when i was a youngster, so many moons ago, i would wake up in the morning, walk my brother to the bus stop with my mom, and then go home and watch a show on PBS called arthur. it was my favorite show and is definitively the show of my childhood. arthur is the longest running children’s television show, and since it deals with important real world situations that children face (like dyslexia and autism spectrum disorder) in ways that doesn't talk down to the viewer, arthur is a show that has really touched people’s lives.
i think we all remember a little while ago when the rug was pulled out from under us regarding bert and ernie. a writer for sesame street, mark saltzman, said in an interview that bert and ernie’s relationship was inspired in part by a relationship he had with a man, and then sesame street responded with a press release that said that since bert and ernie were puppets, they didn’t have a sexual orientation. and so we were all like, sure, but what about kermit and miss piggy? and sesame street was like…ya’ll hear sumn?
while i do think that bert and ernie are a sweet depiction of a desexualized gay relationship, that’s kind of besides the point. like bert and ernie, mr. ratburn’s sexuality has been a topic of discussion on the arthur side of the internet (which evidently does exist). there was, from what i could tell, a pretty big consensus that mr. ratburn was gay. this kind of speculation about a character can lead to three possible outcomes: arthur/PBS execs ignore speculation and never confirm nor deny whether mr. ratburn is gay; arthur/PBS execs state unambiguously that mr. ratburn is not gay and possibly give him a gf in the show; and arthur depicts mr. ratburn as gay on the show. as someone with a lot of television watching experience, i assumed #1 or #2 (most likely #1, given PBS’s reputation, which wouldn’t have been the end of the world).
of course, if you’re on the internet like i am, you’d find that my assumptions were wrong. we got #3. on arthur s22 ep01, mr. ratburn gets married. to a man! to a chocolatier! how sweet (no pun intended)! when i heard this, i was a little worried that it would be done in a way that makes it seem like the show was patting itself on the back. oh look at us! we included a LGBT character! kind of like marvel did in end game with that gay mets fan (full disclosure: i didn’t see it and i dont care). but no! it was so casual, and so, as much as i usually hate using this word, wholesome. the reveal that he’s marrying a man doesn’t even come about until the very end of that portion of the episode, when mr. ratburn walks down the aisle with patrick.
LGBT characters in media are often treated unfairly. in some cases, they are coded and written as LGBT (sometimes stereotypically, which is cringe) and never confirmed. sometimes they are explicitly stated as being LGBT, and their storyline is one of tragedy and they don’t get a happy ending. sometimes, they live for years with their life partner only for some straight executive to decide that they are actually just best friends. we rarely see these characters not have to face some kind of discrimination; even in worlds that are thoroughly fictional, writer’s personal prejudices against these kinds of characters or their tendencies to reach for overdone and outdated tropes bleeds through. but in arthur, a show that does not often shy away from depicting real world situations, we are given a story where a gay rat gets a very happy ending, and i think that that is what he deserves, and what we deserve.
(all images via PBSkids.org)
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