I never thought I’d end up writing an essay about a cartoon toad, yet here we are.
I grew up watching old Nicktoons, especially when I would go visit my grandparents down in the country. Ren and Stimpy, Rugrats, and Hey Arnold! are some I still remember to this day. However, the one that I had the most pleasant, yet also the fuzziest memories of was Rocko’s Modern Life.
When I heard they were bringing back the show for a special, I was very excited. And then I… just forgot. I think almost everyone did except for the cast and crew because it disappeared off the face of the earth for three years!
The special kind of just hung around in my periphery until I came across an Entertainment Weekly article on twitter.
(See? Twitter’s good for some things.)
The article in question mentioned a character transitioning between the 20-year gap. At first identified as Ralph and then as Rachel, to be honest, I could barely remember her from when I was younger. Her parents were much more recognizable, both being major supporting characters in the original run.
This article renewed my interest in the special and with my sister, we watched the special, appropriately at my grandparent’s house.
And this gets to the part where I relate heavily to a cartoon toad.
There were certain lines in the special that struck me like an arrow. One line in particular where Rachel says,
I’m not your son, I’m your daughter. And I’m finally happy.
I’m not sure exactly how to describe the note that line hit in my heart. That nervous pang and pit in my stomach, but also feelings of happiness?
It was a much heavier experience than I was expecting from a “reboot” of an animated series from my childhood. Among other things, that special actually led to where I am now. Am I trans? I don’t know.
But I do know that I have been questioning my gender identity on a level and intensity that I am definitely not familiar or comfortable with. The more and more I think about it, I’d questioned gender identity in the past, but those were just little flickers. I just tried to ignore it.
Rocko’s Modern Life was always a show that cartoonishly tackled the difficulties of modern life. The world may have been cartoony but the depiction of modern life was in some ways very real. The character of Rachel probably best exemplifies this relationship.
Rocko may have been the main character but Rachel’s uncommon appearances where always two-parters. Much of Rachel’s character revolved around her unhappiness and her strained relationship with her parents. Her strained relationship originally came from her rejection of following her father into a corporate career. She much rather wanted to follow a creative career as an animator, reflecting Joe Murray himself. Even as an animator, Rachel becomes disenchanted with creating animation for corporations. Instead, Rachel endeavors to create for herself, wanting to create the world largest’s still life out of a plateau (this is from Wacky Delly, an episode that I remember but only vaguely). By the special, Rachel has moved on to selling ice-cream based on her characters, being mostly satisfied with her life after her journey of self-discovery. After reconnecting with her parents and using animation to bridge the gap between her and her father, being fully accepted as Rachel by her friends and family, she gets to be fully happy for the first time in a long time.
In all the retail and corporate jobs I’ve had, I can only describe them as miserable. Only when I’ve been doing freelance work and writing have felt happy working. Even if my writing isn’t that good, I’m breathing life into characters and scenarios of my own, and that brings me joy. That’s a hard road but it’s one that I would love to do for the rest of my life. If what I do makes someone happy, that’ll make me at least a little happier too. Cliched as it is, I feel like a journey of self-discovery is something I desperately need for myself, somewhere away from home.
I’m not sure how much else I have left to say about the show. I definitely need to revisit the show nowadays, especially for the episodes featured on Rachel. If a cartoon toad can finally find happiness, then maybe I can too.
“It felt natural, because it was not only about change, about somebody finding who they are and making that courageous choice to go through that change.”
“We wanted to make a little more of the Bighead family reunion. For me, it just a natural part of the story. Rachel is truly the ‘Modern’ part of Rocko’s Modern Life.”
-Joe Murray, the creator of Rocko’s Modern Life, Camp Lazlo, and Let’s Go Luna!
Hey, if you liked this essay, you can help me out by contributing to my ko-fi so I can go on my own journey of self-discovery at ko-fi.com/r_writes. Thank you for the read, it means a lot.