PBS Idea Channel: BMO and expressive gender identity

by criticalhit009

In a previous post, I had written a generally positive critique of the work of PBS Idea Channel, and decided to review each video of their videos to expand or analyze further the content of each video. I am glad to say that this video is a great example of their work at its best. Suffice it to say, I agree with the main thrust of the video’s argument about BMO’s playful relationship with gender, and I found it to be quite enjoyable. There are, however, more nuances and expansions I would like to add to the mix.

BMO’s playful relationship with gender binaries is not just a staple of third-wave feminism, but also resonates deeply with queer and performance theory. Work from such scholars as Judith Butler, among others, would also be worth pulling into the discussion. In fact, I’d be more comfortable placing BMO’s character within the context of those strains of academic theory, as they may evaluate BMO’s fluid construction of gender and identity with more focus.

BMO Lost

The video brings up BMO’s relationship with a bubble in the episode “BMO Lost”, which is worth expanding upon further. Idea Channel glimpses a bit at the interesting character of Bubble, noting that the character is an object, and though voiced by LeVar Burton, such easy gender binary identity falls apart. I would push the analysis further, noting that Bubble is perfectly round, symbolically illustrating the rounded contours of the female body (if one so chooses to read so deeply.) The combination of a male voice with coded female contours playfully pushes gender binaries even more.

“BMO Lost” not only details the loving relationship between BMO and a bubble (who later becomes air,) but also their temporary relationship of a baby. With the brief time they have with the strange child, they debate baby names, and attempt to nurture the creature and protect it from danger. It’s a family set-up, albeit temporary, composed of organic and non-organic life that stretches the definitions of relational identity. This highlights a constructional definition of family that also arises in the recent episode “Be More”. The latest episode of Adventure Time, it also adds to the discussion significantly, as it reveals BMO’s origins.

BE MORE

As someone without access to cable TV, my Adventure Time watching is limited to whatever episodes I can get. But I have seen the latest episode, “Be More”, where Finn, Jake, and BMO visit the factory where BMO was originally created. At the end of the episode, the creator of BMO is revealed, a limp, atrophied human named Moe, who tells Finn and Jake why he made him.

Moe: BMO’s one of a kind. I built BMO to take care of my son. […] But I guess I never ended up dating any women. So, that’s sad. [Moe chuckles.] I sent BMO off into the world alone.  Hoping to find a family home. And then maybe even find somebody else’s little boy to take care of. […] I must’ve built what, like, a million MOs. But BMO is very, very special. I built BMO to understand fun. And how to play. You see, I made BMO to be more. 

This new information is significant in talking about BMO’s identity as someone special. BMO is a constructed creature, but is also constructing gender identity, illustrating it is flexible and mutable. It’s also notable that the episode ends with BMO saying hello to his family, consisting of over a million robots living happily in their own ecosystem of sorts under the factory. Family is not made from your blood relations, but rather the people you care about. Adventure Time implies that family and gender are both social constructs that the individual has control and agency over.

What makes this specific PBS Idea Channel episode work well is because it is narrow and specific with its criticism; it is looking at a particular character of a particular show, and finding commonalities within a particular strain of thought. It is this specificity that that allows for a well-focused argument, and I believe the video pulls it off well. The last part of the video dedicated to looking at YouTube comments also illustrates the commentators in top form, critiquing and adding to the conversation of the channel’s last video, while in the next video doing the same for the BMO-centered video as well. Though I do not like the character limits in YouTube comments, it does focus commentary to a specific point or two, and are highlighted by the production team themselves in later videos. Overall, this is YouTube discourse in top form, and I am eager to see more.

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