What is Welcome to My Life and what makes it so special?
Welcome to My Life, or WTML as I’ll refer to it, is the kind of thing I’ve been dreaming about having as a cartoon. It falls into the realm of Hey Arnold! in that it’s this sort of “slice of life” genre that outlines a diverse story and perspective. It’s real and represents reality in and through another medium. Essentially, WTML is special because it’s about us.
WTML, like Hey Arnold!, does a fantastic job of offering different solutions to a problem. Let’s talk about the main conflict in this short. This is going to take a lot of breaking down, short is so riddled with small details that I feel I should go over them. T-Kesh is challenged by another student (we later find out his name is Ian) to fight after school because T-Kesh pointed out that Ian looked like him but not in human form. It is important to note that T-Kesh means nothing negative by this. T-Kesh doesn’t want to fight him and worries about it until the end of the school day. At the end of the day, T-Kesh puts on his football helmet and goes to the front of the school to face this kid. His friend, Lucas, asks what’s going on, presumably because of the helmet, and T-Kesh tells him. They both go to the front of the school and find Ian hiding behind a tree. Lucas recognizes Ian, knowing him from church, and talks to him. He asks what’s wrong with T-Kesh and asks why he got upset. Ian sort of stutters for a reason, but comes to his own conclusions and with Lucas, apologizes to T-Kesh.
Okay, so now we know the details, let’s dig in.
I love how this situation was handled and resolved. There are two things that I really cling onto from this scene:
- T-Kesh doesn’t want to fight and doesn’t consider it an option.
- Ian comes to his own conclusions and apologizes.
T-Kesh never wanted to fight. He never had any malintent by his comment. When prompted by the journalist, he responds with a shrug “learn how to fight?” This is not only an indication that he doesn’t want to fight, but that he can’t. Later, he puts on his football helmet, not to look scary, but because he’s probably worried about being hurt as he can’t fight. His other interactions with Lucas indicate this too. The subtle details to come to this conclusion are kind of amazing.
Now onto Ian and how he’s handled. No one ever flames Ian for his misconceptions or beliefs about monsters and T-Kesh. He tries to justify his thoughts to Lucas and Lucas only has to ask “What’s wrong with being like him?” It’s not an attack and it’s never intended that way, it’s just an honest question. The message of tolerance and respect goes both ways here. There’s the more obvious “What’s wrong with being like him?” addressing Ian on the topic of T-Kesh’s difference and how Lucas addresses Ian followed by how Ian and T-Kesh’s interaction.
Last thing, I love how WTML subverted the “I have to fight the bully” trope and the cheesy after-school special feel about how “fighting is wrong, but getting beat up makes you the bigger man”. Ian is never portrayed as bully, ever. Just a kid who had prejudices and didn’t understand the intent of T-Kesh’s statement. No one tells T-Kesh he has to fight Ian and, further, Lucas probably tagged along to stop the fight. That’s AWESOME and the complexity of how the situation is set up, makes it real. Nothing is as simple and black-and-white as tropes like to make us believe. WTML also avoids the after-school special feel by indulging heavily in these complexities, mimicking real life multidimensional situations. Though it ends with T-Kesh and Ian ‘shaking hands’ the short doesn’t end, it’s not cheesy. There’s no “you were the bigger person for not fighting” etc. all the kids say on the same level. The short continues, it doesn’t end there. The whole short wasn’t about this incident, this incident was just a device to convey the overall message.
The animation style in WTML is reminiscent if not the same as The Amazing World of Gumball where animation is drawn, layered, and mapped onto real backgrounds. Now, for a show like Gumball the style may have been an animation choice, where as for WTML I believe it’s a bit more symbolic and much more intentional. I think this style was used to ground us in the familiar. Even though we’ve never seen the backgrounds before, the backdrop are like something that could be seen in your own community whether you community despite town/city size. Interesting point to, that even though it’s familiar it’s not and it never can be. We can’t live among these animated characters but they can live among us.
The narrative style of the documentary serves a similar purpose as the animation style, it’s supposed to ground the audience. Although, it’s not in reality persay, but in the familiar. The Documentary is a genre that most have engaged with and they are everywhere now. We’re exposed through streaming sites Youtube, Netflix, Hulu on our own and at school (K-12 to College). So most people know about it.
This might be a little out there for what this is (um this whole blog post is but still), but I think this might also be making fun of the documentary genre in a content manner and in discourse. This isn’t a “mockumentary” where it satirizes the subject (the person) or the content/theme. But I do think WTML is making fun of the “let’s follow a minority to show people their lives aren’t really truly that different from us”. The separation of us and them, the subject (T-Kesh) and the camera crew/interviewer. The name even sort of jabs at it, “Welcome to My Life”, where “my” cannot be “yours”. To be fair this is also used to distinguish that we all individuals, but that’s funny thing about words is they can have lots of interpretations.
Part two (coming soon!) will be on what I see from this as a linguist and why that’s equally important.