"A long time ago, when I was a baby, I went boom boom on a leaf. Then I fell backwards and sat in my own boom boom and cried for a day, but no one came to help me. That day I vowed to help anyone in need, no matter how small their problem!" -Finn the Human. Adventure Time, "Memories of Boom Boom Mountain"I am still a boy at heart, right down to the core. I still play video games, get excited when I walk down the toy aisle, and religiously watch cartoons with my kids. Of course, I keep all this bottled up on the inside since as a grown 26 year old I can't be running around with a toy sword yelling "get ready for an upper cut, you dog!" Which is why I love the new cartoon series from Cartoon Network, Adventure Time. Who wouldn't want to watch a 12 year old boy fight for the weak and helpless while going out on awesome adventures? Sure the superhero cartoons are drenched in justice but I can't think of too many cartoons which approach the subject of justice and compassion as humorously and memorably as Adventure Time.
[Adventure Time, by Martin Corba]
Adventure Time can't be explained, it must be experienced. The show follows the adventures of a Peter Pan-esque 12 year old boy, Finn, and his best friend, Jake, a 28 year old dog with magical powers as they battle monsters, rescue princesses, and go on radical adventures in the land of Ooo. Did I say radical, I meant mathematical!
The show is filled with odd characters, pre-adolescent toilet jokes, and memorable fist pounding catch phrases set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world. As far as I recall none of the characters have mentioned anything of how their brightly colored and joyous land of Ooo rose from the ashes of its past. Maybe because, as a cartoon the creators don't want to get into the gory detail of its apocalyptic destruction. So what exactly does all of this have to do with the righteousness of Finn the Human? Why even talk about a cartoon character? Because I LOVE story, we as a species crave it, and the one story we continue to tell over and over again is that of the archetypal hero.
What makes Finn righteous is not his strong ethical code or his stance on justice, it's his normality. His humanity is the very thing which sets him apart from every surreal creature and pastry-shaped character on the show and it's also the one thing we, the audience, share with Finn. There are human like characters on the show but Finn is the only one which bears the title Human. Amidst and beneath all of the boyish pranks and pre-adolescent humor the theme Adventure Time revisits is of an imperfect hero always struggling to do the right thing. The righteousness of Finn lies in the struggle of simply being human in an alien world. Although I would like to add that even though he's human he wears a hat which kind of makes him look like his fellow Oooians (Sound familiar? Hero taking on the form of those he swears to save? *Hint, hint*). His empathy towards non-human sentient beings radiates the message of loving those different from ourselves. No matter who they are or what they've done, Finn the Human will ALWAYS helps those in need.
"I'm not righteous, I'm wrongtious."
The episode entitled "The Enchiridion!" best illustrates the struggles and responsibilities Finn must face as he seeks out a magical book which can only be read by a hero who's heart is righteous. Interestingly enough the real Enchiridion, or Handbook of Epictetus was a manual of practical philosophy which contained "Stoic ethical advice compiled by Arrian, who had been a pupil of Epictetus at the beginning of the 2nd century." (Wikipedia) The trials Finn faced focus on his ability to distinguish right from wrong and how he treats his fellow Oooians. For his first trial, he saves three fairy creatures from a burning pit of fire and once released they begin destroying old ladies. Finn questions his sense of "righteousness" after releasing the creatures although his companion, Jake the Dog, reassures him that it's all an illusion to test his heroic attributes. As I was diggin' the eastern religious reference Jake is suddenly devoured by a giant ogre. I was slightly tempted to interpret this scene as a metaphor for the battle between ignorance (embodied by the ogre) and wisdom (Jake the "Buddhist"* Dog) but I've already read too much into the episode. It is a cartoon you know.
For his last trial he's instructed by a hooded figure to slay two creatures: an evil heart beast and a neutral ant. Finn refuses to destroy the unaligned ant even at the risk of never reading the Enchiridion. He could of easily crushed the defenseless ant for his own gain but refused to do so. For all three trials Finn's compassion for others was being tested, not his ability to defeat evil. And for that he's handsomely rewarded with a peak at the Enchiridion (watch the video to see what page he read) and a delicious meal of spaghetti with his friends.
Already well into season 2, Adventure Time continues to surprise me with its subtle themes of morality and justice underlying the rambunctious adventures of an energetic and righteous 12 year old boy and his wise dog. I'm sure a lot of parents will dismiss this as another mindless cartoon (it does contain a sprinkling of mildly inappropriate innuendos at times), but I have yet to find another cartoon as hilarious and thoughtful as Adventure Time. I love...scratch that, I am insanely obsessed with Adventure Time, but that's probably the kid in me.
*Jake is not a Buddhist, but is merely connecting to the internet through meditation. Love it.