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Cool but Crude: the Sarcastic Turtle

             Before the 1980’s, the name “Raphael” rang bells only in the ears of Renaissance history scholars and art students studying perspective. The original Raphael was an artist, and far from a pop culture icon even in his own time. Now, however, the name brings to mind for many a flash of green, a band of red, and the gleam of the three-pronged sai wielded by a true ninja master. Sure, he’s a turtle, and it’s true that his sensei is a sewer rat, but Raphael the Ninja Turtle is undeniably “cool.”

            I don’t think I ever consciously modeled my life after Raphael’s. When I still watched the Turtles every Saturday morning, I don't think I was really aware enough to know why I identified with Raph, but if I think about it now (and I do; I’m that much of a dork), it’s clear that I have a lot in common with the maverick of the foursome.

            When the Turtles first hit the TV airwaves, I immediately identified most with the red-bandanna-wearing Raphael. I think my attraction came first from the fact that red was my favorite color, but I quickly discovered that Raph’s devil-may-care surface attitude had an undercurrent of self-doubt that I often felt. Raphael was constantly not a “team player;” neither was I. I kept few friends, though those I had I kept close, like Raphael, and I trusted them. Still, I had a temper, and I often allowed it to get the better of me. In the first movie, Raphael left his brothers in a fit of anger, an action I often found myself imitating. After rushing off in a huff, Raphael found himself alone, and surrounded by the evil Foot. This was a common theme throughout the television series and other movies. I, too, often felt alone, alienated by my anger and facing odds stacked overwhelmingly against me.

            But Raphael was able to overcome his temper. “Anger clouds the mind, Raphael,” said his sensei, Splinter, at one point. Raphael learned from that lesson, and I saw that I must as well. I began taking martial arts classes, cultivating physical skills as I learned discipline and self-control, and with them self-confidence. Raph, though still something of a maverick, had learned the same lessons I now sought, and I followed his path.

            Today, I am a realist, a sarcastic artist with nearly ten years’ experience in various martial arts. It is true that I do not have a giant secret ninja society for a nemesis, but the world of reality is every bit as volatile as Raphael’s fantastic New York. Raphael, though a character of fiction, is a hero in my life; like all such figures, he is both like me and not like me. Raphael and I share many weaknesses, and his character provided something of a map for me, a way to overcome my weaknesses and become better for it. His mistakes inspired me to avoid the same downfalls, and his successes made me want to do as well as he. That is what makes him a hero: I see my past in him, and I see a possible future as well.

            Perhaps I will never come into contact with a glowing radioactive “ooze,” and perhaps I am more efficient a fighter with escrima in my hands than with sai, but Raphael and I have much in common. He is, and will remain, a hero—a role model—in my life.

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Copyright ©2001 Adam Rutledge