Arthur is undoubtedly one of the most beloved PBS shows, but is there something sinister hiding beneath the surface of this wholesome, feel-good cartoon?
Let's be real: there are a lot of dark kids' shows out there, some that fly inconspicuously over the heads of young viewers, and others that are intentionally chaotic. Who'd seriously try to scar the youth with something heinously disturbing? Just check out the scandalous stuff going on over at YouTube Kids and you'll get an idea. In any event, it's pretty rare for a PBS show to be utterly scandalous, but PBS shows' fan theories sometimes paint a different picture.
Now well past its heyday, Arthur is better known for raunchy memes than family programming, and deeply grim fan theories paint our favorite aardvark as the victim of a post-apocalyptic world running rampant with racism. In some theories, he's in a coma. In others, he doesn't even exist.
Theories explaining kids' shows are usually pretty farfetched, but these dark Arthur fan theories make a whole lot of sense. If your childhood wasn't already ruined, brace for impact.
Rats get a really bad rap in the real world even though they make excellent pets. Their reputation doesn't fare much better in Arthur's world. According to Reddit user AwesomenessOnAPlate, rats carry a lot of negative stereotypes in Elwood City. Proof? In "Arthur and the Real Mr. Ratburn," Prunella makes up all these crazy rumors about Mr. Ratburn. She says he regularly sends kids to Death Row for answering questions wrong and eats nails for breakfast - gross. Buster even starts to believe that Mr. Ratburn is a vampire, when in reality, he's just a normal teacher who also happens to be a poorly stereotyped rat.
Much like Mr. Ratburn, Prunella, a rat herself, doesn't really have a good reputation. She doesn't have many actual friends her age, and she's an avid liar playing deeply into the stereotype that you "can't trust a rat." Her family is rumored to be in the illuminati, and her only fourth grade friend is a blind girl, who presumably cannot see that she's a rat and therefore, wouldn't stereotype her.
Ever notice how the Arthur world is chock full of bunnies? Well, if we're to believe that the characters in Arthur evolved from their common species, then the reason is because bunnies have a wildly short gestation period. The average bunny is pregnant for only a month which allows them to reproduce a heck of a lot faster than any other species in the Arthur universe. On the flipside, monkeys and ant eaters can have gestation periods lasting four months.
D.W. shows a real lack of empathy towards Arthur, but some conspiracy theorists believe that this isn't her fault. D.W. actually has Asperger's Syndrome. D.W. has a few Asperger's traits. She's way, way smarter than your average four-year-old, but she has major niche obsessions. For example, D.W. throws an absolute tantrum if she thinks she's going to miss an episode of Mary Moo Cow. She grows so obsessed with her snowball in the episode "Return of the Snowball" that she concocts an elaborate system containing several containers, locks and possibly even a knife to keep it safe.
Though D.W. is obsessed with things like unicorns and Mary Moo Cow, this fan theory alleges that D.W.'s reactions to being wronged are where her Asperger's shows the most. She often can't tell when she's actually been wronged and her responses are so dramatic it's pretty clear that she doesn't know how to read emotional cues. She also can't seem to tell when she's seriously hurt another person.
Perhaps even more convincing than the argument that D.W. has Asperger's is the argument that Fern does. This fan theory has a couple of really interesting points: Fern's obsessed with writing and literature, she has social anxiety, she often went out of her way to avoid dealing with people in earlier episodes, and she has a dark, deadpan sense of humor. When Fern matter-of-factly asks a park ranger if there are any areas where pioneers died horribly, it's almost as if she doesn't understand the severity of what she's asking. In the episode "Phony Fern," she grows so obsessed with her cellphone that she cries hysterically when it's destroyed.
Most of us don't spend our time thinking about the socio-economic status of the characters in Arthur, but it's undeniable that the show is a snapshot of a typical middle class town that just so happens to be largely populated by mammals. Did anyone ever stop to wonder where the heck all the non-mammals are?
This fan theory alleges that non-mammals are an oppressed minority who were pushed out of the city because of gentrification. The evidence lies in the lack of ducks and crocodiles shown in later episodes. Ducks and crocodiles were occasionally shown in the background of earlier episodes, but always had very blue collar jobs (construction, manual labor, etc.). In later seasons, non-mammal species are totally absent in the middle class suburb. Elwood City was slowly gentrified and the oppressed minority (non-mammals) could no longer afford to live there.