A Glitch is a Glitch: O’Reilly’s Layering of Brechtian Alienation

Curator's Note

Verfremdungseffekt, the effect of taking a familiar object and rendering it alien, often finds its best manifestation in popular comedy. Today, it is frequently found in the animated medium. Characters emote with smoke in their ears as the anvil pauses above their head for dramatic effect; making it known one watches a cartoon instead of a documentary. Shows such as Adventure Time make their nature as animated media apparent, in contrast to a film such as, Frozen, which hides the nature of its medium behind story and song. Adventure Time’s one hundred and nineteenth episode, "A Glitch is a Glitch", takes this to a new extreme, layering Verfremdungseffekt on top of itself to create three distinct levels of alienation. Using glitch aesthetic, David O’Reilly makes distant three distinct aspects of the animated medium at the same time. After all, an animated episode consist of many levels; the writers who compose the narrative, the animators who create the actors and scenery, and the crew in charge of editing and compressing the film for broadcast. The narrative rupture is established when, within the first few seconds of the episode, Finn jokes that whoever animates must have no life at all. He then punches himself in the face, for no other reason than because it was written. This interaction with the writer makes Finn’s nature as a fictional character obvious. Alienation from the animated medium occurs when the characters’ CG models start to “glitch.” The Candy Kingdom’s denizens turn from rounded bodies to jagged vectors and polygons, uncovering their true composition as digital puppets. Finally, the glitch makes visible the digital codec used in the compression of the film. Compression via an algorithm to remove unnecessary data is necessary prior to broadcast of an episode. Pixels bursting into strange colors and frames morphing into each other remind the viewer of the digital nature of the animated film. O’Reilly takes Verfremdungseffekt and compounds it, layering it on top of itself to create a medium that is hyper aware of its own existence. This stretches a Brechtian mechanic to its extreme, making the animation itself a subject of mockery. The viewer, in turn, evaluates the episode as an alien phenomenon. The gags which make strange the familiar allow us to laugh at the formerly invisible strings of the animated puppet.


Good points, Colin. As an animator yourself, do you notice this trend of the alienation affect in cartoons as becoming more and more popular or is it sort of dated and cliche? Is it unique to AT or is does it have some historical context (I'm thinking specifically Chuck Jones' "Duck Amuck" from 1953)? Overall, it seems like the glitch is a perfect topic for AT to tackle mostly because it thrives on that area in between weird and WTF. Much like the other "outside" created episode, "Food Chain" by Masaaki Yuasa, "A Glitch is a Glitch" not only shows AT's ability to push its own boundaries, but also those of the medium of animation in clever ways. You also mentioned in a conversation we had how you would argue that AT is heavily influenced by Fliescher and his "wavy lined" aesthetic. Is this episode and its heavy use of Verfremdungseffekt in line with your theory?

I initially wanted to point towards the examples of fanfiction throughout the series as another example of verfremdungseffekt, until I came across an interesting detail in each case. Both in the fanfic example and in this glitch episode, the Ice King himself is responsible for pushing the boundaries of AT beyond the established limits of a cartoon. With all the discussions we had this week concerning the links between AT and our own world, I wonder if we could say that the Ice King plays a particular role in bridging the divide between the two universes. Any thoughts?

I'm not sure anyone writing popular comedies would view alienation as cliche--it's too thoroughly interwoven into the language of humor. The whole concept of a smooth narrative and verisimilitude is comparatively a more recent invention. As long as one has the accepted "proper dramatic structure" then one will have the iconoclasts who revel in rupturing it. This is prevalent in vaudeville, in Chaplin winking at the camera, in Wayne's World's "Get-A-Load of This Guy Cam." We're talking about the DNA of comedy, here. That said, maybe animation does a little bit more of this because of its entirely artificial nature. One simply has more ways to point out the artificiality of the medium. Showing the hand drawing the character, the anvil stopping in mid air or the character stepping off of the paper were established as part of animated vocabulary since 1919. I refer to Fleischer's Koko the Clown, of course. Philippe you bring up a really interesting point about the Ice King. I'm reminded of the clowns and fools used in classical theatre. The fools would break verse and speak in bawdy prose to the audience, commenting on the actions of the heroes and mocking the play itself. We are meant to laugh at their simplicity but they also fulfill a key thematic function. Since the fool is often an outsider, they may comment on our society and question its mechanisms. The Ice King seems to fulfill this role... Cinnamon Bun as well. I need to go back and pay closer attention to their potentially subversive comedy.

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