Is Over The Garden Wall About Having Faith? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios


Here’s an idea. Over the Garden Wall
is about having faith in the face of the impossible. [SCREAMING] In the event you’ve
been wandering the woods for the last
month, Over the Garden Wall is a 10 episode
Cartoon Network mini series created by Adventure
Time’s creative director Patrick McHale. In an Adventure Time
meets Grimm fairy tales meets Miyazaki meets
Mark Twain meets [IMITATES EXPLOSION] style, Over the Garden Wall
follows brothers Wirt and Greg, Beatrice,
a talking bluebird, and their frog, variously
named Kitty, George Washington, Doctor, Mr President,
Benjamin Franklin, and so on, around a rural, mysterious,
Americana infused landscape called the Unknown as the boys
try to find their way home. Where are we? In the woods? Along with having
been met by nearly universal critical
praise, Over the Garden Wall is also the most
requested Idea Channel episode topic in recent
history by a long shot. Thematically, OTGW has a lot
in common with our episode about the cable news. It’s an exploration
of how fear can pull at one’s puppet strings. Endicott is afraid of a ghost,
Miss Langtree of a gorilla and that Jimmy is
gone for good, Lorna is afraid of Auntie Whispers
and Auntie Whispers of Lorna leaving, The Woodsman is
afraid of losing his daughter, and so on and so on and so on. The main antagonist, The
Beast, a baritone voiced, horned, black figure
with glowing eyes provides an undiluted
personification of the fear that is
pervasive in the Unknown. And as a matter of
fact, when The Woodsman warns Wirt and Greg
to beware the Unknown, it’s not super clear if he
means the place, The Beast, or the general concept of
that which is not known. As it turns out, their
respective reflexes in the face of the Unknown,
in each of its forms, ends up making Wirt
and Greg heroes. But it also sets up a
tension between them. Greg, the younger
teapot topped brother, is a big old ball of hopeful. He’s got faith that
things will work out and, occasionally,
doesn’t even appear to know that he
should be afraid. Pointy headed Wirt,
on the other hand, is a bit more resigned to stuff
being hopeless or unlikely. That is, until, spoiler alert,
so take out your headphones or turn down your volume
until I put my spoiler hands down, that is, until he is
shown how his lack of faith can poison those he cares about. It’s all clear now. TV Tropes casts Wirt and Greg
as the cynic and optimist archetypes respectively. For me, the brothers
typify another duo as well, Soren Kierkegaard’s
knights of resignation and of faith. Kierkegaard wrote
about these knights in “Fear and Trembling”,
a dialectical lyric about what it means to have
and act upon faith, inspired by the biblical
story of Abraham, who is commanded by God
to kill his son Isaac. Abraham has faith in God. So he does as he’s told. But just before he’s
about to kill Isaac, he’s allowed to
sacrifice a ram instead. He has proven his faith. He would kill his own
son at the word of God. Kierkegaard had a hard
time imagining himself in Abraham’s sandals. Would Kierkedude
believe that God would pardon him, stay his
hand, or bring his son back after the sacrifice? I don’t know. Having that kind of
faith is not easy. Abraham and other
knights of faith, Kierkegaard wrote,
have no such doubts. They act on, quote, “the
strength of the absurd”. Though convinced of something’s,
quote, “humanly speaking impossibility”, they maintain
it will or must happen in some other not humanly way. That impossible
seeming something doesn’t have to be holy
intervention either. Kierkegaard writes about a young
lover pining after a princess. If that young lover
were a knight of faith, he might realize the
absurdity of their union, but believes it possible
somehow, perhaps through the will of some
divine force nonetheless. And divine force,
from my perspective, not so much from
Kierkegaard’s, we could be talking about all
kinds of inscrutable stuff, God, luck, chance, destiny, the
free market, who knows. A knight of infinite
resignation, on the other hand, resigns himself to loneliness,
no princess, no hope, no one to drive with him to Ikea on
Sundays, not gonna happen. He doesn’t abandon the
thought of their love though. Resignation is not surrender. He is not, Kierkegaard writes,
afraid to let his love steal in upon his most secret
and hidden thoughts, to let it twine itself
in countless coils around every ligament
of his consciousness. By comparison, a knight of
faith lives a life less binding, quote, carefree, devil may
care, good for nothing, he hasn’t a care in the world. He resigned
everything infinitely and then took everything back
on the strength of the absurd. So maybe that’s Greg,
along for the ride, worry free, sure that
everything is going to work out, carrying candy in his pants. Candy camouflage! And Wirt is our
knight of resignation, what with his, spoiler
hand, general reluctance, mopey poetry, and Sara feels. I wonder if amongst
all of its ideas about fear and the unknown,
Over the Garden Wall is also, at least a little,
illustrating something of the tendency to
be full of faith as children and
resignation as adolescents. I don’t wanna have anything
to do with you or that frog! OK. I’ll try to think
of a name myself. If it’s not true,
then at the very least, it’s a trope that, as the
intricacies of the world come into focus, we find
it harder and harder to have faith that they
will work in our favor. Kierkegaard says that
a knight of faith must resign first, give up
their view of the world, and then take it back under new
conditions, new understanding. What view do faith
having children, and by extension, candy
pants teapot dome here, have to give up? I’m not sure. Maybe none. At this age, what does
Greg, as our exemplar, even have to give up? Faith begins precisely
where thinking leaves off, Kierkegaard wrote. But maybe it’s not
a giving up so much as it’s the careful selection
of the set of things deemed appropriate to think with. Children and Greg have,
by their very nature, only a very particular set of
knowledge at their disposal. Does this make them somehow
more capable or powerful, especially in the
face of the unknown? While watching Over the
Garden Wall, for some reason, I couldn’t shake this feeling
that Greg has so much in common with Ness, the main
character from the video game EarthBound, which you might
also know as Mother 2. I’m not gonna lie. Their similar shape probably
has something to do with it. Ness doesn’t have a damp blanket
turned hero coconspirator. But both he and Greg are these
willing, faithful characters of action. In a landscape littered
with fearful adults, they don’t ever question
their capability, or really, even that capability
has something to do with it. They just go for it and
work towards ousting this abstract,
terrifying evil, hoping to return their lives to
normal and seemingly acting on some faith that they
know they can, that it will. In EarthBound, it’s
a bit more explicit, given how you have to defeat the
final boss, Giygas, by praying, by praying a few more
times than feels right, if I remember correctly. It’s been a little while
since I played EarthBound. But it means that both
the character, Paula, and the player, the person
holding the controller, need to have a little faith. I gotta have faith. In Over the Garden
Wall, it’s a little more up in the air for reasons that
are pretty clear if you’ve seen the ending. But could we say
that they wouldn’t have made it through if it
weren’t for Greg’s faith? Maybe we could. If it’s not a fact, at the very
least, maybe it’s a rock fact. It’s a rock fact! What do you guys think? Does Over the Garden
Wall say anything interesting about faith when
trying to navigate the unknown? Let us know in the comments. And to keep Idea Channel’s
lantern lit, please subscribe. (SINGING) I’ve got a
blank space, baby, for you to write a comment. Let’s see what you guys had
to say about Taylor Swift. Kayla Haffey writes a
really interesting comment about the distinction between
masculine and female narratives and talks about how you could
view Taylor Swift as someone who is putting together
a true or authentic, with all of the
scare quotes required for authentic, female narrative
but that she still appears to be somewhat constructed. And I think that this
is maybe always the, I don’t know, like, dialectic
of being some kind of mega pop star that is advertising
some level of personableness or authenticity that,
because of the way people interact with you, because
of the fact that you have a team of people managing
you, you will always seem somewhat constructed. And yeah, I mean,
navigating that process, as we watch Taylor Swift do
all the time, is, I think, really interesting. But yeah, Kayla, thank you
for writing this comment. This was great. Shessomickey writes
a great comment about how regardless of Taylor
Swift’s possible reinforcing of traditional images of
women, she is no less powerful a feminist in that one of
the sort of central tenets of modern feminism is
that however someone chooses to perform their
gender, that makes them no less of a feminist. The other thing
Shessomickey brings up that we didn’t talk about
is Taylor’s crossover from a country artist
to a pop artist. And this makes me
wonder whether or not there is maybe a connection
between the agency Taylor feels over her image and
the songwriting that allows her to make that
transition and her involvement in conversations about
gender and pop music or popular culture,
which she has been doing a lot more recently. And yeah, I wonder if
there is something there. I’m just sort of putting this
together as I’m saying it. But this is what this
made me think of. So this is, yeah, interesting. Mara K writes a
comment about how though you can view Taylor
Swift as someone who is writing her own story and in
control of her own image, there are things about that
story and image that you could view as less than positive. And yeah, this is a criticism
of Taylor Swift, especially her older stuff, that I can
absolutely see and understand. I had read somewhere,
so I don’t know if this is true at all, that she
had actually stopped performing certain songs that could be read
as sending the wrong message to young women. Um, I don’t say that as
a defense of any kind, just to say that,
like, I think, yeah, like, that’s a sort of
admission that there are parts of this
story that are, hmm, you know, like, iffy at best. And finally, I want to spend
a couple minutes responding not to a particular
specific comment but a type of comment that
was left on last week’s video and is left sometimes
on other videos. There were a lot of people who
said that they just blanketly assume every pop star has
their music written for them and that they don’t make a
consideration for gender, male, female, whatever. They just assume if
you’re a pop star, you don’t write your music. And if that is the case
for you, that’s awesome. I’m glad. You shouldn’t. You should not make
that gender distinction. Um, I mean, maybe you should
believe that some people write their own music. But that’s another
thing entirely. But there were a significant
number of comments, I think, that went one
step further and said that they believe there
is no group of people who make that gender distinction,
that I literally invented the idea that there
is a group of people who assume female pop stars
don’t write their own music just for the episode. And I want to talk about
that for a couple reasons. First and foremost,
Taylor Swift, who we quoted in
the episode, says that this distinction
does exist, that she has experienced it firsthand. And she is a music professional
who works in the industry and has experience
with this situation. And I see some of you reaching
for the authority fallacy video that we made. And I would like to remind
you that Taylor Swift is an authority not only
on her own experiences, but also the music industry,
an actual authority. So there is no fallacy here. You could argue that she
has invented this thing for some bizarre PR reason. But I think that that is
exceptionally cynical. And second, there
is a thing that I’ve started to notice
now having done Idea Channel for a
little while, which is that these types of comments
where we get accused of making things up, relying on hearsay,
or inventing stuff really only happen in very
specific situations. They show up in videos where
I quote a female theorist, talk about social issues,
representation, or women. These are the situations
where we get accused of just making stuff up. And what I’m not saying is that
on every other Idea Channel video where we don’t
talk about those things, people are 100% on
board or in agreement. That’s not what
I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is that
on those other videos, like about too many cooks,
if someone disagrees, the response is
usually something like, oh, I don’t know how
I feel about this, or that’s a little
bit of a long walk, or you seem to
misunderstand this thing. We don’t get accused
of making things up. It’s not like a rampant problem. We’re not being accused
of making things up every other comment. But it is a thing
that I have noticed. And I think it’s
important to point out. And also to be perfectly
honest, it kind of upsets me a little bit. So I just wanted to
get off my chest. The end.

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