Childhood Cartoons Revisited

Cartoons from our youth dissected as a young adult

Hey Arnold!: Obsession, Stereotypes and Elementary School

on April 13, 2012

While As Told by Ginger almost flawlessly portrayed life through the eyes of a junior high school student, Hey Arnold! did the same for the younger kids in elementary school. There are many different themes that this Nickelodeon cartoon entertains, including life as an orphan child, bullying at school and even love. The messages Hey Arnold! tried to convey was apparent even as an elementary school student myself when I first starting watching this show. While it wasn’t my absolute favorite cartoon show on Nickelodeon, it definitely ranks up there in the top five. If it was on, chances were good that I’d be watching. Days where they ran marathons of Hey Arnold! were all the more sweeter.

Hey Arnold! first appeared on Nickelodeon on Oct. 7, 1996, with the airing of “Downtown as Fruits.” The episode features Arnold, the main protagonist, and Gerald, Arnold’s best friend, who end up getting on the wrong bus on their way to the elementary school for their part in the school play about nutrition and get dropped off in the back ally of downtown. Arnold is dressed as a strawberry and Gerald as a banana. The strength of the episode paved the way for five strong seasons totaling exactly 100 episodes. The show was produced by Snee-Oosh, Inc. and Nickelodeon Studios and created by Craig Barlett. Barlett also worked on writing scripts for Rugrats.

The greatest strength of Hey Arnold! was the characters and how each of them stood for a different stereotype. Arnold was the voice of reason and seen as the golden child who always tried to make the best of a bad situation. Gerald was the African American character who grew up in a rougher part of town and had dreams of making money through a variety of different schemes. Helga was the emotionally unstable girl who liked to boss everyone around, but at the same time didn’t want anyone to know about her secret crush. I have to admit, Helga was my least favorite character of the show, as I’m sure she was for many other fans. Her moodiness annoyed me and her insane love affair with Arnold was borderline psychopathic. I sure hope girls that age don’t act similarly to her when it comes to boy crushes. Herald was the powerful bully who had secrets he hid in his mistreatment of others. There’s Phoebe, the nerdy smart girl; Rhonda, the girl obsessed with fashion; Curly, the troublemaker; Lila, the female equivalent to Arnold; Sid, the paranoid; and Eugene, the nerdy kid with horrifically bad luck.

Hey Arnold! is one of the only Nickelodeon shows in the ’90s to feature an interracial friendship. Arnold and Gerald’s friendship lasts through thick and thin, from cleaning out a vacant lot filled with all sorts of garbage to create their own baseball diamond to saving their neighborhood from being torn down and turned into a mega-mall. There are no racial issues that are presented in the show, but having an African American character that is featured in the majority of episodes was a strong enough theme in a positive sense.

My absolute favorite episode is episode three of season five, titled “Arnold Visits Arnie.” The night before Arnold is set to visit his cousin Arnie, a hillbilly-like portrayal of Arnold, he dreams about his impending visit, except that everybody is the polar opposite of who they are in the real world. Most importantly, Helga is like Lila and vice versa. In the real world, Arnold has a crush on Lila and Helga has a crush on Arnold. In the dream, Lila has the crush on Arnold, but is a jealous, bossy reincarnation of herself. Arnold meets dream Helga and instantly develops feelings for her, but she does not feel the same way about him. The dream quickly turns into a nightmare as Lila hunts down Arnold in the corn stalks, jealous of his new-found affection for Helga. The episode is the most creative in the series because it takes the characters that everybody has come to know from the inside out and gives them a snippet of what they would be like if they had the exact opposite personality.

As for a favorite character in this show, you can’t go wrong with choosing Arnold, but I tend to shy away from the main protagonist. That’s why my favorite character was Eugene, the nerdy, clumsy kid that tended to be the butt of many of his classmates’ jokes. It may sound strange to have Eugene as my favorite character, but I feel like he is someone that we have all seen before. You know, the guy that never gets the sarcasm in your voice. The guy that never understands any of the sexual innuendos during a conversation. The guy that tucks his shirt into his pants. We all know someone like that and I felt like he was a very likable character. Despite his lack of popularity and mistreatment by other kids, Eugene always kept a positive attitude and that’s something I envy in a person.

The show ended on June 8, 2004, but that hasn’t stopped people from making some unique videos about Hey Arnold! That includes the one below.

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2 responses to “Hey Arnold!: Obsession, Stereotypes and Elementary School

  1. Mike,

    I used to love Hey Arnold! and I think you’re so right that the stereotypes really make the show. Every elementary knew a kid like Gerald and a kid like Helga and a kid like Eugene so I think that’s why the show did so well. Also I think that the plots for the episodes were actually interesting. It was just something silly like with Spongebob it was something important like when we see why Harold is the way he is or when we get to see the scary cousin Arnie. There’s something at stake in each episode and though it’s easily solved, it’s still something. I also noticed when I watched the clips that there is a lot of music and sound effects that go along with dialogue and movement. The jingle when Helga professes her love to the locket picture or when Lila starts talking about Arnie. I never really noticed that until now and I thought it was something interesting to point out and it obviously kept me interested in the show as a kid. I also loved the video with the real people doing a parody of Hey Arnold! That was hilarious and so spot on. Great addition to the post that made me laugh and remember why I loved the show, because even though they talk about bigger issues, they show was just good, funny and entertaining and that’s really all it takes.
    Great post!

    -Molly Martindale

  2. deanna says:

    I used to watch Hey Arnold all the time! Though I had never seen the episode you had up so I really enjoyed sitting back and watching it. I liked that Hey Arnold seemed to have some meaning to it. It wasn’t like the cartoons out today which are for the most part pretty pointless. I still would like to see more of you in your posts. They still sound more like a article right now. Your opnions on the shows are good but I still would like more about you in the posts. Good job!

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