Tag Archives: child abuse

The Pataki Files: Helga and the Nanny

This is out MUCH later than I originally anticipated! No excuses, I just suck as a blogger! Hope you stuck around for more in-depth analysis of the Pataki family! If you need a reminder on what the hell this is you can read the introductory piece and the first post about Olga’s homecoming!

In “Helga and The Nanny,” we get to see how Helga reacts when a positive but unfamiliar force enters her household. When Miriam gets community service (drunk driving? In other episodes it’s mentioned that Miriam has also lost her license), Bob hires a live-in nanny to pick up the slack. Nanny Inga is the embodiment maternal nurturing, with just the right blend of firmness and encouragement. When Inga attempts to create structure for Helga (forcing her to eat a healthy breakfast, giving her afterschool schedules, etc.), it shows the viewer how thoroughly normalized neglect is in the Pataki household. Helga perceives the introduction of a positive authority figure as a threat because she’s spent most of her life cultivating fierce independence as a method for coping with her parents’ behavior.

Helga resists Nanny Inga to the point of actively sabotaging her: she frames Inga for the theft of Bob’s prized beeper belt, effectively destroying any chance she has at a future career in housekeeping or childcare. As in “Olga Comes Home,” Helga feels briefly victorious before her conscience gets the better of her, riddling her dreams (once again) with bizarre, guilt-fueled imagery. During their last meeting, Inga, who earlier in the episode pointed out that Helga was a “nervous child,” says bluntly that if Helga continues to shut out the good influences in her life, she’ll never be able to work through all of her anger and will ultimately suffer. Never before has someone seen through Helga so easily and the fact that all of her vulnerabilities are so transparent to Nanny Inga leaves Helga deeply shaken.

Nanny Inga’s spot-on assessment of Helga’s demeanor leads into one of the most profound scenes in all of children’s television: Helga has achieved her end, Nanny Inga is long gone, and things are back to normal in the Pataki house. Helga grabs the mail while Bob shouts at a despondent Miriam, who has a drink in hand; the yelling continues as she returns upstairs and can still be heard as she reads a postcard from Inga, who hopes her home life is back to normal. Helga looks up sadly as the screams from downstairs continue, and you can see that she’s wondering if just maybe, this isn’t really what she wants but merely what she’s used to. She then picks up the needlepoint that Inga recommended to soothe her nerves, and starts to sew.

In this scene we get a sense of how truly troubled Helga’s psyche is. She’s so caught up in protecting herself and maintaining the status quo (because change is scary, and how do you cope with change when you’ve been navigating an emotionally abusive  landscape your entire life?) that she doesn’t realize until it’s too late that things could have been different if she’d been able to let down her walls. Where is the line between self-preservation and accepting help when you’re a young child who has had to learn the arts of deflection, defensiveness and violence? How do you figure out how and when to cross it? “Helga and the Nanny” brings these questions to the forefront but offers no easy answers.

What do you think about Helga’s coping mechanism and how do you think Nanny Inga could have helped Helga if she hadn’t been pushed away? Comment to let me know and hopefully the next Pataki Files will be out in the coming weeks!

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The Pataki Files: An Intro to Family Dysfunction in Hey Arnold

Hey Arnold was one of—if not the—coolest animated kids’ show on TV during the mid-’90s. With a diverse cast of street smart kids and quirky adults in a thriving city that was just as much a character as its citizens, it was like the smooth jazz of animated children’s shows. It was a calmer show; no bright, flashy colors, frenetic soundtracks, or hyperactive main characters. It isn’t necessarily realistic, but it does feel more grounded in reality and down to earth than a lot of other children’s shows.

The show overall really started to grow when it left behind Arnold’s Cloud Cuckoo Lander personality and concentrated on seriously fleshing out the various characters in the city of Hillwood. Even adult characters like Grandpa, Oskar Kokoshka, and Mr. Hyunh got their time in the limelight and, especially in the case of the Mr. Hyunh-centered Christmas special, it led to some of the most poignant moments in the entire series (or really in animated kids’ television period). One of the characters who often had entire episodes and story arcs devoted to her was the resident bully and passionate secret admirer of Arnold, Helga Pataki.

Most people with even a cursory familiarity with the show can see that the behavior of Helga’s parents are G-rated codes for abuse and alcoholism. I had a vague awareness of this when I was younger; it was easy for me (with two alcoholic parents) to recognize that her mother Miriam’s slurred speech, proclivity for sleeping in random places, and Tabasco “smoothies” indicated more than just her being a wacky eccentric. And since I had a deep and abiding passion for consuming books about domestic violence from the time I was 10, I recognized the abuse in her dad, successful beeper salesman Big Bob, and his habit of yelling; he and Miriam’s constant favoritism towards perfect, repressed older sister Olga; and their neglect of Helga.

But watching as an adult, I’m able to really see just how profound some of these moments in the show were. It’s really important that this children’s show handled the subject of abusive parents—not horribly, call-child-protective-services abusive because that would be too much for a kids’ network—so well, especially because it was placed right along side more normal, non-abusive families like Arnold’s and Gerald’s.

Helga is one of the most interesting characters on the show: bright, insecure, passionately artistic, clever, cunning, equal-parts self-serving and selfless, fearful, apathetic at times, and violent, her character arc is one of the most impressive and nuanced developments in any animated children’s show. As we get to know Helga more, and become more familiar with not just her specific tics and personality traits but also her family life, we see that she is more than just a schoolyard bully with a crush. We see, bit by bit, how Helga struggles with simultaneously craving the love and acceptance of her peers and family while putting up the defensive walls that push everyone away.

In an effort to really understand and share the ins and outs of Helga’s progression to a fully fleshed out and richly idiosyncratic character, I’ve decided to start up a series, à la TTAACMATHPS, focusing on Pataki-centric episodes of Hey Arnold! So stay tuned for the first entry this Wednesday where I’ll start things off with “Olga Comes Home”!


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We Are Penn State: Victim-blamers and Apologists

In light of the horrible allegations of child sexual abuse against Jerry Sandusky and the implications of Joe Paterno, Penn State University president Graham Spanier and the county police in covering up/ignoring reports of the abuse, there’s been a great deal of talk on my campus (Penn State Abington, about 3 hours away from main campus) about sexual abuse, victims, athlete privilege and so on.

Quite frankly (and unsurprisingly) I’m pretty disgusted with a lot of what I’m hearing coming from my fellow Penn State students.

Let me lay out the allegations for those who may be unaware: Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach was arrested on 40 counts of child sexual abuse. According to the allegations, Sandusky used his status as a Penn State coach to take advantage of young boys; he founded the Second Mile program to help underprivileged boys from troubled backgrounds–these are the boys it’s alleged that he abused. This abuse has supposedly gone on for the past 15 years and there are all kinds of implications that Joe Paterno (head coach of Penn State) and  Graham Spanier may have had a hand in keeping his crimes on the down-low–after being notified by an incident of sexual abuse they barred him from bringing children on the Penn State property but still allowed him to operate a summer camp. More and more details leak out every day–today a mother of one of the alleged survivors claimed that Sandusky admitted to her that he touched her son inappropriately in the shower.

So basically, there’s a lot of fucked up shit going on here. And there are a lot of high profile people involved. This has become big news, not just in Pennsylvania but nationwide. Penn State is a big name school in the U.S.; people know what you’re talking about when you say Penn State and it’s considered a Public Ivy university. There’s been tons of discussion on my campus (and other Penn State campuses too, I’m sure) about all of this and, while some of it has been interesting in-depth discussion, a lot of it has been nothing more than disgusting victim-blaming, apologist bullshit. I’ve talked about rape-culture, rape-apology, victim-blaming and even athlete privilege (which is at play here in a big way) an astounding number of times. So I think, to keep myself sane and my blood-pressure normal, I’ll just list some of the more horrible and/or ignorant things I’ve heard said on this campus in regards to these crimes.

  • There’s no reason why this should reflect badly on the school/affect the Penn State name.
  • I don’t see why this is such a big deal/why it’s national news
  • This is just like the Duke Lacrosse team case and I think it’s being blown out of proportion
  • The parents are just looking for attention/money
  • I don’t think Joe Paterno/Graham Spanier should be blamed for their actions

And possibly the worst of all….

  • Children lie.

I really don’t know what else to say other than I don’t have much Penn State pride right now. I refuse to blame these children, who may have gone through immense trauma and abuse–children who came from troubled or lower income backgrounds and were taken advantage of by someone in a position of power. I refuse to make excuses for people who may–in any fucking way–have aided in hiding these crimes. And I refuse to participate in shaming, the blaming, and the bullshit. Penn State: get your shit together.

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