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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Morning: Rugrats

Those of you who have been regular followers of A Pop Culture Addict's Guide To Life know that in most cases, I start off with a little bit of an anecdote in regards to my personal life, tie it to some sort of pop culture reference, and try to teach everyone what sort of lesson I've learned about myself that I can take with me to my grave.

Today, I'm going to do things a little bit differently. Today, I'm just going to launch into today's blog topic, and use this blog topic to talk about something that really has become a pet peeve of mine. Especially around this time of year.

But enough with the small talk. Let's begin.

Today's blog topic is about a television program that initially aired on the Nickelodeon cable channel.


Now, Rugrats aired here in Canada on YTV, and that was the channel where I first started watching the show. And it was a great show. It was a show that showed the world through the eyes of a group of toddlers. What I found cool about it was that the show seemed to poke fun at those 1980s sitcoms that always portrayed the family unit as being wholesome and laced with perfection.  By seeing the world through the eyes of babes, we, the viewer, could see that perfection is a level never quite achieved.

Let's talk a bit about the staying power of Rugrats. The show debuted on Nickelodeon on August 11, 1991, and ran for thirteen years! A spin-off program, Rugrats: All Grown Up (which shows the Rugrats gang as teenagers), lasted an additional few years, wrapping up in 2008. That's a total of seventeen years, currently the longest running animated show that has aired on Nickelodeon. Only Spongebob Squarepants shows signs of lasting longer in the world of Nickelodeon. The show also had two feature films, stemming from the massive popularity of the show.

The show was created by the former husband-wife team of Arlene Klasky and Gábor Czupó, who had done animation work for The Simpsons. Together, along with animator Paul Germain, came up with the basic foundation for Rugrats. The characters were all based on the children of all three animators, and were designed and named after these characters.

And just who are the Rugrats? Let's see a picture of the main characters, shall we? the foreground of the picture, the bald kid in front is Tommy Pickles (E.G. Daily), son of Stu and Didi Pickles. Going clockwise, with the red-haired kid with glasses, we have Chuckie Finster (Christine Cavanaugh/Nancy Cartwright), son of single father Charles Finster. In the back row, you have fraternal twins Phil and Lil DeVille (Kath Soucie), who are the son and daughter of Howard and Betty DeVille. Finally, the little girl on the right with the pigtails is Angelica Pickles (Cheryl Chase), the spoiled daughter of Stu's brother Drew, and his wife, Charlotte.

Other characters that would be introduced later in the series are Susie Carmichael (Cree Summer), Tommy's little brother, Dil (Tara Strong), and Chuckie's stepsister Kimi (Dionne Quan). We also see a lot of Grandpa Pickles in the show as well as the Pickles family dog, Spike.

On the program, each of the main cast of Rugrats have their own distinct personalities. Tommy is the fearless leader of the group, and is most often the one who leads the group on the many adventures they have. Chuckie couldn't be further from Tommy in personality, with him being afraid of everything from green Jell-O to the man on the oatmeal box! Nevertheless, Chuckie and Tommy end up becoming best friends. Phil and Lil are typical twins, with lots of infighting between the two of them, but they end up having more Tommy-like qualities than Chuckie. And Angelica is such a complex character that I would need to devote a whole blog entry to her alone!

So, why would I decide to bring up the Rugrats in today's blog entry, and how does it relate to my pet peeve?

Well, it's like this.

Those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis have probably guessed by the theme of the entries this month that I celebrate Christmas. It's what I grew up with. It's what I know to be the holiday that my family and I celebrate. It's all I really know.

But there's lots of other holidays that are being celebrated as well this month that really shouldn't be overlooked.

One of those holidays is Hanukkah (or Chanukah in an alternate spelling).

Hanukkah (which is also known as the 'Festival Of Lights') is a holiday that people of the Jewish faith celebrate right around the same time that the Christian community celebrates Christmas (though the actual period can vary between late November and late December). Hanukkah lasts a total of eight days in length, and each day that passes, a candle is lit on the nine-branched candlestick known as a menorah. The final night of Hanukkah will show all the candles lit on the menorah.

The reason behind why Hanukkah is celebrated stems from religious faith, much the same way that Christians celebrate Christmas. Unfortunately, I don't know too much about the traditions and customs of Hanukkah, because I've never witnessed such a celebration to really go into it in detail. And because the last thing I want to do is provide erroneous information in this blog, I figure it's best if I post a link about the story of Hanukkah, so that those of you who are interested in the story behind it can read it if you wish.

I will say though that after reading that link that I posted up above, I was always fascinated by the celebration of Hanukkah. Reading about it in that article makes me want to experience Hanukkah festivities, even if it's just to sit in on one of the eight days of the celebration. I've always celebrated Christmas myself, but I wouldn't mind seeing how other cultures and religions celebrate their holidays. I think it would probably open my eyes up more to the world, and see bliss, peace, and joy in all holiday celebrations.

And, this leads to my pet peeve.

As some of you may know, I promote this blog in a variety of ways. Word of mouth, posting links on various forums I belong to (with permission from the moderators, of course)...

...and yes, I do use social networking sites such as Facebook to promote this blog. Everyone else does it, so why not me, right?

Now, as all of you know, on Facebook you can see a lot of things posted by a lot of people. You can see people sending out game requests, posting funny statuses, pasting hilarious pictures on people's walls, and other activities that the procrastinator in all of us take part in.

Fortunately, it takes a lot to offend me in real life, and I can pretty much ignore most of the really offensive things that some of the people post. I guess I could maybe attribute that to the thick skin that I have developed over the years.

But lately I've been seeing so many references to the so-called 'War Against Christmas' that I had no idea was even going on that I'm afraid that I can't let my feelings go blowing off in the wind.

I think the statuses that I've read that really got to me were those ones that state that they don't want to wish people Happy Holidays, they want to have a Merry Christmas, and that those who don't like it “can go back to the country they came from.”

Ain't that a way to kick off the old Christmas cheer. And yes, this is my best sarcastic voice talking here.

Are you kidding me here?  Seriously, go back to your own country if you don't like Christmas? What the hell is that? I'll tell you what it's not. It's not very Christmas like behaviour. That much I know. There isn't anything holly jolly about having those thoughts, and if you do feel that way, shame, shame, double shame!

I'll tell you something else. I don't agree that there even IS a war against Christmas. There's lots of people still around that say Merry Christmas. Heck, most of the cards I mailed out to people had 'Merry Christmas' on the front of it in big bold letters (and to those of you who didn't get that card, it's because I ran out...I only had ten). If there really was a war against Christmas, you'd think that cards that even said Merry Christmas on them would be banned from store shelves in favour of the more generic 'Happy Holidays'. But they aren't.  

I think what probably started this public outcry is that people see all these news stories about schools canceling Christmas celebrations, and school bus drivers being forced to remove Santa hats, and how stores are forced to put up Holiday signage instead of Christmas signage, or how Lowe's Hardware Stores offered up Holiday Trees for sale instead of Christmas trees.

That part I don't agree with. I don't like the idea of schools being forced to cancel their Christmas celebrations out of fear that someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas might get offended or feel left out. Some of my most favourite memories of Christmas stems from the holiday parties and Secret Santa exchanges we had in our school growing up. We'd go down to the school gym, sing a few Christmas carols, and I remember very fondly our old school janitor, Mr. McMillan playing the piano...and he was quite the piano player too, and such a nice guy. I actually shed a tear when I found out he passed away during my grade nine year.

But you know, instead of canceling Christmas celebrations out of fear of offending students or making them feel left out, why don't schools find a way to celebrate all the holidays?  Let schools have the option to learn about other holidays and traditions for other religious celebrations!

As much as I've ragged about elementary school, I remember one year in which we did something fairly cool. If memory serves me, it was grade five, and that was the year in which we had Christmas parties...but we also learned more about other holidays in the world, and I distinctly have this memory of making potato pancakes in class.  It almost kind of fit with the Hanukkah tradition, as they were one of the foods that people who celebrated Hanukkah would eat.  

(In fact, in the celebration of Hanukkah, these pancakes were given a special name.  Latkes.)

Now in retrospect I don't actually think that this was done to teach us about Hanukkah, as lots of people eat potato pancakes in various parts of the world around the holiday season.  But we didn't know that.  

To be honest, I actually would have appreciated knowing how Hanukkah celebrations worked in school so that I could have a better idea as to what went into the holiday preparations for a traditional Hanukkah celebration.  I bet I'd have even found it to have been a cool experience back then.  

Why can't we embrace each others holiday traditions?  Or at the very least, accept the fact that maybe we all celebrate in a variety of ways, and that we should all be left to our own devices as to what holiday we want to celebrate.  The world is made up of all kinds of people, and I believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.  And, some of these Facebook posts that I'm reading are anything but respectful, sorry to say.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I appreciate what is said about wanting to have the right to have whatever holiday celebrations you want to enjoy, and I'm very much on board with people who say that they don't want to be forced to downplay their celebrations because of the fear of offending someone.  

At the same time, is attacking other people's religious beliefs and telling them to leave the country if they don't like it really getting your point across in a healthy and joyous way?  I don't think so.  In fact, if anything, it's only intensifying the problem.  It's almost as if it's a huge slap in the face to the spirit of whatever holiday is being celebrated by having attitudes of that nature.

And this works BOTH ways, just so all of you know.

But I see what you're saying now. Why should we listen to you? It's impossible to celebrate both Christmas AND Hanukkah, so why should we even care?

I say try telling that to the Pickles family in Rugrats.

The Pickles family where Stu Pickles is Christian and Didi Pickles is Jewish.

The Pickles family that celebrates both Christmas AND Hanukkah!

Prior to 1995, the Rugrats show only celebrated Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, and the 1992 episode 'The Santa Experience' is one of my all-time favourite Christmas themed cartoon specials of all time. Now, due to copyright laws, I have been unable to find a real copy of the special to post, but here's an altered one which you can watch here and here.

But, right around the time that 'The Santa Experience' was being developed, the production staff batted around the idea of filming a Jewish holiday special. After all, Tommy's maternal grandparents, Boris and Minka, were Jewish, and spoke in Yiddish accents to boot. In fact, Arlene Klasky herself was the product of a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, much like Tommy Pickles himself.

Although the staff was given the greenlight to go ahead with the special, the first special wasn't on Hanukkah. Paul Germain came up with the idea to release a special on Passover instead, stating that doing a Passover special would provide more humour while preserving the historical interest behind the holiday. Mind you, because the program had a target audience of young children, some aspects of the show had to make some aspects of the show suitable for children (especially regarding the part showing the portrayal of the Ten Plagues). I think also, the special was used as a testing ground so that when the time came to do a Hanukkah special, the staff could do it right.

After all, while Christmas specials had aired on television since the 1950s, television specials on Jewish holidays were hard to find.  Truth be told, the Rugrats Passover special was probably one of the first and only ones that I can remember that solely focused on a Jewish holiday.

So, A Rugrats Passover debuted on Nickelodeon on April 13, 1995, and when it first aired, the episode was given much praise by the Jewish community. Here's a link of the special, courtesy of Nickelodeon's website.

The special ranked sixth in the listing of most watched American television programs the week it aired, scoring a Nielsen rating of 3.1. And actress Melanie Chartoff (who did the voice of Didi and Minka on the special) received dozens of fan letters praising the special for detailing Judaism in a sensitive fashion.

And on December 4, 1996, the Rugrats Chanukah special aired, and received an even larger audience than the Passover special. And once again, the episode can be viewed on Nickelodeon's site by clicking below.

So, now that you've watched all three holiday specials that the Rugrats produced, what do you think?

Do you now see that it's entirely possible for everyone to come together and celebrate holidays of different religions and faiths? I mean, the Pickles family is a prime example of this. Not everyone in the family celebrated Christmas, and not everyone in the family celebrated Hanukkah. But they attempted to enjoy the festivities anyway, and really were supportive of both celebrations. Why? Because they wanted Tommy (and later Dil) to be proud of his heritage...on both sides of the family.

And you know, I think Tommy ended up lucking out in this case. Not only did he get to enjoy the best part of both holidays, but he'll probably grow up having a keen understanding of both cultures, and it would be easy to picture a grown up Tommy sharing those same values with his own Rugrats one day.

And really, isn't that what we should be like during the holiday season? More understanding and tolerance of each other and our beliefs.

That's one thing that I noticed watching the Christmas and Hanukkah specials that Rugrats did. Each holiday had their own traditions and customs, but the message was all the same. It's about spending time with loved ones, friends, family, and having fun all at the same time.

So, I say, hang up your Christmas wreaths and light up your Christmas trees. Light your menorahs and dine on latkes proudly.

Don't become a casualty of a war that only exists in the minds of people who let it fester. Celebrate your holiday spirit and let it shine! And even better, share that spirit with everyone around you. You might be surprised at how far that cheer to all of you, Merry Christmas...

...and Happy Hanukkah...

...and to everyone else who celebrates another holiday during this special time of year, I hope you celebrate it loud and proud.