Zesty Fascism: Adventure Time's Lemongrab and the Lurking presence of Despotism in a Children's Show

Curator's Note

The Earl of Lemongrab is the product of as misconducted experiment which grows to become one of Ooo’s most devious personalities. He is well-known for his tyranny, unfair judgments, and torture. All of these traits are presented in the Adventure Time series which is aimed primarily at a youth audience. That being considered, Lemongrab’s character becomes a problematic issue on account of his distinctively controversial actions throughout a children’s program. The clip shown here presents the Earl at his very worst. Throughout the series, Lemongrab’s character progresses from a quirky albeit severe ruler to a blatantly fascist and totalitarian leader. Very early on, viewers are made aware of Lemongrab’s lack of leniency towards rule-breaking and mockery as well as his severe outlook on candy people as a whole. The royal public responds to Lemongrab by pranking him although these border on abuse as Finn and Bubblegum ambush and punch Lemongrab in the guts as a form of ‘prank’. In a later episode, Lemongrab attempts to understand candy people and is unable to do so, claiming that they are unfit and need to be ‘re-conditioned’. The end result of this episode is the creation of a second Lemongrab for whom the Earl immediately expresses acceptance. This grotesque clone suggests that Lemongrab’s only acceptable counterpart is himself, which in turn suggests that the Earl considers his own race as superior to any other. This ultimately emits the theme of the superior race as well as nationalism which are extremely controversial topics especially since they appear in a children’s cartoon program. Lemongrab’s remedy against any other citizens of Ooo is flawed and inevitably results into the totalitarian and despotic regime depicted in this clip: Castle Lemongrab. The question is and remains, what do such controversial themes contribute to a children’s program? Does the representation of totalitarianism and despotism through Lemons hold its place within a children show or is it simply, unacceptable?


I agree with Alexandre that Lemongrab is a perfect example of the limits that Adventure Time is willing to push in terms of acceptability. Alexandre's summary makes it pretty clear that Lemongrab is meant to be an allusion to our own human history. But what's the consequence of presenting such themes in the context of a children's show? I think that Adventure Time uses animation in the same way that South Park does in that it creates a universe with fantastical elements and over-the-top personalities so as to more surreptitiously present biting social commentary. Yet, I think that the important aspect of Adventure Time to keep in mind is precisely that the creators chose to set the show in a a universe ostensibly so outside of our own that they are able to present social critique in the context not of what it is to be American, or even to be human, but rather what it is to be a product of someone else's will to create. This existence of Lemongrab as the result of someone else's will to power is something that I think children would respond to with a certain empathy that doesn't exist with the other characters.

You both bring up good points about the role of Lemongrab in AT. I think Alexandre is correct in noting the "darker" nature of Lemongrab's totalitarian presence in the show, but Alexis also makes a good point that AT goes to great lengths to blur the line between our world and the land of Ooo. This, however, is problematic as there are also insinuations in the show that the Land of Ooo is, in fact, our would after a cataclysmic "mushroom war" that is fleshed out (opaquely) in the episodes "I Remember You" and "Simon and Marcy." Also, what about the fact that Lemongrab ultimately tries to "consume" his nicer half? As you both mention, initially, the blame for Lemongrab's tyranny lies with Princess Bubblegum and her intention to play God. Although she "fixes" the problem with her "nicer" Lemongrab, it is only with the coming of Lemonhope that the Lemon kingdom begins to change. Overall, Alexandre digs out an interesting, if complicated, issue with AT that gets to the huge question; is this really a kids show?

Thank you both very much for your comments. I have been quite obsessed with the parallels between Ooo and our own world since the show's inception. I believe that if Ooo is a post apocalyptic version of earth, much can be interpreted from the social as well as political facsimiles with our world AT seems to make allusion to. Alexis, your point on how children would respond with empathy towards the fact that Lemongrab was created out of someone else's will is an excellent interpretation that I had not considered. I believe that this also ties in with what Lawrence mentioned about Lemongrab's other half. He does in fact eat his double, claiming that there can be 'only one'. Lemongrab could then be the reflection of a child brought into the world without consent, as is any human being, and then experience jealousy towards a sibling. This is also something a child could express empathy for. This does not however completely explain Lemongrab's development into the awful dictator we see in this clip. Lawrence, I am also glad you mentioned Lemonhope in your comment because I did not find space to include him in my note. You are right in stating that Castle Lemongrab only changes with the coming of Lemonhope. I would then ask at this point if Lemonhope could be considered a reflection of the fear of change within a totalitarian social order and if so are we to understand that change is a good thing within any society really? Overall, much can be discussed when treating on Lemongrab's place within a children's cartoon program. I cannot help but wonder where the show will go from here on.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.