You know why I think we’re more tolerable than other generations and probably have the majority of the common sense? Because of the type of cartoons we grew up watching. The way we were presented with certain ideas never seemed foreign to us because it was portrayed as normal. In this discussion, I’m going to being using two cartoon as my main examples. I’ll sprinkle some other shows in there towards the end.
First up, “Rugrats.” Think about the different households each child grew up in. Let’s start with Phil and Lil. Betty and Howard were the most unconventional set of parents on that show, in my opinion. Betty was an alpha female but not the same as Charlotte, who we’ll talk about later. She had a traditional feminine side at times, but for the most part, she was the rough and tumble type of woman. Lifting weights, this brash type of attitude and the female symbol that was always on her sweatshirt were all cues to us that this was not your “traditional” woman. Howard, from what I gather, was more of a stay at home dad. He was very reserved, and basically, Betty wore the pants in that family. Did anyone else question those two as a believable couple? Just me? Ok. Moving on to Charlotte and Drew. Charlotte was the other alpha female who was a CEO of Mega Corp. We always see her on the phone screaming at Johnathan for something that I’m sure wasn’t his fault. I can only remember a few times where we don’t see her in her gray power suit with the cell phone attached to her ear. She introduced us girls to the idea of a working woman who was able to juggle work and home, barely. Drew I liken to Howard but with more of a backbone. Where Howard might let the twins run him ragged, Drew had a little, and I do mean little, control over his brat–I mean angel, Angelica. I don’t think the twins ever got in trouble but I remember Angelica being in trouble. Dee Dee and Stu. They were more reminiscent of what we were used to seeing in a parental duo, with a twist. Stu was an inventor and I can only recall one time where he had an actual job. Matter of fact, what did all the other parents do for a living, besides Charlotte? What did Dee Dee do? Why did they need Grandpa to watch them kids? Where were they going? I guess the Pickles household survived on Stu selling his inventions and maybe Grandpa’s social security checks but I never took the Pickles family for that type of family that would make Grandpa pay to stay with them. Anyway, Suzie’s parents were a doctor and a TV producer, a stark contrast from the jobs they usually gave black people on TV whether animated or not. They didn’t have “blue collar” jobs, which I appreciated, and their kids reflected that. I saved Chaz for last. Chaz was a single dad, a break from the single mom tactic. It was revealed in a later episode that Chuckie’s mom died soon after giving birth to him. Reminds me a lot of Steel Magnolias. Chuckie can only remember bits and pieces of her. Before I wrap up my point, let’s explore another one of my favorite shows, “Hey Arnold.”
“Hey Arnold” taught us and showed us a lot that we never really realized. It played off of the unconventional households that were introduced in “Rugrats”. Think about it. Helga’s parents neglect. I’m sure her mom smoked weed and was in a deep depression throughout the show unless Olga came home and that time they went to the beach. Big Bob was a tyrant. In my opinion, they showed us what happens when you stay in a marriage that is no longer for too long. There was one episode with Sid where I think he was living in a kind of rundown part of the neighborhood. Harold was Jewish and struggled with his eating habits and weight. Much like the Passover episode of “Rugrats”, I enjoyed seeing Harold understand what it meant for him to celebrate becoming a man at his Bat Mitzvah. Stinky lived outside the city with his extended family on a makeshift farm. I say makeshift because I don’t think it was a full farm. They never said if Stinky and his family moved from somewhere else to where they were during the show because their accents were THICK. Phoebe, to my surprise, was a product of an interracial marriage between a white southern woman and a Chinese man. It only surprised me because she doesn’t look mixed at all. She looks full Asian. Someone let me know if I missed something there. I think I’m right with that. Gerald seems to the be the only character that had normal parents and normal siblings, and then there is the mystery of Arnold. Arnold lives with his grandparents, and for awhile, it was never explained. What is also never explained is who set up his room. I’ll do some research on that. He has a pig as his pet and lives in a boarding house with a whole host of characters. We are introduced to Mr. Potts who is a little person, the first time I can remember being introduced to someone who wasn’t “normal” sized. Mr. Hyunh, who was a Vietnamese immigrant who lost his daughter during the Vietnam war in the 70’s. One of the best episodes in child TV history, if that’s a thing. Then there was my favorite, Suzie and Oskar Kokoshka. I will pay someone $100 if they can tell me how these two got together without saying Oskar needed a way into the country or a green card. I just don’t see it and I refuse to believe that someone would do that to themselves in the 90’s without cameras rolling.
There were many other shows that had the same effect as these two shows. “Gullah Gullah Island” taught us about the Gullah-Geechee people of South Carolina, a revolutionary idea for Nickelodeon at the time especially for the demo it was targeting.
What do you think? Do you have any other examples of shows that taught us about unconventional households or families? Do you think 90’s kids are more tolerable because of the content of the shows we watched and how people were portrayed in them? Let’s talk, or argue, every Wednesday!