This week, PBS portrayed a same-sex marriage on the Season 22 premier of the children’s TV show “Arthur.” The episode features elementary school teacher Mr. Ratburn’s upcoming wedding, a woman who students believe to be his fiancé, and their concern over his happiness. The episode ends with a happy plot twist, when it is revealed that the woman is his sister, and Mr. Ratburn is marrying a man.
Jane Juffer, English professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Program of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, says the episode suggests that identity might not matter as much to children as having a safe space to express themselves.
“Arthur’s representation of same-sex marriage speaks to the wide diversity of family formations in the U.S. today. It’s notable that not only is Mr. Ratburn gay, but also that he is a rat and his new husband an aardvark, which speaks to the growing number of inter-racial marriages and mixed-race families.
“However, the episode does not really focus on either of these identity aspects. Rather, the bulk of the episode deals with the kids’ emotions. In particular, their fears that their teacher is marrying the wrong person, which will make him unhappy and—perhaps most importantly—will make them unhappy because he will no longer be the same caring, thoughtful teacher they love. One scene imagines him turning into a monster who explodes about a misplaced comma.
“The kids express a range of feelings—fear and uncertainty at first, followed by relief and happiness when they discover he is marrying a nice person, then embarrassment when they see his dance moves. In its focus on feelings, PBS suggests that identity may not matter as much to kids as finding the space for expressing their emotions about changes in their lives.”