When the lifeguards go on their break at the local swimming pool and children are forced to get out of the water, adult swim begins. Borrowing this name, the twilight hours of Cartoon Network adapted the concept for their nightly scheduled programming.
In 2001, Adult Swim, stylized in brackets, first began to air. Every night, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., following Cartoon Network’s daylight programming of Hanna-Barbera cartoon reruns and whimsically absurd original shows, was a transition into a raunchier style of comedy, intended exclusively for adult viewers. Over the years, Adult Swim has featured many well-loved cartoons such as “Family Guy,” “Rick and Morty,” “Robot Chicken” and more adult anime such as “Cowboy Bebop”.
Just as the lifeguards must blow their whistles to signal adult swim hour, so too did Cartoon Network have to warn viewers of its transition to more adult content. Adult Swim developed a method for scaring children away from their screens and warning them of the inappropriate nature of their late-night cartoons, through a segment of creative interludes called “bumpers” or “bumps.”
These bumps featured a unique style of nonsensical video that aired between the commercial breaks and their programming. Adult Swim’s bumps were heavily influenced by surrealist and experimental filmmaking, purposefully making little to no logical sense. Popular bumps aired on the network relied on simple text, images and sounds to draw in viewers. Typical bumps featured white text on a black background, scrolling through sentence by sentence of a random and cryptic message.
One such bump reads: “We promise we won’t use our app to listen to your conversations/ not because it’s creepy and wrong/ but more because it would take a lot of coding/ and we’re kind of tired.” While semi-threatening and perhaps frightening for young viewers to read, this message is ultimately meaningless and simply intended for humor, ending with the bracketed “adult swim” logo to signal the end of commercial break.
This was the one rule for Adult Swim bumps: Each segment must feature the logo or a bracketed “as” visible at some point in the short video.
Another style of bump featured time-lapsed videos of landscapes. Others featured colorful or illusionary images with the logo hidden somewhere inside them. In these videos, viewers had to find the logo on their own. Although Adult Swim’s bumps were random and sometimes unsettling, they were clever, unique and creative. They became a staple of the Adult Swim network, something instantly recognizable. Bumps were a facet of the overall experience of watching Adult Swim, contributing to the absurdist and outrageous humor prominent in the shows aired by the programming block.
Now, these bumps have found a new home outside of the television network that pioneered them. TikTok has long been a platform that has run on millennial and Gen Z nostalgia. For some time, one of the trends on the platform mocked Disney original movies from the 2000s. Recently, audios from the children’s show “The Backyardigans” have exploded. The creation of homemade, original Adult Swim bumps is the newest addition to these TikTok television throwbacks.
The resurgence of the Adult Swim bumps began with the creator VANO 3000 or @supvano. The New York City-based music producer began the trend as a way to advertise his remix of the song “Running Away” by Samuel T. Herring and BADBADNOTGOOD. VANO 3000 added the audio over a video of one of Time’s Square’s Spider-Man street performers, adding the bracketed Adult Swim logo at the end and kicking off the trend. The audio features a catchy beat and the lyrics “running away is easy it’s the leaving that’s hard” repeated over and over in high-pitched vocals. As the lyrics cut and the beat drags out, Adult Swim’s logo appears.
After this seemingly innocuous Spider-Man video, TikTok users went crazy for the remix and how perfectly it fit for bumper videos. The trend was then well on its way. The hashtag “Adult Swim” now has 3.5 billion total views on the app, with countless original bumps featuring VANO 3000’s beat.
For some millennial users the trend may remind them of the past and bring back memories of staying up late to watch programming that they probably shouldn’t have. The bumps are reminiscent of the days before streaming services, when television networks and commercials were the only TV watching experience available.
For some who were unfamiliar with the original Adult Swim bumpers, the trend was at first a source of confusion. However, unlike previous trends based on nostalgia, this one has a universal appeal. Just like how the original bumps weren’t meant to have a distinguishable purpose, this trend isn’t geared to any particular type of user. A bump can appear on anyone’s “for you page.” It is easy to appreciate the creativity and sometimes comedy of these homemade bumpers and search for the moment when the “adult swim” logo will appear. There is a simplicity to this trend that anyone can appreciate regardless of their familiarity with its origin.
Many original bumps went viral. One such parody bump is by the user @infortnitemillyrock featuring a movie theater employee sweeping up popcorn to VANO 3000’s audio, the text reading, “4 billion years of evolution/ and you still find a way…/ To spill all your popcorn.” The video ends with the bracketed “as” spelled out in popcorn kernels on the floor, then swept up by the employee. This humorous bump has earned 3.4 million likes.
Another popular page, @the.mcfarlands, jumped on the trend to poke fun at father figures. The video, which has 4.1 million likes, features an older man standing proudly over his lawn. The text reads, “Why are all dads the same? / Honestly we’re not sure/ all we know is/ they sure do love a fresh cut lawn.” When the “dad” character steps away, he reveals a massive “as” logo branded into his lawn.
The trend has even evolved into parodies of the original parody. The user @ghostierin used the sound and concept to clap back at a commenter who accused them of using their account for “Asian fishing.” As the user shows off their talent for drawing in the video, the text over it reads, “asian fishing is harmful and simply embarrassing/ so is being an idiot online/ but hey, who am I to tell you how to live?” As the creator steps away, instead of revealing the Adult Swim logo, a piece of paper on the wall reads, “I’m Asian” between the brackets, stylized like the original logo.
Trends on TikTok evolve rather quickly. Evidently, the Adult Swim trend is no exception, as users continue to adapt it for their own purposes. Often, keeping up with TikTok trends can feel like a game of trying to stay in the know. In just the span of one day, so many new jokes become popularized on the app.
But with the Adult Swim trend, there is no inside joke to be in on. Although it is rooted in cartoon history, the point is not to have a point, simply to aesthetically appeal and show off creativity.
The official Adult Swim TikTok account has since made their own version of a bump featuring VANO 3000’s beat that encourages creators to continue making their own bumps. With a series of time-lapse videos, the post remarks, “We’ve been talking to you/ like this for a long time/ It’s nice to see you/ talking back to us/ Let’s keep it going.” It seems that Adult Swim doesn’t mind the originality and the free advertising TikTok is now giving them.
In this era of vast uncertainty, trends such as the Adult Swim bump are a necessary outlet for youth culture. The trend embodies what TikTok offers its users — an escape from a difficult reality and transportation back to simpler times. The videos have granted users not only a way to connect with the past, but a way to appreciate the creativity of others in a unique way.
Although like all trends, the momentum will soon die down, it has certainly made an impact on the type of content prominent on the app, ushering in a more artistic and experimental approach to TikTok virality.