As a general rule, you shouldn’t take advice from cartoon characters, TV characters, celebrities, musicians, or anyone trying to sell you tickets to a seminar. That’s just common sense and we need a lot of that to navigate life.
At the same time, there are often exceptions to rules, including the general ones. They’re very rare and very specifics, but that’s exactly why they warrant such exceptions. They’re just that uniquely special, like a single polished diamonds in an entire mountain of dirt.
In that spirit, there is one fictional character whose advice and wisdom you should heed. Whether you’re a person living in the real world or an exiled prince fighting to regain his honor, his words carry immense weight and for all the right reasons. That character is Uncle Iroh from the beloved show, “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
Now, there are many reasons why this show is a diamond, even among diamonds. Uncle Iroh is one of them. Even for a kids show, his lovable persona and his propensity to share nuggets of wisdom has few equals. If you don’t believe me, watch the show. If he’s not one of your favorite characters by the end, then I don’t know what to tell you.
If you don’t have time to binge three seasons, then here are some of his best quotes that I feel contain a wealth of wisdom.
“There is nothing wrong with a life of peace and prosperity. I suggest you think about what it is you want from your life.”
“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again. Only this time more wisely.”
“In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.”
“While it is always best to believe in oneself, a little help from others can be a great blessing.”
“Life happens wherever you are, whether you make it or not.”
“It is important to draw wisdom from many different places.”
“Good times become good memories, but bad times make good lessons.”
“Sometimes, the best way to solve your own problems is to help someone else.”
“Follow your passion and life will reward you.”
“Even in the material world, you will find that if you look for the light, you can often find it. But if you look for the dark, that is all you will ever see.”
“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but it’s source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”
I hope this advice helps all those who read it. These are all words that I feel people need more than ever at a time like this. Cartoon character or not, Uncle Iroh gave us this wisdom. We would be wise to listen.
The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a video I’ve been working on for a while and I’m very excited about this one. Once again, I get to make a video where I talk about superhero movies. Sam Rami’s Spider-Man trilogy really was a game-changer for the genre and I’ll be forever grateful for that. However, this time I also get to talk about one of the best and most beloved animated shows in history, “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
I recently rediscovered this show on Netflix and I’ve been eager to talk about it. This video is my first deep dive into the larger concepts behind this amazing show, as well as those that played out in the Raimi trilogy. Specifically, this video focuses on forgiveness and how it can give a story dramatic weight.
I hope this video gets a good response because I had a lot of fun making it. I hope you enjoy it too.
I was lucky to be a kid in the 1990s. Talk to most people my age and they’ll agree. The 1990s was a golden age for cartoons. That may seem somewhat egocentric, but I’ve yet to hear a convincing counter-argument. This was the era that brought us the animated classes for “X-Men,” “Batman,” “Daria,” “Animaniacs,” and so much more.
As a kid during that era, there were many great shows that I still hold dear to my heart. I’ve mentioned a few of themin the past. A few of these shows hold up, even by today’s standards. I contend that the “Batman” animated series only gets better with age. One show, however, has taken on a very different meaning over the years the air and, being an aspiring romance writer, it still resonates with me.
That show is “Hey Arnold!” and for most cartoon-loving kids in the 1990s, this was one of the best shows that didn’t involve talking babies. It was a unique show that followed a diverse cast of characters, each with their own unique connection to the titular Arnold. By almost any measure, Arnold was a lovable, relateable idealist who you just can’t help but root for.
How can you not love that football shaped head?
He’s loyal, altruistic, friendly, compassionate, and empathetic. Even as a 4th grader, he’s the kind of kid you want to be friends with. He’ll go to bat for you. He’ll stand by you when the chips are down. When the whole world around him is wrong, he’ll stand for what’s right. Whether it’s the 90s or today, there’s a lot to like about a character like that.
However, the best part of “Hey Arnold!” isn’t how inherently likable Arnold is. In fact, one of the most endearing sub-plots of the show is built around a character who, on paper, couldn’t be more different. That character is Helga Pataki, the short-tempered, overly hostile, overly dramatic girl who often threatens others with her fists.
When I watched this show as a kid, I thought that crush was kind of odd. It’s not that I didn’t care for romantic sub-plots. Even as a kid, I enjoyed romance, even in cartoons. It was one of the reasons I loved the 90s Marvel cartoons so much. I just didn’t understand the romance in “Hey Arnold!” Then, when I watched it with a more refined perspective, it gained a whole new context.
In essence, the love story of Helga and Arnold is built around tragedy, but somehow manages to feel sincere and genuine. It’s a love story that initially comes off as obsessive and unhealthy. However, as we learn more about each character, they gain more complexity. With each subsequent refinement, it becomes clear just how much these two complement each other.
It’s worth reiterating that this is a kids show from the 1990s. Things like tragedy, romance, and chemistry are things that usually don’t fit into a show within the pre-Spongebob Nickelodeon era. Even within those limitations, the complicated love story between Helga and Arnold is surprisingly mature.
To appreciate the depth of that story, it’s necessary to understand some of Helga’s story. Even by the skewed standards of a kids cartoon, it’s pretty sad. Helga does not come from a nurturing, supportive environment. Her parents are a wreck. Her father is a self-centered blowhard who cares more about his business than his family. Her mother is a dazed alcoholic who always seems hung over.
Then, there’s her older sister, Olga. She’s basically the perfect daughter who sucks up all the attention in her family. She’s sweet, successful, kind, and an overachiever. She sets the bar so high that Helga has no chance of ever matching it, so she doesn’t even try. As such, her parents barely notice her. Her father often forgets her name. Most of the time, she just calls her “the girl.”
This pretty much sums it up.
This is not a happy home life for anyone, let a lone a 4th grade kid. Nobody pays attention to her. Nobody shows her any semblance of affection or love. Nobody is even nice to her. Then, she meets Arnold. He’s the first person to show her real, sincere kindness. It’s not out of pity, either. That’s just the kind of person Arnold is. Naturally, it makes an impression.
It’s a tragic foundation for any love story, but it’s one that isn’t fully fleshed out until later seasons. If there’s one episode that defines Helga’s character, it’s Season 4, Episode 78, entitled “Helga on the Couch.” This is the episode that lays bare just how tragic her life was and still is. It also puts all the obsessive feelings she has for Arnold into a larger context.
It’s almost disturbing how sad things were for her. As early as pre-school, we see just how neglected she was. We also see just how big an influence Arnold was for her at that moment.
Again, it’s worth reiterating that this is a kids show. If there were a story about a pre-school kid who was that neglected by her family, it would make headlines and stir plenty of outrage on social media. However, “Hey Arnold!” managed to make this distressing story feel genuine and heartfelt.
The romance isn’t entirely one-sided, either. In the early seasons of the show, Arnold mostly saw Helga as his bully. He rarely saw her as anything more than that. However, as the show went on, he starts noticing her complexities. He even manages to get through her tough, hostile exterior on a few occasions.
It doesn’t just revolve around Helga finally coming clean. Without getting too heavy into spoilers, Arnold gets to see first-hand just how far Helga is willing to go for him. She shows him with her actions how much she cares. It’s not something she could ever put into words and not just because she’s a kid. Remember, she comes from a home where she never got a shred of affection from anyone.
This moment, which was a culmination of many hints and sub-plots that developed over many seasons, is incredibly cathartic. Even my inner 90s kid could appreciate it. It effectively completed a journey that started with the first episode. Helga starts off as this obsessive, stalker-like bully. Then, over time, we understand why she feels the way she does and why Arnold reacts to it so strongly.
It’s still tragic on many levels. As a foundation for romance, Helga and Arnold don’t start off on the right foot. This is a relationship that could’ve easily become a one-sided affair that quickly devolved into stalking. Somehow, “Hey Arnold!” managed to make it work. It even managed to make it feel sweet.
The fact that such a complicated, yet genuine romance could manifest in a kids show is further evidence that the 1990s truly was a golden age for cartoons. For that reason, and many others, “Hey Arnold!” and the unique love story it told will have a special place in my heart.