Arthur prepares to punch D.W. in the arm after she breaks his model plane in “The Big Hit.”
Does this image of a fist look familiar? If you’ve been on the internet at all lately, you’ve probably seen Arthur’s fist come up everywhere from Twitter’s reactionary memes to dirty parodies to comments on regular news articles to everything else in between. Arthur, the beloved Canadian TV show about a remarkably plain aardvark and his group of friends, is suddenly… hip.
Hip in the sense that being used in Twitter memes by people who have never seen the show and covered by Buzzfeed is hip, that is. But as someone who has been a fan of the show for almost as long as it’s been around, it definitely feels strange to see all these new die-hard Arthur fans pop up all over the place. Like, do you know what a green potato chip is? What D.W.’s full name is? How many episodes have you seen?
D.W. admits to not wearing earrings or knowing what a stone is and then backpedals in “Lost.”
Before I start doing what I usually do and pour an unreasonable amount of energy into analyzing a children’s show from the 1990s, let me share a bit about my own history with the show. My interest for Arthur goes back to 1996, when it first came out and I was learning English after moving to Canada as a child. I remember not knowing what a marshmallow was after seeing an episode in which Francine calls Arthur one. As the show grew and subject lines advanced from the typical children’s TV topics (character gets glasses, character has a birthday party, character is scared of a new teacher), I never lost interest. I remember coming home from school and watching the two 11-minute-long cartoons like clockwork. I couldn’t wait for the “And Now A Word From Us Kids” segment in between the two to be over — who cares about them? I can name the episode each of the memes comes from (I’ve done that in this post for some of the more popular ones) and I can quote lines verbatim from the earlier seasons. My favourite, of course, comes from Binky Barnes’ two-liner: “Haven’t you finished your research yet? I have a game to play!”
Muffy minutely documents a game of tennis in “Muffy and the Big Bad Blog.”
Naturally, I did lose some interest for the show as I began high school — which thirteen-year-old wants to admit that they still watch cartoons aimed at kinds younger than ten? But as I began university, Arthur became easily accessible on YouTube and I rediscovered it as a great thing to play in the background while I was doings things like cleaning my room. The comments under the video (“I am twenty-seven and still love the show!!!!!!!!!!”) restored my belief that there was nothing more normal than watching Arthur at nineteen. Of course, it was something that you’d only do in private and admit to perhaps one other initiated friend. There’s even an Arthur episode, “That’s A Baby Show!”, that covers precisely that situation.
Buster threatens to eat Arthur’s bag of cookies in “Desk Wars.”
But despite its somewhat cult-like following among people like me, Arthur has almost always remained firmly on the margins. Even as a kids’ show, it dropped from its first place in children’s programming somewhere around 2004 and has not managed to regain the same foothold after several switches in ownership and direction. For most, it was just that goofy show that was around when they were younger and now comes up in conversations when the same people discover that new seasons are still coming out. Until, of course, the internet brought it back again in such a hilarious and unexpected way.
D.W. tries to come off as rich to her friends in “More!”
And so the trend gives rise to mixed feelings. As ludicrous as it can be to see all these nouveau Arthur fans pop up on the scene and claim Arthur’s fist as if they had been watching the show for years, it’s also kind of neat to see your favourite childhood cartoon reinvented in the days of the internet. What esoteric Canadian children’s show will the hipsters claim for themselves next — Uh Oh!? 15/Love? Caillou?!
(Please don’t for the latter, but come to me and I’ll supply you with other ideas.)
Arthur swallows a piece of cake whole after he thinks that his mom is coming into the kitchen in “Lost!”
Because when we take away the momentary blip of fame that is the internet, Arthur has always been great at portraying ordinary emotions and situations in the lives of kids in an incredibly relatable way. That’s why I’ve watched it long after it stopped being age-appropriate to do so and that’s probably also why these memes became so popular. Who hasn’t felt their fist ball up when they hear that they’ve lost a file or done the D.W. shrug when saying something stupid during small talk?
So regardless of whether you actually like Arthur or will remember the show after the memes have faded into obscurity, I will leave you with an image from one of its less well-known and parodied episodes — the one where Francine decides that she will be a journalist and starts her own newspaper only to cover fake news and gossip. That episode has always struck a nerve with me.
Francine is shocked to discover that her sister Catherine is not enthused about her plan to start a newspaper in “Citizen Frenzy.”