How examining Arthur’s diverse hometown of Elwood City uncovers the dark underbelly of an “inclusive” society
ARTHUR’S NOTE (see what I did there): This post does not contain significant spoilers for the movie “Get Out,” so it’s OK to read if you haven’t seen the movie yet? But if you haven’t…why not and what’s wrong with you?
Arthur and the film Get Out couldn’t be more different pieces of pop culture. Arthur is a PBS cartoon that teaches kids to love reading. Get Out is a R rated horror film that is filled with social commentary about race. Arthur comes from the mind of Marc Brown, a children’s book author who told his son bedtime stories about an aardvark. Get Out comes from Jordan Peele, a bi-racial comedian and horror film nerd who had a hit television show on Comedy Central. Arthur’s theme song has the uplifting lyrics, “What a wonderful kind of day!” Get Out has the classic line “T.S.Mothafuckin.A. That’s what we do.”
These shows are nothing alike…except that they are both set in societies that insist your racial identity doesn’t matter. While the whole point of Get Out is to break down that fallacy, Arthur, disappointingly, continues to perpetuate this theme. But if you look a little bit closer, you’ll find that Arthur’s Elwood City is just as scary of a place as Get Out, if not more.
You can’t not see it
Arthur is a wholesome TV series because it subscribes to the idea that people, no matter what their background is, can live together peacefully and make the world a better place. Similar to its predecessors, like Sesame Street and Barney, Arthur neatly resolves common conflicts in an effort to expand the viewer’s worldview. This point is driven further home by making each of the main characters a different animal. Despite what makes them different, at the end of the day these animals are still able to work, and play and get along with each other. If these animals can coexist, why can’t all humans?
On a similar note, Get Out also revolves around this same belief. The tension that drives the movie comes from the white family trying to convince Chris, the black main character, that his race doesn’t matter to them. At least in Get Out, this idea of “not seeing race” is proven as false. Unfortunately, that revelation hasn’t happened yet in Arthur. When you live in a society that pretends race doesn’t matter, you fail to acknowledge and correct the biases and traditions that reinforce racist actions. This is why Arthur’s Elwood City, is just as scary a place as the world of Get Out?
In Arthur, we are led to believe that the type of animal someone is doesn’t matter. All that matters is the character you display. To a kid, there is no problem with an aardvark being best friends with a rabbit. Congrats! We solved racism. But as an adult, you realize that these third graders are eventually going to turn into teenagers. What happens when they start dating? What happens when they grow up and start to marry? People of different backgrounds fall in love all the time; so how will these animals get along when they start having feelings for other types of animals?
If we look and the existing marriages in Elwood City, the answer is not promising. Arthur, Francine, Muffy and Sue Ellen all have parents that are the same race…I meant same type of animal. That means that in a world where monkey, aardvarks, rabbits, dogs, rats, moose, cats and bears are all living in harmony, there is NOT ONE inter-animal relationship? What type of West Side Story neo-segregationist place is this? Maybe Elwood City is just one big version of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. Everyone is perfectly OK with you hanging with the other races…I meant animals until you start trying to become a part of the family. I guess it’s a rule that no matter how friendly you are with everyone, at the end of the day, you come back to your own kind.
While it’s bad enough that inter-animal relationships are forbidden in Arthur’s world, worst still is the segregation that happens WITHIN the distinct animal groups. In the series, Francine and Muffy are both monkeys. While it would seem that any monkey could marry another monkey, that is not the case. Francine’s parents are both the same shade of brown that she is and the same goes for lighter Muffy. So the lighter and darker members of the same race…a meant species can’t be in a relationship? The same goes for the parents of Binky Barnes and Fern Walters, both of whom are dogs. The segregation within the animal groups may be even more shocking than the segregation outside of it. And let’s not get into the fact that the darker family is less “successful” than the lighter skinned one.
While the creators of Arthur did the best they could to create a society that was free from racial divides, the fact that they included so many animals meant that they highlighted many biases that exist in the world they created. Fortunately, there is a way to fix that. Start showing some inter-animal couples on the show. Have Francine’s older sister date someone that’s not a monkey. Have a Bear and a Rabbit that are in a loving relationship adopt a Cat, creating a group that even Modern Family would be proud of.
If you’re serious about having all of the residents live in Elwood City living in harmony, show them actually living together. I know that you’ll probably get letters from Christian and parent groups saying how inter-animal relationships are unnatural abominations but who cares. I grew up watching weird, inter-species cartoons like CatDog and Cow and Chicken, and look how I turned out. I’m perfectly normal 20-something writing blog posts that argues a children’s cartoon show is a worse place to live that a horror movie. Basically at the end of the day, I believe that your physical appearance shouldn’t define who you are and who you should love.
That’s my simple message and it comes from the heart.
Sorry I had to