A is for Adventure Time and Abe Lincoln: A PRIMER ON LEADERSHIP (Part 1)

Part 1: A Very Strange Election Day


You know this scene. It’s the end of election season. The race is between: a woman with a shady history of international spying, who is surrounded by rumors of potentially huge violence that has mostly been covered up, and who has been part of the entrenched government for basically as long as anyone can remember; and an outsider “businessman” who lies frequently and blatantly, who has a history of immoral activity bordering on the cartoonishly evil, and whose followers range from those who hate the entrenched power to those with an essentially religious devotion to him. While the woman’s supporters can be extremely corrupt, bordering on devilish, the outsider is being helped by a foreign power, even though the businessman might not have directly solicited it. While everyone assumes that the election will go to the woman, even leading her and her supporters to not treat the race all that seriously, the outsider ends up winning!

Congratulations, it’s 2015, and you’ve just watched “Hot Diggity Doom” on Adventure Time! You’ve just witnessed the election for Princess of the Candy Kingdom of Ooo.


Wait, you thought it was something else? Weird. Well, let’s have a look at the candidates, shall we?

AisFor1BubblegumPantsuitPrincess Bubblegum is the current head of the Candy Kingdom. She is part of the upper class and has been forever, she’s directly responsible for the current state of the Candy Kingdom (which isn’t bad, although the perception is that it is), and she is science-first to the extent that it often offends her “faith-based” magic-using subjects. She also has committed near-complete genocide (of sentient robots), has cameras placed to spy on all of her citizens as well as every foreign government she can (justifying it with “I’m PB, I spy on everybody”), sabotaged the weaponry of a foreign sovereign nation, and literally commands sandworms while referencing her kingdom as an “eternal empire.” If you don’t see the references in the last one, read Frank Herbert’s Dune series: It’s not flattering to her.

Granted, Paul Atreides definitely went bigger.

AisFor1BubblegumElemental.pngBubblegum is the ultimate representation of entrenched government actors. She seems sweet, but secretly, she’s done things that are objectively horrifying. As the audience, we see why she does them, so we can understand why she’s done things like: Create a psychic monster that could easily have conquered the world, rob a series of artifact sites, force a citizen to sacrifice himself and then clone him to even it out, imprison a small child seemingly forever, abduct another small child, orders the arrest and imprisonment of a ton of completely innocent people, kill dozens of her own sentient creations, uses her own brother as a power source for the kingdom, and, oh yeah, threaten to start wars over personal insults on at least 2 occasions. Hell, when she gets turned into an elemental embodiment of the sanguine temperament (happiness, love, excitement) she ends up trying to enslave the rest of the world OUT OF LOVE. Again, since we see the motivations, most of these things, in context, seem reasonable. But, if you don’t, like most of the candy citizens, it seems like she’s just a scary monster of a woman who shouldn’t be trusted, even if she has kept the kingdom going. Despite this, she has enough faith in the system to believe that her people will do the right thing. After all, they’re “mercurial, but they’re not dillweeds.”

Pictured: Not Dillweeds?

AisFor1KingofOoo.pngOn the other side is the King of Ooo, her businessman opponent, who is not, in fact, the king of anything. He just calls himself that as a form of self-aggrandizement, which plays well to his followers. Among his statements are “Now, I hear you asking, ‘King of Ooo, how can you be so wise?’ I’ll tell you how. Did you know that I am 8000 years old? Could be.” That’s probably the best statement to sum him up: He makes it sound like his followers are praising him (most of them just don’t like Bubblegum), then he makes up an absurd claim that has no support (he’s actually significantly younger than Princess Bubblegum), and, just to keep people from being able to call him on it, walks the claim back with “could be.” It’s a textbook  way to gain support from the weak (most of the candy kingdom), the desperate (James’s mom), the emotionally driven (Jake the Dog), or the angry (Starchy). Granted, the textbook being more Mein Kampf than How to Win Friends and Influence People. He also goes the absurdist route with “Now, Princess Bubblegum — she says she hasn’t gone rogue. She says she’s not a wild dog thirsty for blood. She says she’s not a literal baby masquerading as an adult woman. She says a lot of things. Princess Bubblegum, you don’t make sense!” This works because, truthfully, Bubblegum doesn’t actually try to talk to any of the regular citizens much. She talks down to them, which just upsets them. Granted, she is significantly smarter than all of them, but most of them are too dumb to know that, and the King of Ooo correctly casts her as being out of touch with the common concerns. Now, it also helps that the King of Ooo is being bankrolled heavily by a foreign power (who is secretly trying to overthrow the Kingdom), which was arranged by his shady campaign manager.

That’s what the people who supported Bubblegum forgot. Even if the King of Ooo doesn’t actually care about the people, and he is just a conman seeking power and fame despite his absolute lack of qualifications for them, he does at least address the things that the citizens care about that the entrenched power appears to be ignoring. For example, the fact the Bubblegum banished a citizen for mutating himself to save her (his mother misses him, something Bubblegum clearly never considered).

The Sad Mrs. James

Sure, James, the now-mutant, was annoying and knew what he was signing up for when he agreed to work for the kingdom, but that doesn’t make it any easier on his loved ones. It’s a tough balance to strike, but anyone who wants to be a leader cannot completely disregard how their citizens will feel about their actions, even if they’re necessary to take anyway. Bubblegum shows little to no respect for the feelings of the candy people, saying only “Trehh! Boo,” and believing that being right is the only thing that matters, even if she’s perceived (justifiably) as being a criminal, out-of-touch, or uncaring. While the King of Ooo may be an open criminal (to the point that he threatened a child, admits he did it, claims that he is now sorry, and everyone should move on), extremely stupid, and a bit racist against non-candy people (though he himself is made of earwax), he at least pretends to listen to the concerns of the people that Bubblegum ignores. In that way, he’s gaming the system better than Bubblegum, because he knows it’s about the image, not the reality.

The King of Ooo, reclining on a child he tried to orphan, in order to win points.

After she loses, Bubblegum snaps a bit. She comes down from her tower, finally, and calls all of the people dillweeds. She tells the King of Ooo that he is a dillweed, his shady secretary that he is a dillweed, and that the mysterious foreign backer that the secretary brought in to help is a dillweed. “[Y]ou’re going to dillweed this place into the ground!”


She then turns on the citizens for voting him in, only to stop with a horrifying realization:

They actually ARE too stupid to know a good leader from a bad one.

Moreover, that she’s the reason they’re that stupid. She has been ruling the kingdom forever. She literally made these people and runs the education system that’s supposed to make them able to make good decisions. She is the entrenched power. She kept them stupid because it was easier to deal with and rule over the stupid (we later find out this is because the smart inevitably try to overthrow her for their own selfish reasons). This is the punishment that the entrenched power has earned itself by a failure to realize its own vulnerabilities and duties to the citizenry. Ultimately, they don’t see her ruling as objectively good, only a sum of morally-questionable actions, and they want change at any cost, not realizing how much that cost will be. She even has the sad realization that “it’ll probably take a really long time for the candy people to realize a bad ruler is worse than a good ruler.” Essentially, Bubblegum has done this to herself.

And that’s the issue with entrenched power: It benefits from a less-active, less-observant, and less-informed population… for a while. Usually, right up until the population starts to actually grow seriously dissatisfied with the entrenched power. Then, sh*t’s gonna go South for them, because you now have a less-informed population picking between “same-old thing” and “anything else,” and they might pick “anything else” regardless of its form. In fact, they might just search for the thing that least resembles “same-old thing,” forgetting that some of the qualities of the entrenched power are not negative. In fact, they might be necessary to be a good leader.

So, how do you pick a good leader? Come back tomorrow.

Welcome to the Grouch on the Couch’s ABCs. This will be a monthly series until I can get a rhythm going… and figure out all of the letters. F*ck you, you try finding 26 topics connected by letters.

For some other work by the Grouch on the Couch, check out my reviews. If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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