Those who grew up watching Nickelodeon in the ’90s are no doubt familiar with the animated series Hey Arnold! and its earnest and lovable central character, Arnold. He may have made his share of mistakes, but no matter what, Arnold had his heart in the right place. It’s a good thing he was a cartoon, though, because if he were real, Arnold would have been financially ruined by Bernie Madoff in 2008.
Let’s face it, Arnold always saw the good in people. And while this was an admirable quality in the playground of P.S. 118, it would have left him a sitting duck in the cutthroat world of New York high finance. Since he grew up without parents, Arnold survived largely thanks to the goodwill and charity of others. Madoff would have smelled blood in the water, and when he rolled into town offering double-digit returns year after year, how could Arnold say no?
Sure, Arnold may have been capable of convincing Stoop Kid to leave his stoop, but Bernie Madoff is an entirely different animal. Madoff had built a reputation as a financial wizard. Before his downfall in December 2008, he had roped in a long list of clients with high net worths—including major banks and celebrities—and provided them with elaborate fraudulent statements to complete the charade. Arnold would have been way out of his league with Madoff.
By the time Madoff and Arnold even shook hands, the game would have already been over.
Beyond all of this, Arnold’s football-shaped brain would have proven the largest detriment in this scenario. Based on the shape of his head, we’re looking at an underdeveloped frontal cortex—the region of the brain responsible for judgment and planning. Additionally, the football-shaped skull would naturally lead to an oversized temporal lobe, which would put his emotions—not rational thought—firmly in the driver’s seat. By the time Madoff and Arnold even shook hands, the game would have already been over.
With every passing month, Arnold’s naiveté would have drawn him deeper and deeper into the Ponzi scheme. After a couple of promising months, Arnold would have become Bernie’s greatest evangelist. Helga, Gerald, Stinky, Grandma and Grandpa—anyone who would listen would join the long list of Madoff’s victims. Suddenly, Arnold’s trustworthy charm would become another tool in the hands of a master manipulator.
It was all so close to happening. While Bernie Madoff serves his 150-year prison sentence for securities fraud, Arnold should thank his lucky stars. If he wasn’t a cartoon, he would have learned why most of us don’t look for the best in everyone. The real world doesn’t work that way.