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The Ice King: Philosophies of Morality and Insanity in Adventure Time

by Ethan Tussey

by Alexis Aguam for IN MEDIA RES

 It can be argued that the surreal world of Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time is one that evolves from an incessant confrontation between good and evil. The series works through established pop-mythos of heros and princesses, vampires and fascist overlords. Yet, in Adventure Time there is a willingness to upend this Manichaeism and plunge it’s viewers into a universe where all becomes unfixed and bizarre, where the dream-like disintegration of traditional spatial and temporal limitations mirrors the questioning of established social concepts of morality and identity. One of the best examples of this is the character of The Ice King. 

There are several times in the first season that the Ice King is designated as “nuts” or “insane.” The Cosmic Owl calls him a sociopath.  Works such as Michel Foucault’s History of Madness reveal that "madness" and society’s reaction to it is ingrained with notions of truth, guilt, alienation, objectification, and freedom. Like those that were once confined in asylums in our own reality the Ice King is seen as an evil criminal by the rest of Ooo because the insanity that the crown bestowed upon him had made him immoral. Yet in the creators' decision to also make him incredibly powerful, they are essentially opening the door to the possibility that he could take over if he really wanted to. Indeed, his pet penguin Gunther is able to take over the entire land just by stealing his "evil wishing eye."

The accompanying clip is from season 3's episode entitled "Holly Jolly Secrets Part II.” It depicts an essential turning point in the storyline of not only the Ice King but the entire world of Ooo. The VHS of Simon Petrikov’s story gives to the viewers what the crown’s “promise of power” and the Ice King’s pursuant insanity had taken away: a past and understanding that provoked the empathy of others. It is this direct confrontation of the morality of empathy with concepts of alienation and guilt in the context of the insane and those of great power that I would argue is one of the central concerns of Adventure Time. Simon Petrikov became an essential component of the Ice King while also being set up to be the most important figure of the past of the Adventure Time universe, where we would learn how the savior became the insane






Adventure Time and Philosophy

A clip from Adventure Time

from Adventure Time (2010)
Creator: Pendleton Ward
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey