Madonnas of Ooo: Adventure Time Meets Christian Iconography

Given that I’ve cosplayed Marceline twice now, it’s surprising that I haven’t written much about Adventure Time. It’s certainly a much smarter show than people give it credit for, and as I’ve pointed out in the past, one can glean some interesting theology by looking past its often weird surface.

I thought that crossover between Adventure Time and “The Creation of Adam” would be the only time I’d see the show mixed with classic Christian art, but then a couple weeks ago I stumbled upon this artist’s rendition of two Madonna icons.

I’ve already set a precedent establishing why fanart like this is not only fascinating and hilarious, but also why it offers Christians some very different yet profound ways of understanding our holy figures. Timothie, one of my college classmates, recently wrote a blog post about Adventure Time as a postmodern book of Judges (be sure to read the rest of his blog for interesting insights into Christianity and radical politics). It seems that this show lends itself particularly well to these sorts of readings, even though it’s not overtly religious.

What we have in these “Modern Madonnas” fanart pieces is a sense of both the love each Madonna feels for her respective Christ and the despair she feels at his imperfection or mortality.

Madonna with Child: Princess Bubblegum and Lemongrab

You can find these and other works by the same artist here: http://www.mcrcsm.com/#/madonnas/

 

In my previous Adventure Time post, I drew parallels between God and Princess Bubblegum, and Adam and Lemongrab. Placing Bubblegum as Mary presents a much more motherly or parental, personal relationship with Lemongrab. In the show, Bubblegum struggles with the fact that Lemongrab is a failed creation and that his nature as lemon is the antithesis of the candy people. Though Bubblegum has the powers of science and creation at her disposal, she is not necessarily a divine figure. So, having her be Mary makes a lot of sense. Though Mary is a holy figure, she becomes so via her encounters with the divine (the Annunciation and Immaculate Conception), yet she is still a human and though her son is certainly of her own womb, his nature is vastly different. Christ is both human and God, and so is distinct from his mother.

In this Adventure Time icon, we can assume that Bubblegum doesn’t yet know what Lemongrab will become. Likewise, Mary does not yet know what Jesus will become. There’s an innocence and tenderness that hasn’t yet confronted the rest of the world. In Mary’s case, it’s Jesus’s growth, ministry, crucifixtion, and resurrection. In Bubblegum’s case, it’s Lemongrab’s rejection of her and his constant spiraling into a decrepit state, which she tries to redeem by reforming him and creating a companion for him.

Given what we know of Lemongrab’s character, it might seem irreverant to make him Christ, especially since I’ve analyzed him as Adam and fallen humanity. But Jesus’s lineage is traced back to Adam and he’s often described as suceeding where Adam failed. Jesus often calls himself “Son of Man”–where adam means man. So, seeing Lemongrab as Adam in one picture and as Christ in another highlights that connection. Though it might make us more comfortable for Lemonhope to be the baby Christ, Princess Bubblegum didn’t create Lemohope, so the mother connection would be lost. As it stands, Lemongrab as both Adam and Christ presents an image of both fallenness and hope.

Marceline the Pietà Queen

You can find these and other works by the same artist here: http://www.mcrcsm.com/#/madonnas/

 

The second print in this fanartist’s set doesn’t continue the narrative of Princess Bubblegum and Lemograb. Instead, it places Marceline as Mary and Ice King as the dead Christ. It’s easy to see how this parallels their narrative in the show. Before Ice King was Ice King, he was Simon and he took care of Marceline in the aftermath of the Mushroom War. However, he eventually succumbed to the power of his crown, which made him lose his memory and become the Ice King. Marceline mourns this “death” and that’s highlighted in the icon. Mary cannot save her son Jesus from physical death, nor can Marceline save Simon/Ice King from a psychological one. In the moment when Mary holds Jesus’s dead body, there is no hope of the resurrection. This is a Madonna who has met the world’s cruelty and seen what Christ becomes. Marceline has also seen what Simon becomes–how power corrupts a man she saw as a parent and not only makes him forget her, but also forget himself.

Whether or not Simon “resurrects” remains to be seen. Admittedly, I don’t see much more to his placement as Christ than his relationship to Marceline, but it’s entirely possible that I’m not postmodern enough to see it or make a solid point about it. Like Lemongrab, everything else we see in Ice King’s character doesn’t match Christ. He’s an unsympathetic villain until his backstory shows up. Likewise, Marceline doesn’t create Simon/Ice King, though she may be trying to recreate him by making him remember who he was before the crown. There’s also an interesting play in that she’s a vampire, and vampires and Christianity have a long, turbulent history.

So, the parallels aren’t perfect, but they don’t have to be. It’s just fanart–fanart of fanart if we’re being honest about where iconography comes from in the first place. Adventure Time likely won’t explore many religious themes (though I wouldn’t be mad if it did), but it has certainly inspired religious art that, rather than being written off as irreverent, can instead make us think about the religious figures these characters are posing as.

The Creation of Lemongrab: An Unacceptable Icon

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).

Fanart created by: http://purplekecleon.tumblr.com and http://pengosolvent.tumblr.com
Fanart created by: http://purplekecleon.tumblr.com and http://pengosolvent.tumblr.com

 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.