I don’t know about you guys, but I was alive during the birth of the greatest TV station to bless this planet. Upon its creation, Nickelodeon introduced some of the most distinguished and celebrated cartoons of this century, and I was one of the millions of public-schooled Americans whose life was boring enough to enjoy them. But not just enjoy them, fiend their very existence. I would run home at 2:30 every day in time to watch TV, gluing my eyes to the screen as if I would die if I looked away. Commercial breaks were designated bathroom breaks and chocolate milk refills, then I would dive back onto the couch just as the last commercial ended. I loved Nickelodeon more than I have ever loved anything else, and I can safely say that it affected my life more than anything I’ve encountered.
I found out why the Rocket Power children were allowed such insane freedom. The kids’ dad was a fucking stoner! But with every pleasure there is truth. Just like cigarettes become part of someone’s life even though they slowly kill them inside, Nickelodeon was doing the same—only worse. At such a young, impressionable age, any TV we watched was filed immediately into our ever-expanding minds (which, in this metaphor, are filing cabinets), bringing with them stereotypes, racism, and crooked life lessons. And instead of putting a label on the screen warning “This station will fuck you up,” Nickelodeon played their shows with no remorse, and let the corrupt morals seep deep into our subconscious.
Examples you ask? Here they are mother fuckers.
Hey Arnold was a show about a boy with an oddly-shaped head, Arnold, and his group of eccentric friends who got together every day and enjoyed all the innocence of being a kid. Some episodes were about school, others were just about friendship, and sometimes they would go on exciting adventures. Every episode there would be a minor conflict, 28 minutes of solving it, and then a life lesson that brought all the friends closer.
I don’t even know where to start as far as how this show affected me. First off, it contained the most obscure insult towards anyone’s physical appearance I’ve heard, and to this day I’ve still instinctively called people “football heads” whenever they do something stupid. Also, it hosted one of the coolest bedrooms in television history. Not only was Arnold’s room accessible through the ceiling of the hallway, it had a couch that flipped out from the wall, an alarm clock powered by a potato, and a bookshelf that doubled as a ladder leading up to the roof. I was excited when my dad finally installed a light switch on my wall, and then this kid has a universal remote that controls everything!
But if you dig deeper, Hey Arnold was much more than a show about friends and their youthfulness. In reality, those kids were poor as fuck! They were living in the ghetto of New York in shitty boarding houses, and there was a highway that ran right over their neighborhood. Arnold’s family had the distinction of being landlords of a boarding house that accommodated some of the strangest people. The kids would play stickball, and there was even one episode about a “stoop kid.” Stickball + house stoops = poor. Everyone knows that. And to make things official, Arnold’s school was called “P.S. 118.” It didn’t even have a real name!
Hey Arnold also had one of the first token ghetto black kids, Gerald, a “cool kid” who always wore a #33 sports shirt. Gerald was Arnold’s best friend, but more importantly, sported the most gangster haircut ever. And Gerald was a gangster, there was no arguing. For those of you who watched the show as intensely as I did, you would realize that Gerald is the one who knows all the town’s urban legends, getting his stories from a source called “Fuzzy Slippers.” Does this seem sketchy to anyone else? The #33 uniform that Gerald wore could easily be associated with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, or Scottie Pippen, all gangster ass basketball players.
Not only were the kids of Hillwood shit poor, they were mentally insane. Arnold’s friend, Helga, had a massive crush on him. But this secret love was far past hair-pulling and name-calling. Helga had a fucking SHRINE of Arnold, complete with pieces of chewed gum and strands of hair. You know who does shit like that? Psychotic murderers. This show taught us that even if you lived in the projects of New York, you were still able to have fun and be a kid.
When it came to being an athlete, Rocket Power was your show. The show follows four friends Otto, Reggie, Twister, and Sam “Squid” as they live a life of extreme sports around California. And when I say extreme sports I’m talking surfing, rollerblading, skateboarding, and street hockey. By the time I was 13 I quit half the sports I started, and these kids were getting drafted to the fucking X Games.
The thing I liked most about Rocket Power was the freedom these kids enjoyed. Not only did the weather of my Massachusetts town prevent me from doing anything other than a) watching TV as it rained, or b) watching TV as it poured, but I also had parents who inflicted harsh punishments for even the smallest falter. So it was fun to see these four kids live a life of lighthearted bliss, skateboarding from one amazing activity to the next, all in the most perfect weather. In fact, the weather was so perfect in this show that they would occasionally dedicate entire episodes to bad weather and how much it sucks. Are you kidding me?!
When I looked deeper into why these young children were allowed such insane freedom, I found out the corruption of the show. These kids’ dad was a fucking stoner! The father, Raymundo, flirts with the only police officer of their town, so why should he bother worrying about his weed problem? They’re in California, after all. And as if that wasn’t enough, his dad is best friends with this dude named “Tito,” a Hawaiian self-styled philosopher who helps run the restaurant Raymundo owns. And occasionally, Tito’s nephew will “visit” from Hawaii. Two words: Maui Wowie.
The Wild Thornberrys
The Wild Thornberrys was a show that kicked up after Nickelodeon had gained its monopoly on children cartoons. It was a show about a loving family that traveled around the world in their “Comvee” and recorded animal documentaries. The main character, Eliza, was a girl who could talk to animals thanks to a spell cast on her by an African shaman, and became close friends with the family’s pet monkey named Darwin.
This show was a little weird. It’s apparent that this show was released when Nickelodeon was pushing the boundaries of what they could pass off as educational programming. They managed to work in helpful information about some African animals, but it mostly left the viewer wondering what it would be like to talk to animals. But the true sketchiness of this show came through the characters. Instead of a normal main character that is surrounded by unusual secondary characters, this show gave the main character the oddest talent of all: talking to fucking animals. Upon that, they constructed the most peculiar cast of family members to raise this young girl. As a result, they created the most dysfunctional family in Nickelodeon television.
Eliza’s father, Sir Nigel Thornberry, is the most erratic father figure I’ve ever encountered. The man had a nose the size of a small truck, and he always yelled “Smashing!” when he got excited. The “Sir” in his name suggests that he was knighted by the Queen of England, yet he is still stumbling around Africa searching for wildlife. The only other character who has a British accent is the pet monkey, Darwin, creating the oddest relationship in television history.
It should be noted, however, Eliza’s older sister, Debbie, was gorgeous. At my young age I had never seen something so beautiful, and my love for Debbie will never die. Unfortunately, we never saw much of Debbie because she was always tanning and acting too cool for Eliza, but I like to think that while we weren’t looking she was getting railed by Darwin.
But when most people think of The Wild Thornberrys, they remember Eliza’s adopted younger brother, Donnie. Donnie was a feral boy who was raised by orangutans when his parents were killed by poachers, and consequently the kid acted like a wild fucking animal. His gibberish language was accompanied by constant hyperactivity and insanity, leading you to wonder why the fuck anyone would adopt him. Together, the entire Thornberry family made you turn the show off and think to yourself how fortunate you were to be a member of your semi-normal family.
Ren & Stimpy
Known formally as The Ren & Stimpy Show, this show was anything but formal. It was a crazy mess of random violence and obscene images, portrayed through the lives of two friends, Ren and Stimpy. Ren was a Chihuahua and Stimpy was some sort of cat hybrid. I wish I knew more about the show, but I never really watched it. The only reason it’s on this list is because it had a major effect on our youth.
Upon the creation of the cartoon, the creator and writers decided that this show would not be educational. Yes, that’s right, they made a conscious effort to eliminate education in this show, attributing educational lessons to the downfall of past cartoons. The writers also decided to avoid contemporary jokes in the shows. Basically, the producers threw a big “fuck you” to conventional entertainment.
I didn’t watch much Ren & Stimpy, but I saw what happened to kids who did. It seemed to be the first tinge of abstract to evolve from once basic television programming, and its impact on viewers was evident. Kids who liked Ren & Stimpy slipped into the underground of entertainment as they grew older. Ren & Stimpy was sort of like an underground recruitment television show to find kids to fill the strange niche in society. These were the same kids who liked KaBlam! and are now diehard fans of Robot Chicken and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Without even knowing it, Ren & Stimpy drafted a chunk of America’s youth to the alternative side of entertainment.
There isn’t much that affected us more than the television shows we watched as children. Maybe you’re a zoologist because of The Wild Thornberrys, a skateboarder motivated by Rocket Power, or a coked out artist inspired by Ren & Stimpy. Whatever the case, Nickelodeon created one of the strongest television series of the 90’s, and with it every show injected an subtle message to its viewers. I hope you agree with me on this look back on our past, and how fucked up we are because of Nickelodeon.