How a Frame from "Hey Arnold!" Helped Shape How I View the World.

On October 23, 1996, Episode 2 within Season 1 of the legendary Nickelodeon cartoon, "Hey Arnold!" premiered to viewers everywhere. The second half of the episode, titled, "Field Trip," detailed the story of Arnold's class going on a field trip to the aquarium.  While at the aquarium, Arnold sees an old turtle named Lockjaw. Sad and neglected, Lockjaw is seen to be a hopeless and pitiful creature, with graffiti even sprayed on his once magnificent shell. Upon seeing the turtle, most of the other children laugh and sneer at the animal, with one of them even throwing a smoothie at him, which lands and spills on his shell. Feeling bad for the turtle, Arnold then descends into the lower part of the aquarium, where, alone with Lockjaw, he says simply: "Hey man" to which the turtle responds by putting his fin up to the glass. Arnold, responding in kind, presses his hand up to the glass, resulting in the above image. 

A subject I've touched on in posts before, it is of this writer's opinion that the assigning of meaning to menial things is an act that helps define the human race.  In the case of this moment between two animated characters from a late 90s cartoon, this sentiment rings true yet again.   Since 2010, the image has served as either my banner image or profile picture for the majority of my personal social media accounts.  Through the years, I've found many images that I've loved that could have served the same purpose, but none, however, has had the same impact on me as the symbolic image of Arnold in a moment of understanding with an old turtle. 


The subject of this post, understanding is a cornerstone of my drive to create.  An often overlooked subject, the desire to understand is a major reason this blog exists. Though many may scoff at the thought of me finding such meaning in just one frame of a cartoon, it is important to understand the image in context of the episode.  In the opening minutes of the half of the episode, Arnold is bombarded with stories from all his classmates about the fearsome nature of the beast known as Lockjaw. In the moments leading up to the turtle's reveal, Arnold points out several of the aquarium's inhabitants asking whether or not they claim the name. In all cases, his classmates scoff, further building up, for lack of a better term, "the hype" surrounding Lockjaw's identity.  Upon reveal, however, the students express dissapointment, exclaiming that "He seemed bigger when we were in 1st grade." In brief, the students saw Lockjaw at his most surface level, an entity to be gawked at, whereas Arnold decidedly desired more, "more" being the central word I use to describe what I can only believe to be understanding. In this instance, understanding of not Lockjaw's surface identity, but of Lockjaw's nature and state of existence, a state of existence that was revealed to him as one that is trapped, dejected, and pitiful.

These things considered, the mindsets of both Arnold, and, yes, Lockjaw, are two that undoubtedly resonate with me.  Though previous posts of mine have hinted my lack of the following; empathy, an almost defining characteristic of Arnold's in this episode, is a trait that I consider to be of great importance. To truly understand the feeling's of others, despite how easy it can be to view circumstances at a mere surface level, is a paramount matter in the quest to properly observe the world around me.  Addressing Lockjaw, it is worth noting that he was first to press his fin up to the glass, effectively inviting Arnold to do the same.  Lockjaw, though beaten and laughed at by Arnold's own kind, initiates the moment of understanding, despite his being in total justification had he ignored Arnold or expressed anger or fear towards the human for being down near his aquarium.  In this case, Lockjaw personfies not only the desire to understand oppresor, but also to connect with him as a fellow living being.  Though I've thankfully never experienced true oppresion, I do wish to emulate the turtle's attitude towards it if I'm ever confronted with it.  In brief, to once again speak on the singular image that has served as my banner for so many years, I theorize that one would be hard pressed to find a more suitable, beatiful, simplistic, yet odd piece of imagery to describe what it means to be truly understanding, regardless of circumstance or identity. 

I must sound insane, rambling on in my usual overly verbose fashion about a fictional turtle and a football headed fourth grader in a cartoon.  

At any rate, though there could be pages of further analysis on this, in my opinion, iconic episode, I leave you with this inquiry:
If a bright eyed nine year old living in the inner city and a turtle trapped in a glass prison can come to understand each other, why can't we, as big and prideful as we are in the real world, attempt the same level of understanding with each other?

 Nostalgic always,
 T.C. Barrera