Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Twins in Popular Culture: Rugrats

Twins' PiqueI had actually never seen "Rugrats", but when an episode called Twins' Pique popped up on the TiVo, I decided to give it a watch. Two of the main characters of the show are the boy/girl twins Phil and Lil DeVille. As usual, someone writing for Wikipedia has gone into way more depth than I could possibly want to, so I'll quote from there for their biographies:
They were both one year and three months old. Phil and Lil were twins who were alike in every possible way, and were even dressed to match: both wore pink with black-pinstripe shirts and turquoise outfits (Phil's being a shirt and Lil's being a dress) with a handkerchief on the left side and a duck on the right, and both had a small amount of brown hair on top of their oddly-shaped heads. Phil wore blue shoes and shorts and was drawn (for the most part) without ear lobes (episodes from 1996 to early 1999 and The Rugrats Movie show Phil with ear lobes). Lil wore pink shoes, a pink bow on her hair and no shorts (exposing her diaper like Tommy Pickles), and was always drawn with ear lobes.

They also shared the same interest: consuming worms (which they have often called "Chocolate Spaghetti") and toilet water. They often used their "full" names, Phillip and Lillian, against one another when arguing. Their parents, Betty and Howard, often confused the two despite permanent differences, like the ears, as well as (of course) their genders.
 I don't know why, but I find the detailed cataloging of the ear lobe timeline particularly creepy.

Anyway, in the episode in question, Phil and Lil get sick of everyone confusing them and decide to develop their own personalities. Being babies, the only way they have of making that distinction is by mimicking other characters on the show. Then they go off on some adventure that involves the potential destruction of someone's father's calculator (maybe it was their father, but I was distracted by the fact that they pronounced it "quackulator" the whole time). In the climactic action of the episode, they finally decide that they don't want to be like other people, or rather, that the other people they want to be like are each other.

First of all, I hated the show in general (the "cutesy talk" like "quackulator" made me ill). This episode in particular was interesting -- the dilemmas about finding their own identity and refusing to be addressed collectively hewed closely to what I've read about twin developmental patterns. The irony that young twins looking to develop their own identity could only find it in others was a nice touch, and added a bit of realism. But then at the end, of course, all of this was thrown out the window at the end of the episode when they decided to go back to being near carbon copies of each other.

A more charitable viewer might view this as a subtle commentary on how twin 1-year-olds are not ready to break away from their co-twins. But it reminded me of nothing so much as a 1950s romantic comedy about an independent career woman which ends with her finding happiness in a traditional role as a wife. In other words, the writers acknowledge the need to question stereotypes, but in the end, the audience gets what it presumably wants -- in this case, twins who are nearly indistinguishable.

I found out from the Wikipedia article that there is some sort of Rugrats sequel called All Grown Up in which the twins get their own distinct personalities. I'm glad to hear it, but it counts as too little, too late. My criterion for reviewing kids shows about twins is this -- how do they prepare other kids to interact with my twins? In the case of Rugrats, the show prepares them to treat twins as a single entity with nearly indistinguishable personalities. Boo.

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