Toon Tunes: Jake the Dog (Adventure Time)


words: Harrison Thurman

The first thing I wanted to do when I realized Donald Trump was going to win the Presidential Election was throw up. The second thing I wanted to do was hug my friends and family. The third thing I wanted to do was watch cartoons.

I turned 29 a few days ago, and, like a lot of people my age, I have a very intense and peculiar relationship to cartoons. I was weaned on the Saturday morning stuff like all good Americans, and would watch Toonami with my brothers every day after school. Cartoon Network started a golden age of kids’ cartoons by debuting The Powerpuff Girls, the network’s first original TV show, in 1998. The time of my adolescence also saw the success of Pixar, Adult Swim, South Park, and Studio Ghibli-- all of which appealed to the the coveted 18-35 target market, kicking off a change in corporate culture that resulted in, like, nine god-damn Family Guy spinoffs.

Now animated movies and TV shows feel like a comfort blanket to me, and despite the nagging suspicion it contributes to my underdeveloped sense of maturity (as well as the totally false claim that millenials are out of touch with reality), I often find cartoons to be more engaging than live action programming, be it in the form of hyper-dramatic prime-time soap operas or obnoxious overwritten sitcoms.

Some of the best animated TV right now is, as usual, coming from Cartoon Network, particularly the uber-gay Steven Universe (which is essentially about a super-powered adolescent boy being raised by his three alien moms) and its sister show Adventure Time. Set in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by science, swords, and magic, Adventure Time is full of whimsy and absurdist humor which belies the show’s attention to detail, bleak imagery, and the depth of its characters.

When I was asked to make a playlist for this blog inspired by an Adventure Time character, I had a hard time choosing! There’s Princess Bubblegum, ruler of the Candy Kingdom who, along with Agent Scully, ranks among the greatest scientists in all of fiction; The Ice King, an obnoxious and creepy old man driven mad by a crown that gives him the power to fly and shoot ice out of his hands; BMO, the childlike and intensely lovable little robot with an overactive imagination; Marceline the Vampire Queen, a 20-something half-demon with a velvet voice who doubles as a bass-playing punk-rocker; The Lich, a truly terrifying (and totally metal) skeletal embodiment of death, entropy, and loneliness; and on and on and on. But, like the character this playlist is inspired by, I had to go with my gut on this one.

Jake the Dog is one of the two main characters of the show, and, true to his canine nature, he is the best friend and adopted brother of the primary protagonist Finn the Human. Jake is bright yellow, walks on two legs, talks, has a powerful and gleeful belly laugh, and can magically shapeshift, including growing to incredible sizes or shrinking down to fit inside a pocket. He can beat up pretty much anyone in the known universe, and seems nearly impervious to pain and poison. He thinks it’s funny to fart in public. He’s got some mean dance moves, loves video games and board games, is an excellent cook, and plays the viola, guitar, ukulele, and bongos. The character is voiced by John Dimaggio, who also plays Bender from Futurama, and the voice actor imbues the 30+ year-old dog with a goofy warmth and familiarity. Jake is your friend who gives great advice but never seems to show up on time. Jake is the person who blithely calls everyone “dude” regardless of their gender. Jake is the sibling you love but sometimes want to punch because they’re so obnoxious. Jake is your cool stoner uncle. Jake is every aging “punk dad.” Jake is me.

There’s a lot I admire about Jake, including his unending trust (“A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t taken candy from yet!”); his passion for food (“Sometimes I think there’s a monster who lives in my stomach and that’s why I’m hungry all the time.”); his devotion to his friends (“Homies help homies!”); his ability to focus on things immediately in front of him (“You see this cup? This is literally my favorite cup. But now it’s gone forever, so it’s not real, and I don’t care about it any more.”); his love of fighting evil (“Your constant harassment of the female gender makes me sick!”); and his ever-present optimism (“Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.”). Jake is a reformed criminal but claims it’s okay because he didn’t know it was wrong. In the later seasons, Jake is occasionally used as a mouthpiece for the show writers’ weirdest lefty political leanings, at one point explaining to Finn how the police and the legal system are used to keep wealthy men in positions of power.

When I was making this playlist, I tried to think of songs that Jake would listen to while chilling in the giant treehouse he calls his home. Jake has varied musical tastes, as demonstrated by the songs he performs on the show-- there’s doo-wop, jazz, punk, funk, autotuned pop, rap, a little bit of Beethoven, chiptunes, and much more. As Adventure Time progresses as a show, Jake falls in love with Lady Rainicorn, a giant rainbow/unicorn hybrid who only speaks Korean, and they eventually have kids together, which means I had to include K-Pop and dad-rock. I’ve added songs that capture Jake’s friendship with Finn and his freewheeling attitude. There is a part of me that thinks Jake enjoys smoking a joint while listening to Animal Collective and post-rock, so there’s some of that too. I think Jake would be very happy with the playlist, and would put it on while building the perfect sandwich or making bacon pancakes.

The playlist is also meant to be a comfort for the rest of us here in the real world, for our road trips and low moments. I think a lot of people on the left feel lost after Donald Trump’s election. We’re underemployed, underpaid, and at the whims of political forces beyond our control. We see the rich getting richer and committing crimes yet we’re the ones existing in a police state. We’re afraid for our safety and the safety of our loved ones. We live in anxious apocalyptic times, surrounded by visions of global warming, nuclear war, terrifying technology, religious rapture, and even zombie outbreaks.

Adventure Time gives us a taste of what life might be like after the end of the world. And maybe, after the coming political revolutions and realignments, after all the work it will take to bend the arc of the moral universe back in the direction it belongs, after everything we know and own is lost and reconstructed, in the new world, we’ll be more like Finn and Jake-- joyful, playful, and ready for adventure. Come on, grab your friends! I’ll see you there.

mp3: "Natural Blue" - Julie Byrne

photos: Homo Superior, K A G, Six Six and Hot Head, Washington, D.C. (12/1/16)