Since its launch in 2001, Adult Swim has become the most popular network for young adults (mostly young male adults) for its quirky, bizarre, and outrageous programs with subversive sensibility that appears antithetical to the mainstream taste and cultural values. With its embrace of lowbrow humor and anti-comedy, the Adult Swim sensibility may come across as too edgy, transgressive, or just plain strange for the mainstream audience.
The taste (and generational) gap between the Adult Swim viewers and the general public was particularly highlighted in the 2007 Boston Bomb Scare. As part of a guerilla marketing campaign for one of Adult Swim’s signature shows, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, LED signs of the Mooninite characters from the show (and in Adult Swim fashion, they were making an obscene gesture) were placed all over the city of Boston (as well as 10 other cities). Mistaking these battery-powered light screens for explosive devices, the city officials of Boston shut down large parts of the city for several hours. Adult Swim fans following the event over breaking news enjoyed mocking the clueless government officials and confused reporters covering the news online. Once the Mooninite signs were identified, authority figures condemned Turner Broadcasting (Adult Swim’s parent company) for scaring the city and citizens of Boston with “appalling,” “outrageous,” and “unfunny” prank.
Meanwhile, the young Adult Swim fans who enjoyed ridiculing officials and the media for overreacting to the situation particularly took offense to the mainstream media’s description of Adult Swim as a “stoner kind of stuff” and its fans as childish, immature, and slackers. In the now defunct Adult Swim message board, some Adult Swim fans responded to the accusations of being “childish,” “slackers,” or “stoners” by asserting the “normality” of their “adult” status and lifestyle to defend their Adult Swim fandom (identifying themselves as a military officer who served the US Air Force, a college graduate with a different sense of humor, a college student with a high GPA, an Army Warrant Officer, etc.). The fact that Adult Swim fans used traditional, middle-class values to defend their subcultural taste illustrates how Adult Swim fans have to position themselves as possessing subversive cultural tastes that are perceived as juvenile while also conforming to the mainstream culture’s understanding and standards of “adult” lifestyle and values. This paradox, thus, raises questions of what opposition and subversion in Adult Swim sensibility means.