This poll is more important than the great *Nsync versus Backstreet Boys debate, it supersedes the polarizing results of Britney versus Christina Aguilera, the results will be more historically relevant than The Cold War. How does one choose between Hey Arnold and Recess? It’s pretty easy because obviously Hey Arnold is better. Both series were about fourth grade, featured gangs of kooky kids and featured coming-of-age moral dilemmas.
Arnold wasn’t like most bland protagonist, he did have strict sense of morality but he was also navigating life and what we’d later come to understand as we were older: poverty. Like a lot of the kids I grew up with, Arnold didn’t live with his biological parents but his grandparents, in a boarding house where various immigrants, neighborhood folk and drifters would stay. I think I loved Hey Arnold more than other shows because it was the first cartoon or series I had watched that took place in a city. I was born in New York City but never really had that experience reflected to me as a kid because most shows took place in the suburbs and were about middle class or affluent families. I loved those shows too but it was nice to see a kid without a mom, a dad and a younger sibling for once because that’s how so many of my friends grew up. This was incredible daring at the time since most shows for kids were aspirational and realistic. Let us not get started on Helga G. Pataki, the bully with a heart made of gummy bears and a crush on her football headed foe, Arnold. Helga’s mom was quite the depressed alcoholic, in case you didn’t notice? Helga’s father was also emotionally abusive, selfish and neglectful of Helga’s needs as child and is perhaps the reason why she is so cruelly overbearing to others: she is completely ignored at home and when acknowledged completely invalidated. While I liked the show because it was funny and smart, what I loved was that it was also about regular kids overcoming real adversity.
Recess was great too but for different reasons, yet all of my friends and I feel the need to compare the two series. Recess, in a way, was more bad ass but the stakes were lower. These kids weren’t underprivileged just sassy and awesome. T.J. was a teenage antihero not too far from Bart Simpson. The Ashleys perfectly encompassed the tone of Mean Girls before the movie even existed. Spinelli was every girl’s role model because she had cool pigtails and stood up for herself. What the show did better than most was capture the social order of school life and portrayed cliques as a kind of power system. Recess was about forming community and having community—it was about friendship. More than anything it was about the relationship between individuality and social norms. Each week a character would learn how to juggle expectations from teachers, parents and fellow students with who they actually were as people: a struggle most anyone is familiar with. How do we fit in without losing ourselves? How do we become a part of something without blindly conforming? Recess asked the philosophical questions: Who am I? and Who are we?
So now I ask you, which show was better. Which narrative was most significant? Which resonated with you most? I chose Hey Arnold but there is no wrong or right answer. You decide.