Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

Scott Ferguson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amy Rust, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Todd Jurgess, Ph.D.


television, neochartalism, MMT, money, capitalism, aesthetics


Through the study of OK KO! Let’s Be Heroes! and The Amazing World of Gumball, I argue that children’s cartoons represent and recreate anxieties toward money’s plasticity in the plasticity of the cartoon bodies and worlds. I closely examine the ambivalence towards abstraction’s plasticity in contemporary children’s cartoons to trace the neoliberal ambivalence towards money’s plasticity. While much scholarship has grappled with what can be understood as animatic plasticity, very little of it takes on the questions raised about neoliberal culture by televised children’s cartoons. Cartoons are important to study in this respect because their form allows for unbridled plasticity. Cartoons provide the artists with the freedom to create characters and worlds that are as bound or unbound to our world’s norms and natural laws, unlike in other live action moving media. It combines this with the dynamic, temporal component of moving image media. Unlike a surreal painting, cartoons are capable of dynamic movement and transformation, even in their non-moving image form as comics. However, this plastic dynamism is most fully realized in the animated form, as the characters are capable of movement and change regardless of the viewers’ presence. Contemporary cartoons like OK KO and Gumball asymmetrically mobilize this plasticity by rendering the characters’ bodies as highly plastic while presenting their worlds as comparatively static. This aesthetic practice suggests that the world cannot be reshaped for a variety of reasons, so the only thing that individuals can do is try to change themselves as necessary to accommodate it. Thus, what at first blush looks like a celebration of plasticity is in reality a celebration of mere flexibility, which enables and perpetuates neoliberal power structures. Yet these same shows simultaneously challenge the neoliberal aesthetic project in their hyper-mobilization of non-diegetic plasticity. When the shows mobilize their plasticity in a way that is not narratively impactful, such as through cutaways, inserts, or other asides, the plasticity is instead framed as comedic and thus enjoyable. This suggests that while presenting character and world plasticity as equally valid would be natural next step for animated aesthetics, the major limitation contemporary animation faces is in reality the uneven treatment of diegetic and non-diegetic plasticity.