Among the many great cartoons that aired in the early 90s and 2000s was a humble little show about an aardvark, his friends and family, and their daily lives. “Arthur”, which airs on PBS, wasn’t a ratings titan like some of the more popular titles, but chances are you’ve at least heard of it. Despite not being popular, Arthur is well known because it is so enduring. It appeals to a wide range of people and covers topics that are family friendly and focus on relationship building. The series took a turn towards something entirely different this week though. The shows 22nd season focused on Arthur’s teacher Mr. Ratburn, and his marriage to another man.
Titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” the episode focused on Arthur and his friends discovering that Mr. Ratburn was getting married and trying to figure out who it would be to. Initially, they believe that their teacher is going to marry a female rat named Patty, who treats Mr. Ratburn poorly. The group then embarks on a quest to break the two up and save their teacher before quickly finding out that Patty is, in fact, Mr. Ratburn’s sister. Moments later the group sees Mr. Ratburn walking down the aisle with another man.
The backlash from certain groups was predictable, with many saying that the show had gone too far in tackling adult, controversial subjects and others even claiming that PBS was trying to brainwash their kids . But in a world where characters are retroactively getting their sexual orientation and races changed (*cough*Rowling *cough*) it’s refreshing to see a show tackled the subject with such tact and grace.
In fact, never in the show are Mr. Ratburn or his fiancé called “gay” and, despite the initial confusion and mystery over Patty, never is the marriage really treated that differently from a traditional marriage. No one seems to find it particularly odd, not even the children, with Arthur’s friend Francine simply remarking “Yep, it’s a brand new world.”
This isn’t the first time that an Arthur show has attempted to breach the topic either. In 2005 a spinoff show featuring Arthur’s friend Buster attempted to broach the subject of lesbian couples, despite the word lesbian never being used, but that episode was quickly run off the air with the Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings calling for PBS to return the money used to make the show.
That the show makers were willing to try again with an even more obvious example is nothing short of a miracle. One that we should all be deeply grateful for. The world hasn’t burned down. Cats and Dogs aren’t eating each other. And if this is brainwashing, teaching kids its ok to love anyone you want to and treating others with respect and kindness, then we should all be hoping that PBS will brainwash us.
Caleb Edwards is a senior studying professional writing with a focus in editing and publishing. When he isn’t working or writing you can find him tending his fish, taking care of his cats and dogs or trying to find free time that he can waste (there never is any). You can follow him on Twitter @CEdwardsSam or find him at his website CalebMEdwards.com