The Subversive Side of Rugrats
Rugrats was a popular animated show on Nickelodeon throughout the 90s and early 2000s centered on the surprisingly dynamic lives of a group of toddlers. Upon revisiting the show, I was struck by the impressive emphasis on the voice of those usually deemed as Other in society. This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive look at the popular Nicktoons show, but just a quick examination of some of stark variety of characters present in the show in terms of various representations.
My primary focus is concerned with the parents of the children, as they are where the focus of the representations of people usually disempowered in media, women and minorities. The cast of Rugrats includes*:
- Charlotte Pickles – Mother of Angelica, and CEO of her own company. Though her workaholic attitude can be disconcerting at times, her focus and commitment is impressive, to say the least.
- Elizabeth “Betty” DeVille – Strong women’s libber and Phil and Lil’s mother, she helps run a coffee show with with Chas Finster. Physically strong, she tends to be overbearing to her mild-mannered husband Howard. I find this element a tad stereotypical towards feminists being overbearing with men.
- Kira Watanabe-Finster – Kimi’s mother and Chuckie’s Japanese step-mother. A working professional in France before meeting Chaz Finster.
- Dr. Lucille “Lucy” Carmichael – Susie’s mother and Randy’s wife. She is a harvard-educated doctor.
- Randall “Randy” Carmichael- Randy is a writer for the famous cartoon Dummi Bears Show.
I list these parents (with the help of wikipedia) to note the respectable representations towards women and people of color. It’s remarkable to find such a variety of people with no pretense in a tv show, especially a children’s show. Rugrats had the particularly unique position of having the point of view from toddlers, but also incorporates this vast field of representation with ease.
Aside from positive representations of gender and race, there is also cultural and religious tradition that you don’t see much on tv at all: Judaism. My first experience with Jewish history and storytelling was through Rugrats. I learned the stories and traditions of Chuannukah through the retelling of stories by Tommy’s grandfather. Giving kids the basics of a significant portion of contemporary religion and history is always a good step. Just teaching kids that “hey, here are a people that exist, and here are some of their stories and traditions” is knowledge well worth sharing in my opinion.
Overall in Rugrats, we see empowerment of people usually disempowered or underrepresented in media, making the show remarkable, especially as a show tailored for children. I named this post “The Subversive Side of Rugrats” because by Western TV standards, it is subversive. While current shows like Modern Family and Community subtly push for broader representation, the dearth of white centered TV programs illustrate that Rugrats and shows like it still perform a vital and nourishing presence in terms of representation in the broad spectrum of television.