Tag Archives: nostalgia

Helga Pataki: Profile Of A Tragic Love Story (From A 90s Kids Cartoon)

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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 them in 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.

She’s also secretly in love with Arnold. It’s not just a childish crush, either. She’s really in love with Arnold.

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.

While there are more than a few occasions when she comes close to confessing her feelings for him, it’s not until the series finale/movie that they actually become an item, at least as much as a couple of 4th graders can be. The way they go about is part of what makes the romance feel genuine.

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.

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Filed under romance, television

The Mixed (And Misguided) Messages Of All-Female Movie Remakes

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There are some topics that I really want to comment on, but the rhetoric surrounding it are so hostile and so controversial that I feel like any comment I make will put way too big a target on my back. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who has talked about issues like abortionreligious extremism, and Wonder Woman’s BDSM origins.

In general, if I want to contribute to the conversation, I try to wait until the heat dies down and the Twitter bans subside. Sometimes, that takes a long time, so much so that I’m tempted to just drop the issue altogether. For this one, though, I think there’s no use waiting because it’s a trend now and the controversies associated with it are here to stay.

It seems so long ago now, but when I first heard that there would be a new “Ghostbusters” movie with an all-female cast, I was genuinely intrigued. I was not among those who thought this was the worst idea ever and that this was somehow ruining my childhood, as some upset fans had claimed.

Maybe it’s because I’m not as big a Ghostbusters fan as I am an X-men fan, but I didn’t mind the novel/gimmicky approach that director Paul Feig attempted. The long-rumored Ghostbusters 3 wasn’t happening. The original cast couldn’t get it off the ground and Bill “Peter Venkman” Murray had made clear that he had no interest in reprising his role. Why not try something different to reinvigorate the franchise?

It could’ve been a bold new approach to Ghostbusters. A fresh take, a new cast, and an infusion of female-centered star power could’ve really kick-started a whole new trend, one that both elevated long-dormant franchises and expanded the role of female characters, a trend that had already begun.

Then, the trailer came out and those possibilities became much more remote. While I, personally, didn’t despise it, I was considerably less intrigued. The fact that the trailer went onto become the most disliked trailer in the history of YouTube speaks volumes for how poorly this otherwise-novel concept came off.

I had originally intended to see the movie when it came out. Then, as new clips came out and I got a sense of how the story would unfold, I decided not to. When it finally came out on cable, I tried watching it. I ended up changing the channel. It’s not that I hated the movie. It just had none of the appeal I’d hoped.

I know that’s somewhat petty considering the many controversies the movie generated, complete with sexism, racism, and everything else that sets the internet ablaze these days. As soon as professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos got involved, I saw that as a sign that this was one of those controversies that would transcend movies for all the wrong reasons.

I don’t know if enough time has passed for the animosity to settle, but in reflecting on the controversies of “Ghostbusters,” I feel the time is right to confront it. Regardless of whether it succeeded or failed, it effectively kick-started the idea of all-female remakes. That’s an idea that I think still has merit, but the approach and overall message of “Ghostbusters” make clear that the Hollywood still hasn’t figured it out.

In a sense, the problem with “Ghostbusters” is similar to the ongoing problems with strong female characters in general. From the parts I saw, the approach to that movie was shallow and crass in that it painted nearly every male supporting character a bumbling idiot in need of female guidance. This was especially true of Kevin, the dim-witted secretary played by Chris Hemsworth.

I get that some of that approach was an effort to inject the kind of humor that made the original Ghostbusters so funny and memorable, but it really fell flat, almost to an insulting degree. It reinforced the notion men somehow need to be denigrated or taken down a peg for female characters to be strong.

While it didn’t offend me, personally, it certainly undermined the story. A world full of idiot men isn’t that bad. That’s a huge part of the appeal for shows like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” However, that kind of appeal doesn’t fit with that of Ghostbusters.

Beyond just making all the men seem like idiots, the way in which the all-female cast brought little nuance to their roles. They were just four women pasted into four roles previously played by men. That’s it. They brought nothing new to the table. I say that as someone who really likes Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones, but I know they’re capable of far more than they gave in this movie.

If the intent was to show that women could work these roles just as well as men, then that’s the wrong goal, especially for a franchise as beloved as Ghostbusters. That effort denigrates both men and women because it doesn’t send the message that they’re equals. It sends the message that they’re interchangeable, disposable, and not the least bit unique.

The original cast of Ghostbusters had unique, quirky personalities that were memorable and iconic. The all-female cast had some of that, especially Leslie Jones’ character, but not nearly enough. Too much of it was built around the persona these actresses had already established in other roles. They really didn’t do anything to set themselves apart other than fill a role once held by a man.

That can’t be the only thing an all-female cast brings to the table. Just being women cannot and should not be enough to carry a story or revitalize a franchise. It’s true that men and women have various character archetypes, some of which are more distinct than others, but there has to be room for innovation.

Great female characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rey from “Star Wars,” or Sarah Conner from “The Terminator,” do a lot more than just do things men usually do while being women. They’re allowed to exercise their feminine traits every now and then. The all-female cast of Ghostbusters never got that chance. They tried too hard to be like the originals and it just didn’t work.

I won’t say that “Ghostbusters” utterly ruined the concept of remaking movies with an all-female casts. The movie wasn’t that bad. It just didn’t do nearly enough to make it really good. It didn’t kill a genre like “Batman and Robin” almost did with superhero movies. It does count as a setback, though.

It’s one I hope Hollywood learns from because, at the moment, there are similar movies in development. The latest, which I admit I’m also intrigued by, is “Ocean’s 8.” Unlike “Ghostbusters,” it’s not a complete remake and it doesn’t try to replace the entire cast of “Ocean’s Eleven.” It’s following a similar narrative, but using an all-female cast to tell the story.

While this franchise isn’t as iconic as “Ghostbusters,” it’s still bound to cause plenty of controversy and heated debates on sexism. However, based on the trailer, I’m intrigued once more. I know that burned me last time, but I’m still willing to give it a chance.

I still believe that all-female casts, even for non-remakes of major movie franchises, have great potential. Women do make up half the population, last I checked. They have plenty of stories to tell. If “Ocean’s 8” can succeed where “Ghostbusters” failed, then that can revitalize the concept. As Hollywood has shown before, it only needs to work once to start a trend.

I believe the concept will succeed once these movies stop trying to troll certain audiences and focus on building new perspectives within a story. The perspective of women is supposed to complement that of men, not subvert it. If a movie can succeed in that, then it can truly appeal to everyone.

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Filed under gender issues, Movie Reviews, sex in media, sexuality