When fondly looking back on the TV shows that made my childhood, I often find myself thinking about Robbie Rotten, the antagonist of Nickelodeon show LazyTown. Reapproaching children’s shows years later with an analytical lens is always a disorientating and slightly uncomfortable task, but the case of Robbie Rotten is one that I take on gladly.
We grow up watching villain-hero dichotomies on-screen, offhandedly sticky noting certain habits, behaviours and appearances as “good” or “bad.” This is how we come to understand our world, in black and white; the plurality of the grey areas come as we grow older. Having now grown up, I can see that Robbie Rotten was wrongfully villainised on the small screen.
Firstly, I’d like to address Rotten’s caricaturised physical stature, conflating villainy with a non-standard body. LazyTown is a show premised on encouraging sports and healthier lifestyles — set in a town of lazy people, who are saved from the grasps of the ‘evil’ Rotten by the ever-athletic Sportacus. Next to Sportacus’ sublime figure, Rotten’s pronounced slouch and protruding belly make him look like a chicken Twistie, and a disappointment to movements of body positivity. If it is not already abundantly clear, I have to expose an obvious fact; shockingly, most of us aren’t in Peak Physical Form, as Sportacus would have us believe. Now while I understand the intentions of the show, must we do so by creating a scapegoat in Rotten? While we mock Rotten for his horrible posture (which, while we’re on the topic, is something that most of us suffer from) and his generous body fat percentage, let me pose this question; are we actively contributing to cultures of shame that body positivity movements were specifically founded to combat and destroy? Discuss.
When so much of our mockery of Rotten lies in his physical stature, we actually overlook a very important detail of his representation: his outfits! Let’s quickly establish an OOTD (outfit of the day): Rotten exudes mystery when rocking pinstripes and a dark colour scheme of royal purple, maroon and navy with gold accents, or disguises himself with glittery purple cat-eye sunglasses. Forgive me for my boldness, but Rotten has the energy of someone who could single-handedly bring suspenders back into popular fashion. Objectively, Rotten with his snazzy pinstripes, and flare pants, is a fashion god (e-people community rise up!). And personally, I wouldn’t be caught dead in anything that Sportacus has ever worn… Take your goggles and whisker-stache away from here, sir!
In an age where our social media feeds are flooding with ‘quirky’ statements that preach homebody habits (Netflix and Chill? x) over #fitspo, it is antithetical and antiquated for us to mock Rotten for his love of the comforts of home. Everyone needs a day off sometimes, and perhaps the representation of Rotten was not the best in this respect. The villainisation of Rotten for his over-exaggerated homebody habits likely left young audiences with the impression that self-care and taking a day to yourself is unacceptable and selfish.
But now, a serious note, all jokes aside. Memes of Robbie Rotten and his iconic pinstripes have unwittingly become a haven for youth to identify with homebody behaviours. And though it seems untenable, even ridiculous, to look at a children’s show and criticise the undertones of body shaming, I am of the opinion that looking back on the past, and being able to draw out the problematic rhetoric that lies behind it, is a marker of personal growth.
In the months before his tragic death on 21 August 2018, the actor Stefan Karl received floods of praise and gratitude for the lightheartedness and joy that he brought (and continues to bring) to kids. Sometimes our childhood villains become, in their own right, heroes in our adulthood.