When we watch current kid’s shows on TV, they are mild, innocuous, and pleasant. Creativity is low and characters are bland. Each episode teaches the same lesson – be nice to everyone and don’t cause a fuss. In other words, kids shows today are a snooze-fest.
But, they didn’t always used to be that way.
In the ‘90s, we had shows that were bursting with creativity and dealt with a variety of subject matters. The Wild Thornberrys introduced us to the world of animal cruelty and taking care of the environment. Hey Arnold! showed us an unabashedly frank portrayal of what friendships and family are really like. Doug was a scary-accurate, even uncomfortable, portrayal of our torturous pre-teen years.
And then there was Rugrats.
Rugrats was not only a great show, but it was revolutionary. It brought up themes that were rarely deeply explored in cartoons before. It was brave, boundary-pushing, and inclusive. So, in honor of Hanukkah, I’d like to celebrate the show that brought our favorite Jewish cartoon family to every kid with a television!
I can’t explain to you the excitement my brother and I felt every year as the only cartoon on television with Jewish characters premiered both its Passover and Hanukkah episodes. We would sit by the TV, patiently waiting through commercials of purple ketchup (whatever that stuff was called), Pop Tarts, and Polly Pocket. I even sometimes felt like the best education I got on the Jewish culture was from Rugrats because I could relate to what I was seeing on my T.V. screen. We were also very excited when they celebrated Kwanzaa as well. We knew that those who celebrate that holiday must have been feeling the same thing.
Let’s look at some of the other ways Rugrats were awesome:
They Were Racially Diverse
Rugrats was one of the only shows that featured characters from different races. Susie Carmichael was introduced in season 2 as part of the black family who moved across the street from the Pickles’. They were accepted into the friends group without question. Also, they were arguably the most financially successful and professionally powerful family in the whole group. Then, in the movie Rugrats in Paris, Chuckie’s dad meets Kira, a Japanese woman, they fall in love, and get married. Thus, Kimi, Kira’s daughter, not only became friends with the kids, but also Chuckie’s step-sister. This makes Rugrats one of only a handful of kids’ shows from the ‘90s that not only featured different races, but actively worked towards normalizing equality.
The Women Were the Breadwinners
This is an area in which Rugrats may have stood alone. In every family, the breadwinners were the mothers. Didi, Betty, Lucy, Charlotte, and Kira all were the ones who had the lucrative jobs. This allowed all the husbands to act as stay-at-home dads, a nice departure from what TV in the ‘90s usually displayed. They were all strong instead of meek and bending to their husbands’ will.
They Dealt with Difficult Topics
Far different from the easy, agreeable storylines in many of today’s kid shows, Rugrats featured characters that went through hard times. For instance, the death of Chuckie’s mom was addressed in one of the Mother’s Day episodes, helping children who were going through the same thing in real life understand that it’s OK to grieve and that they weren’t alone in their experience. It also dealt with issues like jealousy, body image, fear, gender conformity, and many more!
They Touched on LGBTQIA+ Themes
Yes, Betty, Phil and Lil’s mom, is being written as openly gay for the 2021 reboot, and many may have suspected from stereotypes that she was gay since the begining. However, there were other, more elegant, times when Rugrats supported the queer community. We all remember that episode where Tommy and Chuckie learned that it was OK for boys to wear dresses, and that other episode where Lil said she wanted to marry Angelica’s female imaginary friend, Balleena. None of the characters adhered to gender stereotypes, all of them enjoying all activities, whether considered traditionally more feminine or masculine.
They Showed the Beauty of Breastfeeding
Yep, they showed Betty breastfeeding Phil and Lil. And, you know what? It was handled in a mature and open-minded way. It was shown as a natural and beautiful thing. Because that’s what breastfeeding is – natural and beautiful!
So, Rugrats, we thank you for giving us all a safe space.
All of us kids who, for whatever reason, felt a little bit different. For showing us that it’s all right to feel different because we ARE all different. We learned so many important lessons about acceptance and equality, that we should be open-minded to the people around us. That even though we might not understand someone now, we should be willing to learn to understand them through empathy and care. Thank you to our favorite Jewish cartoon family and all of their friends!
My name is Andrea and I live in Los Angeles, California. By day, I am an actor and by night I am working towards a degree in nutritional science.