Boris Banished From Rugrats Strip

(Left: Sample panel from the offending Sunday 9/20/98 Gray / Baker strip, from the Creators Syndicate website; (c) 1998 Viacom. The Mourner's Kaddish, originally spoken here, has been removed by me out of respect for the Jewish faith.)

One regular Rugrats character is not working too well in the strip -- Grandpa Boris.

In the Sunday 9/20/98 strip, syndicated to papers nationwide, Boris and his congregation recite The Mourner's Kaddish during the Rosh Hashanah holiday, when this strip was published.

What the strip originally meant to do is to represent the Jewish faith, which is severely underrepresented in today's comics. Instead, it created controversy, which led to the removal of one of the series' most loved adults.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League complained to Nick about the portrayal of Jews in the strip, with Boris being the main cause of defamation. According to the ADL, Boris was drawn in a manner similar to Nazi-era Jewish stereotypes. Furthermore, his recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish in a light-hearted fashion provided further insult, since the Kaddish is supposed to be recited in a serious manner. Nick president Herb Scannell called this offense an "error of judgement".

To appease the ADL, Nick will no longer include Boris in future strips, nor would the strip make any references to religion.

As for who's really at fault, it's not the creators, but the modern formatting of the comic strip. In the TV series, we eventually got to know, and revere, Boris. As a matter of fact, the 2 Jewish-related specials, Passover & Chanukah, remain one of the most-watched Rugrats episodes ever. As a matter of fact, the Chanukah episode had its world premiere at a synogogue. But in the strip, it's a different story. Considering that the strip is essentially a gag-a-day strip, there's essentially no room for character development, no time to perfect them, and no time to get to know them. Unlike the TV series, the characters are essentially "just there", leaving room for mistakes that may lead to controversy or regrets. It's beacuse of this that Boris didn't have a chance to develop his character, leading to the mistake that led to his banishment from the strip.

According to an Associated Press story on The Rugrats Movie (which included a few words on the Boris strip debacle), co-creator Arlene Klasky, who's Jewish herself, commented:

"No one ever complained about Grandpa [Boris] before; when you see him in the series he's such an adorable, lovable character.

"Portraying Boris in a two-dimensional format, without hearing the folksy voice that enlivens his personality, is probably what sparked the controversy.

"Hundreds of people draw Grandpa and have for years. Grandpa changes, ever so slightly, as all cartoon characters do."

In the aftermath, the Rugrats strip ended up forgetting about religious holidays like Thanksgiving & Christmas; on those days, it's just another ordinary day to the Rugrats in the strip. Because of what happened at the synogogue on 9/20/98, the Pickles family, who are a mixed-faith family on TV, are practically athiests (those who don't have a religion) in the strip.

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