The Rugrats' Legacy of Inclusion

If you're like me and spent a good chunk of your childhood watching cartoons, then you'll remember the Nickelodeon classic, Rugrats. Rugrats was about the internal thoughts and community of babies and toddlers as they navigated our often confusing world. While I always appreciated Rugrats and remembered it as a comical and cute classic cartoon, I never thought about its greater social implications. 

Recently, I watched Rugrats Gone Wild, and the inclusionary aspects of the show were glaring me in the face. For a show about babies, the creators managed to create a diverse and interesting world. Here are just some of the "woke" elements I noticed and remembered looking back on the TV show.  

1) The Moms 

The moms in this show were rational, caring, and successful. When everything starts to go wrong in Rugrats Gone Wild, it's the moms who keep everyone calm and cared for. Betty, Phil and Lil's mom, even dives back onto their careening boat to fetch a survival pack and Dil's pacifier. Beyond that, Angelica's mom, Charlotte, is a CEO of a major corporation and the breadwinner for her family. Didi, Tommy and Dil's mom, works part time, takes care of her two kids, and keeps her neurotic inventor husband calm and level-headed. Lastly there's Betty-- with the Venus symbol on her shirt, she represents third wave feminism and could easily be found leading a women's rights rally. With her fiery and boisterous attitude, she's a hard character to forget and a seriously strong mom. There's also Kira, Chuckie's stepmom, who has a high profile job in gaming in Tokyo, and Lucy Carmichael, who I'll touch on in a minute. 

2) The Carmichaels

 The Carmichaels were arguably the most successful family of the bunch, and also happen to be black. Lucy Carmichael, the matriarch, was a Harvard graduate doctor who "plays piano, studied at Le Cordon Bleu... pilot[s] commercial jets, make[s] replica Tiffany lamps, and conduct[s] heart surgery". Her husband, Randy, is a successful TV writer, and the two are the ultimate power couple. Not only are the couple wildly successful, they arguably are the most balanced and loving parents on the show. They discipline their four children well and teach them to be honest, respectful, and hardworking. Their blackness was never used as an angle or fell into dangerous stereotypes. They represented a strong, modern black family, and they were simply known for being kind and wonderfully successful. 

3) Normalizing Breastfeeding 

On the Rugrats Mother's Day episode, Phil and Lil reminisce about when their mom fed them the "old way" referring to their mom breastfeeding them. The entire interaction is seen as a positive, normal, and bonding relationship, ending with all three of them erupting in giggles. For the nineties, and for a cartoon, this normalization of breastfeeding was revolutionary, and something we still don't see fully accepted in 2017. 

4) Phil and Lil 

Speaking of Phil and Lil, despite their pink and blue clothing distinctions, the two twins look and act virtually the same. The two gender neutral babies shared an unparalleled love for bugs, diaper cookies, and green slime. The writers never pinned the twin's gender against each other and, like their mom, allowed fluid gender expression. 

Thanks to my older, and more educated mind, I will truly never see the Rugrats the same again. While we've made wonderful strides in 2017 with shows like Black-ish, Transparent, and Orange is the New Black, TV, and especially cartoons, still have problems addressing what the Rugrats were able to address. It would be wonderful to see modern cartoons follow in Rugrats' footsteps and embrace these ideals with seamless integration.