Unusually enough for a blog about animation, you don’t see that many videos posted here. That is let slide today because PBS and their Idea Channel on YouTube have released a rather excellent video:
The topics of animation, gender and the issues surrounding the two are a familiar site on the blog and in Is BMO Expressive of Feminism? host Mike Rugnetta does a great job of analysing both BMO’s character and it’s gender (or lack thereof) and how it relates to the so-called third wave of feminism.
Now this isn’t a feminist blog per se but many of the goals of the movement can be related to and discussed within, the boundaries of socially mandated gender norms and expectations.
BMO, as Rugnetta contends, ignores many of those established norms and, in effect, makes gender a non-issue simply by not having the character defined as one. BMO is both male and female and yet is also neither, being an electronic box of parts that cannot comprehend self-definition of a gender because it simply isn’t possible.
Rugnetta is right that BMO serves to break down the social norms we are used to but not at the expense of the character themselves. BMO is universally loved by all fans of adventure time and serves as one of the few such unifying characters in animation today.
Is BMO representative of third wave feminist ideals and goals? It’s a bit of a stretch to entirely attribute BMO’s character to the notions of biological and social gender identifications. But having said that, the character does illustrate how the concept of gender identification does not need to be something that is forced on individual viewers.
It is ironic that Adventure Time is, overall, heavily geared towards boys and that despite some fantastic, strong female characters, it remains that way. The fact that it includes and is proud of, a character that defies such gender logic is just another aspect to an already super show.
Does BMO represent the future? Rugnetta argues as representative of the third wave of feminism, he/she is. I, on the other hand, would contend that BMO is more of a prototype of sorts as to how such characters could work if and when they become more mainstream and how existing gender norms could be applied in equal measure to a character.
The important lesson to impart from the video and this post is that gender continues to be something that is incredibly dependent on our social upbringing and environment. While it is perfectly fine to self-identify as a particular gender, society continues to impress certain norms and expectations on individuals that are not entirely, well, compatible with the ideal of a free and open society.
While BMO is but one character in an animated TV show, he/she is groundbreaking from the standpoint that such societal pressures are just that and the character’s ignorance of the expectations associated with it, display a positive message for kids that will hopefully take root.