I Was Raised By ’90s Television, Were You?

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cory and topanga

My mom has a mental illness (schizophrenia) and my dad worked all the time, so I was sort of raised by television in my formative years. Before my mom became sick, when I was around four years old, she ingrained some wise notions in our head. Education is important. You can do anything you want. Always be yourself. Don’t care what other people think. Learning is the best thing you can do. She read and wrote stories about my brother and me. We were taught to think critically about the world around us and since we were thinking in that framework from an early age, I think TV helped educate my brother and me.

Television in the ’90s was a lot different than it was today. There were a lot of family shows, even ones with all-black casts. Cartoons weren’t made “for kids” so much as they were just a tool for creative and artistic minds to communicate values and ideas. They were also a way to learn about different cultures.

I Learned About The Jewish Faith From Rugrats

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Who else learned about Hanukkah and Pass Over from Rugrats? I loved that that cartoon family was totally Jewish and that they were able to teach people about Jewish customs and traditions. Multiculturalism was huge in the ’90s. Shows like Captain Planet, The Magic School Bus, Doug and many more had no issue with portraying their core characters as different ethnicities. I genuinely believe this gave me a more inclusive mindset and zero tolerance for hate.

I Learned About Oppression From X-Men

X-Men, which I wrote about a while back, was a great show that portrayed its female heroes as inherently stronger than all of the hot-headed males who usually got in the way. Storm, Rogue and Phoenix were the most powerful and often the most level-headed. On top of that, because the show was in conversation with the extreme hatred of the Holocaust (shown through Magneto’s character), it was also about inclusiveness and accepting the “other” whoever they maybe. It was a discussion on whether or not you should fight corruption with more corruption (Magneto style) or seek to reform it with compassion (Professor X style). It’s a question that many countries have and continue to struggle with. Pretty profound stuff in that X-Men.

I Learned About Cults And Hugs From Boy Meets World

I am 100% sure I learned what a cult was from Boy Meets World. The episode when Shawn joins that “friends club” or whatever it was called. Instead of saying hello they would hug each other. At the end of the episode when Shawn’s teacher/mentor is in a motorcycle accident and Shawn has to face reality and not the lovey-dovey nonsense the cult was feeding him, Cory hugs him and Shawn struggles away. Shawn is pulling back, but Cory is like, “THIS IS A HUG! YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT A HUG IS. THIS IS A HUG.” It was very emotional.

I Learned About The Struggle Of The Artist From Rocko’s Modern Life

There’s an episode of Rocko’s Modern Life about a cartoonist. The cartoonist wants to make a children’s cartoon artistic. The producers do not. He can’t get out of his contract so in order to get fired the cartoonist creates the most low-brow, crass, stupid cartoon he can think of.The producers loved it. Ratings go through the roof. He keeps trying to make the cartoon worse but the worse the cartoon gets the more people love it. This was fascinating because it was clearly a struggle that the writers of the show must have dealt with. In retrospect we now know that many episodes of Rocko ended up being banned because they were inappropriate for kids.

I Learned To Be Liberal From The Simpsons

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Or maybe I learned it from my parents? The single most important show in my life has to be The Simpsons because every Sunday we’d watch it together as a family. The first 10 seasons of that show are absolutely brilliant and I would encourage you to watch. The Simpsons taught me about family, friendship and popular culture. However, one of the most underlying themes of the show is a very liberal and cynical view of the world. The police on the show are absolutely corrupt, lazy and incompetent. The Church is a mess and perceived as a get-rich-quick scheme. The Simpsons and townspeople attend church every Sunday only to fall asleep. Reverend Lovejoy has a huge case of the IDGAFs.

Many of the Presidents who have been featured on the show are portrayed to be narcissistic morons. The Mayor was absolutely corrupt and would do anything for a quick buck. The richest man in the city, Mr. Burns was an evil Big Business man, who profited out of the toxic nuclear power plant,  hated the poor and took advantage of anyone any chance he got. The public school teachers were all underpaid, lazy and disinterested. In a lot of ways the show was very dystopian. It also did a lot of positive things for me. Lisa Simpson is basically my feminist icon she was brainy, a bit of a misfit but she loved her family. The Simpsons has won several GLAAD awards because even decades ago they had no problem introducing gay characters in away that promoted inclusiveness.

I Am Packed With Referential Trivia

If I hadn’t watched so much TV as a kid I wouldn’t have studied popular culture in college. I understood a lot of the “grownup jokes” that the adults or teachers around me were making because I had this arsenal of cultural references. Popular culture’s job is to reflect the Zeitgeist and common knowledge of the times. Days spent watching Vh1’s Behind The Music or The Simpsons taught me a lot about what was going on in the world or what had happened. I was able to build this pop culture history from as far back as the ’60s and ’70s because history is jam packed into TV. Now of course, you shouldn’t believe everything you hear or see on TV but it does help. Who didn’t learn what Romeo and Juliet was about from watching some tween show where the protagonist was cast as Romeo or Juliet and had to kiss someone on stage? Isn’t that the plot line of like every show! What’s even better now is knowing all of these more academic or “high brow” references and realizing that the shows you loved from when you were young were playing on Hamlet or Plato.

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