Mad Science Throwdown: Princess Bubblegum vs. Frankenstein

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No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Pursuing these reflections, I thought that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.”–Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus: 52.

For the candy food was not consumed but was given life.”–The Lemongrabs

The answer was so simple I was too smart to see it.”–Princess Bubblegum

Prepare yourselves once more to venture a little further into Adventure Time‘s Candy Kingdom and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. If Lemongrab is Frankenstein the creature, how does Princess Bubblegum compare to Frankenstein the creator. Well, beyond the question, “Who would win in a fight, Victor Frankenstein or Bonibel Bubblegum?” We all know that Princess Bubblegum would win.

As I’ve mentioned before, Princess Bubblegum is the ruler of the Candy Kingdom of Ooo, a possible future earth one-thousand years after our planet has been ravaged by nuclear war. Princess Bubblegum created the Candy Kingdom and its people using the Candy Life Formula. We first meet Princess Bubblegum in “Slumber Party Panic,” an episode in which she attempts to solve the problem Victor Frankenstein addresses in his work—renewing life “where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption” (52). Victor’s drive to create life and defeat death is almost a mania that leaves him with a nervous disorder. And it’s possible that Princess Bubblegum feels that same mania when creating life. She, too, can be driven and sometimes more concerned with her experiments than their consequences.  Unfortunately, in “Slumber Party Panic,” Bubblegum’s decorpsinator serum animates candy corpses instead of bringing the candy dead back to life. The zombie threat returns in “From Bad To Worse” when Cinnamon Bun eats a sample of candy zombie flesh Bubblegum was experimenting on in her efforts to find a cure. Cinnamon Bun becomes patient zero of a new zombie epidemic. By the end of the episode, Science, her candy corn lab rat, helps Finn the Human create an antidote using Bubblegum’s lab notes. The zombie plague is reversed, but death is not overcome.

Where Victor’s creation of life is some kind frenzied drive, Princess Bubblegum’s creation of life and struggle against death itself is a response to a devastated and depopulated world. Her creatures gone wrong are a result of her desire to protect and care for the candy people. And so where Victor Frankenstein, creates only one person who goes wrong, Bubblegum creates several besides the zombies—two of them, Lemongrab and Goliad, as successors; and two, Lemongrab 2 and P-Bot, as companions. Since I discussed the Lemongrabs last month, I’m pondering Goliad and P-Bot.

Bubblegum is mortal, though possibly one thousand years old, and concerned about creating a successor—other than Lemongrab—for the Candy Kingdom. She makes Goliad, an immortal candy sphinx, using a “pretty standard candy creature soup: some amino acids; some algebra; and I threw in one of my baby teeth so she’d have my DNA” (“Goliad”). After being awake “a solid eighty-three hours,” she wants to stay up longer to complete her work. “I can’t go to bed. Goliad has huge mondo mama brains. I still have to fill them with knowledge on how to rule a kingdom.” (For his part, Victor goes straight to bed after making Frankenstein and is freaked out by his creature looking at him in the middle of the night (56-7)). Finn and Jake the Magic Dog offer to teach Goliad about leadership so Bubblegum can rest. Bubblegum agrees.

But Goliad learns the wrong lessons. She believes that the strongest should rule through intimidation and mind control. Bubblegum decides to disassemble Goliad, but Goliad’s bad behavior extends to terrible boundaries and she telepathically overhears Bubblegum’s intention. Goliad declares, “This is my castle now.” Bubblegum’s solution is to create another candy sphinx, Stormo, whose powers equal Goliad’s, but who has Finn’s heroic DNA. Equally matched and both immortal, Stormo and Goliad will psychically battle for eternity.

While P-Bot is not an experiment gone wrong, she is… messy, at least her in existential circumstance. In “The Suitor,” a Gumball Guardian goes to Peppermint Butler, saying, “[Princess Bubblegum] has been in her lab for nine weeks. She needs to get out, socialize….The Candy Kingdom worries for its leader.”

Peppermint Butler brings Braco, a young suitor, to her and says, “Princess, this lab reeks like brown mist; it’s unhealthy. You’ve got to get outside and do some research on boys.”

Initially annoyed that her research is being donked up,” Bubblegum agrees to a date “just for research.” Bubblegum extensively studies Braco. While Bubblegum is happy doing science, Braco sees a lonely heart who needs his love. He tries both the techniques of J.T. Dawgzone’s Mind Games, “a book containing every secret of seduction through superficiality,” and engaging in a heroic quest to recover a soul stone. Finally, Braco goes to Peppermint Butler and tries shadow demon magic, which will make him “a walking love magnet.” When he goes to Bubblegum to see if the mojo affects her, she tells him:

Oh, Braco, I do love you, but it’s the undifferentiated love I feel for all my citizens. I couldn’t permit one of my citizens to suffer the way I saw you were suffering over me. And so I made you this. Meet my doppelganger, P-Bot.

P-Bot looks like Bubblegum, but her number one priority is “to find someone to share [my] life with.” At first Braco, to his credit, is disturbed, but he runs away with P-Bot after she kisses him on the cheek. This whole fembot thing is creepy, but also complicated, so I discussed it with Screen Editor alex. As alex says, “All he really wanted was a paper cut-out of a girl and he got what he wanted.”

It is all Braco wanted, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up in his own, Braco And The Real Girl. However, Bubblegum can return to her science and caring for the candy people. So Bubblegum has made companions for her people twice now, once for Lemongrab and once for Braco. And she has been substantially more successful in her matchmaking than Henry Frankenstein in The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935).

In thinking about all this, I started to see both Frankenstein’s in this complaint the creature makes to his creator:

My vices are the children of a forced solitude that I abhor, and my virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being and become linked to the chain of existence and events from which I am now excluded.(165)

Both Frankenstein’s failings are the product of solitude. Victor himself notes that if he had not allowed his obsession to interfere with his family and friendships, he would have been much happier and probably would never have created his creature (55). Or he at least would have been more careful in his creation.  Every pursuit has certain temptations and we tend to view those pursuits as inherently moral/ethical when they are often amoral. Science is not inherently immoral or evil, but it’s also not inherently moral or good. It’s a method and/or a collection of fields of study pursued by people. Though we often talk about science’s achievements, there is no science without scientists. So even when I say, “science gone wrong,” what I mean is, “person gone wrong,” whether they are irresponsibly creating a Frankenstein, accidentally creating a mess of zombies or snipping the legs of perfectly pleasant tiny candy people (“The Lich”). Even Finn is overcome by a mania similar to Victor’s at Princess Bubblegum’s Science Barbecue. Attempting to impress Bubblegum, Finn dons the Glasses of Nerdicon and creates a singularity (“The Real You”). Caught up in the exhilaration of his knowledge and achievement, he doesn’t really consider what a bad idea that could be. Curiosity, the desire to know, the desire to create can be an amoral drive of its own. Just ask Frankenstein.

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I’ve written before that Victor Frankenstein is a terrible father because he does not take responsibility for his creature. In the 1931 film, Karloff’s Frankenstein is, in many ways, the best of toddlers—his curiosity, his delight, his desire to be loved, his trust. And his creator violates his trust in the film and abandons him in the book. In Adventure Time, Lemongrab is the worst in toddlers, the rigidity, the rudimentary empathy, the inability to articulate his needs, the shrieking, but Bubblegum accepts him. She takes responsibility for her people, loves them and tries to make them happy, even when they are incredibly disturbing, like the Lemongrabs, or dangerous like Goliad. And as is made evident in “Goliad,” Bubblegum could destroy her creations and remake them—or even remake them seemingly without destroying them as she does to the tiny candy people. Unlike Victor, she makes an effort to raise them and Goliad only goes wrong when Bubblegum doesn’t fill her brain with social knowledge. I even see a parental relationship in how the candy people submit themselves to Bubblegum’s experiments. They don’t actively consent and we never see them signing informed consent forms consistent with an “autonomous candy subject review board.”* They don’t try to escape. They accept that she has a right to their bodies as young children accept parental or pediatric access to their bodies, even when they don’t like or want it. Even when it seems kind of wrong. I kind of love Adventure Time for focusing on these ambiguities even it as it uses “Math!” as a positive exclamation.

Ultimately, her relationship to the candy people keeps Bubblegum’s potential tendencies in check. Bubblegum makes sure that the candy people are raised right and are linked together in a social world–or as social as they can manage–to promote the virtues and avoid the vices Frankenstein delineates. And Princess Bubblegum’s citizens watch out for her as well. Finn and Jake send the Princess to bed when she is exhausted. The Gumball Guardian and Peppermint Butler make her get out of her lab. The Candy Kingdom worries for its leader. It makes me even sadder for both Frankensteins.

*Thanks to Mahometan and Celestial for the name.

All Frankenstein quotes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus (Dark Horse, 2008)

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~~~

Now, if you’ll excuse her, Carol Borden is making a fist with her brain.

This essay was originally published on The Cultural Gutter on Nov. 7, 2013.

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