WRITER'S NOTE: Parents can use this as a guide to talking about "Doug" and other cartoons with similar themes.
It’s a Colorful Life
As revolutionary as Nickelodeon has been to the television industry since its inception in the late 70s, there have still been plenty of controversies and issues from parents and critics over the influence of its “kid-centered” programming. One such topic has been whether the cartoon series “Doug” and its central character were racist, considering said character was apparently the only white (colored) character on the show. The Huffington Post even wrote an article on the matter, the same year author Matthew Klickstein published his book “Slimed” (which touched on this issue as well).
Well, Doug Funnie (our journalistic and imaginative hero) wasn’t the only white character. So was Ned, one of Roger Klotz’s gang members, and Percy Femur, the bully who turns out to be “just plain mean” and worse than Roger. Even Doug’s sister, Judy, counts. Also, the color of every other supporting character arguably didn’t so much represent race as it did character and personality type. And fortunately (perhaps all for the better), no color is suited to only one character. Consider Doug’s best friend Skeeter Valentine and his family, who are all blue. Roger, teacher Mrs. Wingo, and athlete Chalky Studebaker are all green. Patti Mayonnaise and Vice Principal Mr. Bone are brown. And neighbors Mr. & Mrs. Dink, as well as Beebe Bluff and her family, are all purple.
Save for one comment Judy made about one of Doug’s friends in a season two episode (“Is he the blue one?”), there has never been a point in the series’ history on Nick where a certain character or more were judged by their skin color. Also, a possible reason that Doug’s friends are all colorful and he is white could represent his average personality and how his life and imagination may be colorless without them.
Because it was known as “the first kids’ network” in its heyday, Nickelodeon became a place where kids could hang out, have fun, and make friends with characters on the tube. We all have people who influence or inspire us the right way (which Doug creator Jim Jinkins wanted for audiences). And there are those that do so on the opposite end. Nickelodeon, you could say, is kind of both. For some viewers, this “kids rule” mentality can tie into the questionable theme of disobedience toward adult authorities, as well as to the notion of kids doing certain things to get their way. This latter notion is obvious with a character like Roger, but even Doug and Skeeter and company are no less susceptible. A few examples include Doug and Skeeter trying to get to concert, fantasizing about underage driving, even sneaking in and getting passes. The same goes for characters who “update” the town history at a school pageant, and against Mr. Bone’s supervision.
Speaking of Mr. Bone, he is often portrayed as a strict assistant principal who easily looks down on students and sets expectations. One character describes Mr. Bone “as if he’s “programmed to say ‘No’ to everything”. At the same time, his intentions and character may be questionable, such as when Doug and his friends are thrown in Saturday detention for breaking “silly and pointless rules”. Both are worth talking about.
As for the other parental or adult figures on Doug, here are a few questions discerning parents and teens can ask and talk about.
- Are the parent figures on Doug involved in their children’s lives? In what their children are passionate about?
- Do they want what they think is best? Do they want things their way?
- Are they supportive and/or understanding?
- What kinds of examples do they represent?
- What kind of advice do they give? What makes it good or not-so-good?
Here are a few other examples:
1. Take Phil Funnie, Doug’s dad, for instance. In one episode, he makes a simple kite, along with being obsessed and excited about the whole thing. Doug thinks he can make a better one (and even wishes he was the son of another parent), until he sees that his dad knows what he’s doing. In a different episode, Mr. Funnie (as do other parents) thinks his children can play better/other positions in, say, baseball. In one of Doug’s daydreams, his dad is disappointed that Doug chose not to be a pitcher. The lesson here could be that, sometimes, new things that are tried don’t turn out well, and they can reassure us of what we are already capable of. The theme involves doing what you believe you’re good at, and not going around trying to please other people.
In another episode, Mr. Funnie does give Doug some worthwhile advice when it comes to fighting (and in contrast to Mr. Dink’s misguided fighting tips). “Show me a man who resorts to violence, and I’ll show you a man who’s run out of good ideas.”
2. What about school teachers? There’s Mr. Shalacky, the happy-go-lucky guidance counselor, who doesn’t really help any students with his fleeting advice. And there’s Ms. Newberry, the substitute teacher. Doug makes a bad first impression and is immediately labeled a troublemaker. The lesson here, in Doug’s words: “Don’t be too quick to judge somebody else. And first impressions aren’t always right.”
3. What about town representatives, regarding other matters? Take, for example, Mr. Bluff and his advice on business and leadership. Or Mayor White, in terms of how he does things, and what his priorities are as oppose to what they should be.