When you think back over your childhood to choose the most defining moments, chances are they begin with something that you saw on telly. If you wanted something to take your mind off of the craziness in your household, if you wanted something to do when reading just wasn’t cutting it, or if you just wanted something to do while eating your peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the week-end, most likely your journey began and ended with the tube.
That being said, there was something especially significant about Nickelodeon. Starting from the late 80s to the late 90s, there was a period of absolute dominance that the channel had over daily programming for children. Nick stood out among its peers for being able to toe the line between precocious wit and thematic elements that we’d only truly appreciate after high school. But even with its revolutionary perspective on child programming, there were moments when the channel stagnated (only a little).
However, on 7 October 1996 (the day I turned 10), the channel had an epiphany, a true rebirth. It introduced the world to Hey Arnold. Almost instantly, the average American child was thrown headfirst into a world very singular in environment.
There were few shows before — and almost none since — that have taken a realistic approach to teaching children about the inner city. Adults had their New York Undercovers and their South Centrals to look forward to when kids were supposed to be in bed. And even then, those shows were delving into themes familiar to their audience. Though subliminal (mostly), Hey Arnold tackled issues that most kids wouldn’t even become privy to until they reached high school.