing Lemongrab in the place of Adam, the fanart piece links this character who can never find joy or peace and is unlovable as far as other characters are concerned with the very first creation of God whose failure created a barrier between humanity and God, resulting in being outcast from paradise.
The creation of Lemongrab, then, is a very loose allegory to the Genesis story, and this piece of fanart makes the connection more obvious. I say “loose” because it seems that Princess Bubblegum sends Lemongrab away because she perceives him as a failed creation, rather than sending him away because of his actions (although, his actions often do justify some level of outcasting later). God, on the other hand, outcasts Adam and Eve because of their actions, not because God perceives them as failures.
Another aspect of Lemongrab that makes him similar to humanity is how much he hates and resents Princess Bubblegum, his creator. He constantly looks for any weakness in her reign or her treatment of him, which is justification enough for him to act in whatever way he wants. In fact, there is an entire episode dedicated to how much his resent for Princess Bubblegum fuels his anger. He resents her for creating him the way that she did. He resents her for making him live alone because of how he is, and he resents her for trying to change his ways. Lemongrab is so distraught that he constantly acts out, and his way of acting out only perpetuates his condition.
This is the kind of bleak cycle that we often find ourselves in, especially when we struggle with the idea of a benevolent God, the question of good and evil, and why some of us are created with mental illnesses or anything that prevents us from experiencing peace. All of us, at some point or another, become trapped and in anger, we say, “You made me this way! Why did you make me this way?” just as Lemongrab does to Princess Bubblegum.
Princess Bubblegum as God: Eternal and Ever Reaching
Princess Bubblegum has many qualities that parallel God’s, the most obvious being that she’s a monarch, a scientist, and a creator of life. In fact, she might not even be mortal since some odd manifestation of her briefly met young Marceline when Marceline was still under Simon’s care. Unlike God, Princess Bubblegum has the capability of considering her creations failures. She also finds it easier to initially push Lemongrab away and admits to not being able to understand him.
Yet like God, Princess Bubblegum attends to her creations’ needs. She is a steward over all the candy people and takes responsibility for Lemongrab. Despite her inability to understand or connect with him, she does all she can to care for him. The most prominent act is her creation of a second Lemongrab so that Lemongrab will no longer be alone. Just as the biblical account describes God taking a piece of Adam to create Eve, Princess Bubblegum creates a companion for Lemongrab in Lemongrab’s own likeness.
This at least temporarily puts Lemongrab at peace (until his destructive tendencies resurface and create and even more decrepit conditions for himself). So, Princess Bubblegum as God in the painting, reaching out to Lemongrab because she understands it as her duty, is a perfect fit. She extends the effort, leaving it up to him how he will respond.
What’s also interesting about the original art piece, and subsequently the fanart, is that it appears that all of the other figures around God are pulling God/PB back as if they are trying to prevent God/PB from reaching Adam/Lemongrab. If this is the case, then God/PB reaching out is even more profound because they are acting without any support. Helping Lemongrab is not a popular or desirable action, so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that other characters would try to hold her back.
Even Silly Cartoons Can Be Icons
Adventure Time is a unique cartoon that many people still underestimate despite all the evidence of the deep themes it deals with. This fanart has grasped a few subtleties in the show and made an overt connection between its characters and one of the most important stories in Christianity. By tying Lemongrab to Adam, we can see his actions as our own, a very sobering reflection. By tying Princess Bubblegum to God, we can see a stronger connection between God and science. We also see a creator whose instinct is to continually provide for the creation, no matter how decrepit the creation becomes. Therefore, it would be a shame for any Christian to view this or any other parody of religious art as evil or sacrilegious and never seek to look deeper. Clinging to that initial aversion could result in missing a new way of conceptualizing humanity and God.