[Written February 25]
This morning, I passed by my childhood elementary school. It was like 8 in the morning so no kids were playing on the playground, but it made me think about Arthur, his friends, and their school, Lakewood Elementary. And one major question came to me that I want to discuss in full: Who are the Tough Customers?
As I write this, I’m rebelling. I’ve been working on the same project for weeks at my internship. I’ve gone as far as I can with it (and I’m semi-tired of looking at the content. I keep finding new things every now and then, but lately I’ve taken to reading forum comments just to watch people go to war with each other over a dead North Vietnamese general). I’ve reached a dead end and my boss is super busy, so to stop reading and appear like I’m working–which I am but on a very personal project–I want to discuss the Tough Customers.
We see them as rebels, doing what I’m doing right now, and that’s going away from the mainstream norm to fulfill their own desires and dreams. All of them sport clothing that isn’t as nice as the other kids’, either by choice or economic difficulties, and all of them seem to do whatever they want.
And that’s why I thought of them this morning. What were they always doing on the jungle gym whenever Mr. Ratburn’s class had recess? Were there other classes outside or something? In my eyes, the Tough Customers are a year older, except for Binky (who is technically a year older but is still considered equal to his peers because he’s in third grade like them, whereas Rattles, Molly, Slink, and the background TC’s seem to be in the fourth or fifth grade, probably fourth grade, making them older automatically). So are they just chillin’ on the jungle gym when they should be in class??
This strikes me as unlikely for one major reason: The show has been trying to redeem this ragtag group for years. It’s canon that Binky is a kind-hearted big brother who enjoys ballet (and wrestling, but also ballet and cycling). He’s not much of a bully. In fact, his circumstances make him more likely to be bullied. I mean, everyone knows he’s supposed to be in the fourth grade, that he got held back. That’s definitely grounds for some name-calling in the elementary school sphere (and beyond. Some jokes never fade, and I know a classmate who had an incident in third grade and no one ever forgot, especially those that were there [I wasn’t at the school yet, but I heard enough to feel like I was there, in the room, watching it happen]).
Molly was redeemed fairly recently in an episode featuring her little brother, who mimics her bullying behavior and makes the girl wake up to her ways, not that she was ever that bad in the first place. Like Rattles, she looks tougher than anything else, sporting a standard 90’s Grunge look and riding around on a skateboard. Rattles, too, is now the meek step-brother of some pretty normal-looking kids, and we know he’s super smart. He’s probably a better chess player than Alan “The Brain” Powers, if you can believe that.
And that’s why I feel like Rattles wouldn’t necessarily skip class, at least not at this point in his education. Rattles is smart, super smart. Yes, he’s probably bored out of his mind (I know I was during school, even in college, because I can process things so quickly. That’s also probably why I’m doing this right now instead of more research, not that I need to do anymore). But just because you’re bored doesn’t mean you sneak out of class. I acted out in kindergarten and first grade because of how far ahead I was from my peers, but by the third and fourth grade, I knew how to keep myself busy without disturbing others. I would read or draw, behavior I continued until I was older. If you’re that smart, you learn quickly, and I doubt Rattles’ coping mechanism would pull him out of class.
So there’s Theory 1: Rattles and Molly are out of class under teacher’s orders.
Maybe they finished their work early, maybe they deserved a break. Either way, the teacher must’ve let them out there by themselves for whatever reason because all of the background students that appear on the playground along with them seem to be other third graders. This would coincide with my experiences–while as I got further into school, recess time was usually determined by your individual teacher, earlier grades (in an attempt to teach kids a rigid schedule) often have recess at the same time. But even those grades are sometimes classroom-based, and there wasn’t exactly communication between grades. Sometimes we would go out and children from other grades would be outside. When that happened, the teachers attempted to separate the groups, or one class would go inside.
My problem with this theory comes from the second part of that last paragraph–teachers liked to keep classes separate. While they might let a student or two go to the library together, letting them out to the playground was something different altogether. I only remember going to the playground with just a handful of other kids ONCE under teacher’s orders, and that was because a student in the class was being mentored by an older student, and they were allowed to take two people with them, and I was chosen. We went out to the playground and hung out for a while (it was miserable, from what I remember. It was cold and the equipment was covered with dew. AKA I got soaked and I was freezing. Not fun). I don’t know if this was standard either, so we probably weren’t supposed to be out there. It just so happened that we were, and I doubt that’s something that goes on today. I just don’t see the teacher allowing them out. That leads to:
Theory 2: Rattles and Molly would stay behind to hang out with Binky and to guard their favorite jungle gym.
I don’t know about this though. Yes, they were rebels, but would they stay behind like that? Could they actually stay behind like that without being noticed? We’ve never really seen them in trouble on the playground itself, but we have seen plenty of episodes where Binky is on the jungle gym alone without the other TC’s. Those were days when Rattles and Molly either didn’t stay behind or didn’t even have recess. Either way, it’s canon that the students don’t always have recess together, just as it’s canon that they aren’t in the same class despite spending so much time together. I’m just trying to figure out the overlap during their recess time, and these are the two theories I can think of.
Now, I’m aware the writers might not have thought of this, but we in the Arthur fandom are always having discussions like this where we have to fill in the blanks…or massive plot holes. Usually it’s over pairings, but the Tough Customers come up just as often because people don’t always follow the canon. It’s canon that the Tough Customers are really just a group of kids who want to have fun. They’ve shed their aggressive personalities, and they’re actually pretty helpful to other kids, especially to young kids and their own younger siblings.
But we’ve all seen countless examples of people ignoring the canon and keeping them as bullies. I’d be okay with this if they weren’t also being down right cruel to these students. Yes, pieces need conflict, and a good bully can provide major, ongoing conflict. But do we really need to go as far as assuming Binky is homosexual because he does ballet?
I know that seems like a sharp left turn into right field, but this happens. I mean, yes, this comes from someone the fandom has shunned (and wishes would hurry up and get banned already, or thrown in jail. I’d be happy with both), but we need to discuss this because of this:
Headcanon: The Tough Customers are there to teach tolerance.
Let’s elaborate on this headcanon by breaking down each person:
Binky: He has an adopted little sister, Mei-Lin, from China. His parents are working-class and probably have some excess cash, but they mostly live paycheck to paycheck. Binky has a peanut allergy, a common thing (especially among kids nowdays who are allergic to literally everything) but not something kids might encounter during their daily lives (again, until recently). He’s bigger than his classmates, both in general size, but also because he was held back a grade, making him automatically slightly taller/larger than his peers. Because he was held back, we can assume he has trouble with something, be it reading or just a general learning disability. He does ballet, which is super nonstandard even in the most elite of third grade classrooms. He also enjoy cycling in that little banned episode with Lance Armstrong, but again, bicycling for fun is standard but cycling as a sport is not standard. He really likes wrestling too, but no one else seems to watch it that much, and rather than try the moves out on people, it’s canon that the characters help him through his own troubles. His real name is also “Shelly,” though no one cares anymore because it’s still Binky and he’s taught them the history of the name. No one cares that it’s usually a feminine name rather than for a dude.
Rattles: Wears Grunge-style clothes and enjoys skateboarding. He’s known for using his fists instead of his words, and he looks like a tough guy. He doesn’t like doing what he’s told by anyone, and his reasons for that are hard to pinpoint, especially in the chess episode. He’s hiding his intelligence, which is usually more common in girls but because of how he looks and how he holds his masculinity in high regards, he might be avoiding backlash from other bullies. When you really peel back the layers, Rattles is just a kind, intelligent kid who doesn’t mind sticking up for himself. Also, he had a single mom until recently, and now he has a step-family. So he went from being that “child of a single mom” to the “new kid in a blended family,” which teaches kids about that sort of thing in case it happens to them.
Molly: Also a Grunge-style skateboarder with hair in her eyes and a chip on her shoulder. It’s canon that Molly once faced bullying herself, and rather than hiding, she stuck up for herself and became a top bully. Like both Binky and Rattles, she’s a really nice person deep down, and she likes giving advice for people (when they aren’t bombarding it for her–Muffy!). She’s a great big sister to James, and like Rattles, they seem to be children from a single mom. Like Binky, she has a little sibling to look out for, a sibling who is definitely the target of unwanted bullying.
Slink: The new kid. I mean, that’s really all you need to teach tolerance, but he’s also a new kid with an attitude and bad friends. I mean, his Mighty Mountain friends were just horrible people, and his association with them made him a horrible person. Slink had to learn to be good, and he’s had to fight to fit in. He found the Tough Customers because they didn’t care about his background or anything like that. Like Molly and Rattles, he too seems to be the child of a single mom, a child that probably faced opposition and needed to fight to stay afloat.
Now, I don’t know about the other kids, but there are plenty of lessons here. Let’s go back to Binky’s ballet. Again (and I’m sorry guys for bringing up this %*&), there are writers who have assumed Binky was a future homosexual (because he’s honestly too young for that to come up yet whether he turns out to be gay or not) just because he does ballet. That’s a stigma that the art form has–ballet isn’t for real men.
And yet it is. In order to learn how to be more graceful on their feet, football players and other athletes are often taught dance, ballet, and other similar things. It works too because guys have this tendency to not know where their bodies are. Believe me, I’ve been trying to get my boyfriend to do yoga with me so he might figure out where his long arms are in space (namely so he doesn’t break my nose, because he almost has several times on accident), but he won’t for whatever reason. I mean, women have this problem too, but it comes up for guys more because of sports and how much taller they tend to be. And because guys are told not to dance and whatnot because it effects their masculinity, they shy away from being graceful or strong–because dancing is a major workout whether they want to admit it or not.
Now, I can understand how ballet could convince others you’re not as masculine. They only see your tights, not the strength and power and education that comes with doing the sport. But questioning their sexuality? I mean, really? We’re still at that point in our society? If Arthur had kept aging with us 90’s kids, he would’ve seen this in middle and high school like the rest of us. But in fan fiction? No, please, really?? You’re going there? I mean, it’s better than You Know Who’s other destinations, but it’s still something really important to bring up.
Let’s go further into this person’s ideas about the Tough Customers, because it doesn’t stop with Binky. I mean, Binky and his sexuality are this dude’s main target, but the other TC’s take hits too. Because of how they are perceived as bullies EARLY in the show, this writer, and others, have assumed this group of kids should become criminals, violent criminals. Because they’re just so bad in the beginning, they must be destined for prison, right? It’s not like the show has tried to fix that. Oh wait, they have.
In fact, the Tough Customers were never really as tough as people assume they were when they write stuff like this. Think about it: We see these Grunge kids and hear some rock music. Um, okay? I currently commute wearing business casual and you can often see me singing along to Iron Maiden, Halestorm, and other hard rock groups. Your point?? The TC’s themselves even admit it was all an act IN CANON, aka It’s canon that the Tough Customers ain’t that tough.
So, because they are assumed bullies, when we age them up to write about their teen years, these should be the obvious choices when we need a bad guy? I mean, look at the Read children. Arthur and DW come to blows in the show. It’s canon that these are like the worst siblings to ever be born into the same household–wait, that’s common (at least from what I’ve seen, though usually brothers or sisters, not a brother and a sister, come to blows first). But their bad attitudes are canon, as are their punches, so why isn’t Arthur the bully? Or DW? We all agree that we hate the little brat, but I haven’t seen any pieces where she’s getting arrested. Wait, one person went there, megan (BlackNeko20. See here). DW gets arrested in that story after becoming the horrible teenager we can assume she would become. Also, Arthur’s bullying is canon but we don’t hear much about that. Okay, I went there once, but his father and grandmother were being bullies over religion, but I only wrote that piece to respond to fandom drama. I need to do an Arthur bullying piece now that I’ve seen the sweater episode, but I don’t know if others have gone there or not.
But that’s going to a destination with evidence. DW is a brat. Arthur can be cruel. Honestly, the Read children probably aren’t going to speak to each other at all unless Kate becomes peacemaker. Let’s get back on track though. The writers who portray the older Tough Customers as bullies don’t follow the evidence. They just make stuff up as they go along, and that isn’t fair for those characters.
Molly is one of my favorite characters. I totally relate to her on so many different levels even though we’re very different people. I’ve done pieces where she and Arthur end up together, and I can see her pair up with Buster and the rest of the gang when they all reach that stage in life. I see pairings with her because she is such a nice girl. I think her appearance might throw off a few moms whenever she gets brought home as their child’s mate, but that could happen with other characters too. I mean, what would happen if some girl brought home Brain the Poindexter? That might make some parents do a double-take too, like “Did you really say you’ve been with him for three years? Uh-huh, and you think he completes you??”
Now, I can understand making stuff up for Alex, a background character with like no spoken lines, or Maria, who’s supposedly getting spoken lines eventually but doesn’t have any now. We’ve all played with the other characters’ personalities when we age them up too just to play with our options. But assuming sexuality based off ballet? Really?? Assuming the TC’s are going to become hardened criminals? Did you see *lists off the episodes*? This is something that really bothers me.
I want us to discuss this to see where you all stand. Answer some questions for me:
1. Do you think the Tough Customers are real bullies?
2. Where do you see the TC’s in their later years? (teens, maybe adulthood if you want to go there)
3. Should we judge a character’s sexuality based on their third grade selves? Should we judge their sexuality at all in that way?
4. How do you feel about my headcanon (that the TC’s teach tolerance to children)? What is your headcanon for the TC’s?
5. Could someone please help me with the recess overlap problem??
Thank you guys for reading, and please, keep this discussion going. I really want to know what y’all think. And if you want links to the guy I’m discussing and his pieces, let me know. I’m not putting them in the entry because I don’t like him^^ It’s honestly that simple.
Expect more entries like these soon. Next up, Romance in the Fandom. Look for the blog category in my entries and you’ll find these pieces:)