The pleasant perversity of Gravity Falls
by Michael Lyons
[WARNING: SPOILERS FOR DIFFERENT EPISODES OF GRAVITY FALLS SEASON 1]
Admittedly, I’m totally behind on the times with this one, but I just finished watching season 1 of Gravity Falls, and something struck me as I watched this ongoing, Disney-produced cartoon that started in 2012.
It’s delightfully, charmingly queer. As I watched season 1, I found the amount of gender subversion and sexual ambiguity fun, playful and hilarious.
On paper: two 12-year-old twins end up in a not-so-sleepy small-town in Oregon where, living with their charlatan great uncle (or “Grunkle”), they plumb the depths of Gravity Falls’ every-day paranormal and supernatural happenings. Looking at it objectively, the first season contained a bratty, feminine villain, an interracial couple of police officers who make constant reference to how much they love spending time together, a lazy, flannel-wearing, tomboyish young woman, a boy-crazy twelve-year-old girl with a deep voice and a wrestler’s build, and an effeminate man with long lashes, wearing a trucker hat, a white tank-top, jean cut-offs and cowboy boots, among other characters who pop up in the show.
Even the twins themselves, Dipper and Mabel Pines, present two subversive characters. Mabel could ostensibly be called “typically-girly” — she loves adorable sweaters, cute animals, glitter, sleepovers with her friends and going boy crazy — but she’s also the goofy dork out of the twins. She is messy, rough-and-tumble and, similar to Tina of Bob’s Burgers, wonderfully awakened and aware of her physical desires for boys. The masculinity of Dipper, on the other hand, is constantly being called into question, and is explored at different points during season 1. An entire episode is spent on Dipper trying to learn to be a man from a group of “Man-otaurs,” before ending up enjoying a duet of “Disco Girls” by girly Icelandic pop sensation Baba with the Man-otaurs’ rival monster. Instead of muscles and might, Dipper relies on his mind to solve the mysteries of the paranormal town.
Beyond aesthetic choices, there are a number of times during the first season that left me giggling at weird little moments. Some of these include but are not limited to basically any interaction between Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland, Dipper and Mabel’s “first kiss” with a young merman, Lance Bass as an entire blond, blue-eyed boy band, Robbie referencing how he steals his girlfriend’s makeup, the bromancing, pastel and crop-top wearing bros of Mabel’s fantasy, Xyler and Craz (who seem to always end up in each others’ arms) and the uncomfortable gnome squirrel bath in the season finale.
There’s also a moment in the finale, where it seems a little bit like Mabel is the damsel in distress, in the clutches of the evil, girly, tiny, big-haired villain, Gideon Gleeful. However, after Dipper does battle with the little monster, Mabel ends up with Dipper in her arms, saving both her and her brother.
Why I find it so endearing is because the ambiguity and subversion is just accepted as another facet of the strange little town. Even when Dipper, Gideon or any of characters are at the butt of “girly” or “unmanly” jokes, I never found them cruel or offensive, but rather exploring that part of the character in a humorous way — when Mabel first meets Gideon, for example, she loves getting makeovers with him and considers him a girlfriend, and no one finds this at all strange.
In any case, I was left wondering who was the subtle, subversive, evil queer genius behind all of these little instances throughout season 1 of Gravity Falls. For my own part, doing some wishful thinking, I blame Alex Hirsch. Thanks Disney! Looking forward to season 2 and many more seasons to come of this wonderfully weird little show!