My childhood can be measured in orange blimps, green slime and copious amounts of orange soda. I made a catastrophic vinegar and baking soda volcano in my kitchen because it was Doug Funnie’s science fair project, and I still wish that my bedroom was as cool as Arnold’s. Fueled by a steady supply of Goldfish and Blue Sky soda, I spent countless hours watching the animated lives of these TV characters. Every day after school I’d turn on the only kids channel that would ever feature Coolio in the “Keenan and Kel” theme song: Nickelodeon.
Cartoons like “Hey Arnold,” “Doug,” “Rocket Power” and even “Pepper Ann” were more than entertainment for me. They were relatable shows about kids who were my age, with roughly the same problems. They showed me that I wasn’t alone in having a crush on a smoking hot, yet unattainable sixth grade brunette. And from watching “Rocket Power,” I realized that an honest apology would probably be the best strategy after destroying a neighbor’s Petunia garden on my skateboard. I grew up with these shows, and they both entertained me and taught me about making decisions as a kid.
Sadly, most of the cartoons available for kids nowadays aren’t relatable at all, and many of them are purely annoying (the only exceptions being “Avatar” and “SpongeBob”). Take “the Fairly OddParents” for example. This is a show about a selfish little kid with a voice a mother couldn’t even love, who has two fairy godparents that attempt to grant his every wish. They really suck at it, however, because he invariably gets into heaps of trouble, sometimes due to the fact that the green haired one, Cosmo, apparently has a fairy IQ of about 10. There’s nothing that kids could get out of this show, except that all babysitters are inherently evil and fairy godparents aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. If I ever got a fairy godparent, they wouldn’t have to be a pro as long as they didn’t almost get me killed on a regular basis.
Even worse are shows such as “iCarly,” which is basically an off-brand fashion show with lots of hair gel and a pseudo Apple deal, and “Fanboy and Chum Chum,” a show featuring two 9-year-old wannabe super heroes who forgot to take their Ritalin, running around in their tighty–whiteys.
The difference between these newer shows and the ones I grew up with is that the new ones have little that kids can actually relate to. Sure, there were times when “Hey Arnold” got a little outrageous, like when he recovered his grandpa’s watch by defeating the sewer king in a game of chess.
But there were also the times when he tried to win the heart of his secret crush, Ruth, and failed. Or when he got mixed up with the wrong crowd and ended up nearly getting in trouble for attempted robbery (his football head fit the shop window perfectly). It was episodes like those that I loved so much, probably because they entertained me then, but I realize now that even the outrageous episodes left a lasting impression.
Out of all the Nick shows, the jazzy, New York-flavored “Hey Arnold” was my favorite and had the most impact on me. At first glance, the character Arnold seems like the dorkiest kid ever. That awkward football head, the mile wide gap between his eyes and his long, plaid shirt/kilt make for an appearance worthy of Steve Urkle.
But anyone who’s seen the show knows that Arnold is the coolest kid around; highly respected not only by his friends, but also by adults. From watching “Hey Arnold,” I learned at a young age that true coolness wouldn’t come from patterning myself after others at school, or by insulting other people to empower myself. Remember, no matter how many insults Helga threw at him, Arnold never stooped to her level. In fact, I think he knew what was going on all along.
But moving beyond the life lessons I gained, “Hey Arnold” also affected me in much less profound, yet equally important ways. I remember one particular time when I was about 9 or 10 that I staged a front yard concert with a friend from across the street. Our instruments included our voices, two trashcan lids and two horribly out-of-tune guitars. The audience consisted of our parents, his siblings and the neighbors, who probably came outside thinking they were either being attacked by insurgents, or a weirdly tonal 20-car pileup had occurred in the street.
Long story short, when our audience seemed bored, the concert culminated with me running around the yard, banging the trash can lids together shouting, “Don’t hit me, I’ll hit myself!” Just like Arnold did in the face of a group of sinister fourth graders. The hilarity that ensued probably saved the concert from being a total failure, and I have Arnold to thank for that.
If I hadn’t grown up with those shows, would I have turned out worse than I did? Probably not, but I would definitely have a lot less scars from hucking myself down stairs and ramps, and I probably never would have run around my yard banging trash can lids together. I’m glad that I did, though, and I had a great time doing it. I wish that kids today had access to shows as classy and creative as “Hey Arnold” and “Doug.” Instead, they’re left with shows like “Hannah Montana” and “iCarly” that have almost nothing to do with the realities of being a kid. At least they can hone their lip-synching and vlogging skills.
Oh, and about Arnold’s bedroom. If anyone knows someone who could install a set of drop-down wooden stairs and a glass ceiling in my room for cheap, let me know.