The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Paradigm

About halfway through Jonathan Lethem’s wonderful novel The Fortress of Solitude, two characters aimlessly riff on the archetypical qualities of The Beatles:

Now Dylan’s friend Linus Millberg appears out of the crowd with a cup of beer and shouts, “Dorothy is John Lennon, the Scarecrow is Paul McCartney, the Tin Woodman is George Harrison, the Lion’s Ringo.”
“Star Trek,” commands Dylan over the lousy twangy country CB’s is playing between sets.
“Easy,” Linus shouts back. “Kirk’s John, Spock’s Paul, Bones is George, Scotty is Ringo. Or Chekov, after the first season. Doesn’t matter, it’s like a Scotty-Chekov-combination Ringo. Spare parts are always surplus Georges or Ringos.”
“But isn’t Spock-lacks-a-heart and McCoy-lacks-a-brain like Woodman and Scarecrow? So Dorothy’s Kirk?”
“You don’t get it. That’s just a superficial coincidence. The Beatle thing is an archetype, it’s like the basic human formation. Everything naturally forms into a Beatles, people can’t help it”’
“Say the types again.”
“Responsible-parent genius-parent genius-child clown-child.”

Projecting John, Paul, George, and Ringo onto the members of other famous quartets is just the kind of useless minutia I can’t help but spend hours contemplating; in fact, the margins of my high school and college notebooks were already filled with like-minded endeavors (you know, which members of the Full House family correspond with which members of the Wu-Tang Clan… the usual). But I have to admit, the individual personalities of the Beatles lend themselves better to generalization than just about any other — in many cases, the comparisons practically draw themselves. Others are a little clumsier, requiring you to shoehorn certain characters to make everything fit. As Linus explains, some groups may have two Georges and no Ringo, etc. Regardless, it’s an endlessly entertaining time-waster.

‘I didn’t make this s–t up,’ says Linus. ‘It’s like some essential human grouping pattern.’

And, while I have the standard quota of Beatles knowledge that you’d pretty much expect of any post-WWII citizen in the Western hemisphere, I can’t fully connect — I was born in 1987, not 1957. The connotations and identities associated with each Beatle are mirrored in my perceptions of a different group — my beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, if you buy the presumption that the Fab Four represented certain universal personality types, there is a very noticeable correlation between the Beatles and the Turtles.

Leonardo is Paul McCartney

The idealized leader — dedicated, valiant, decisive. Linus describe this type as the “responsible-parent.” Personally, the Leos and Pauls of the world tend to bore me a little because of their righteousness, integrity, and bland nobility, but your mileage may vary.

Raphael is John Lennon

Raphaels/Lennons are dynamic characters, often visionaries or explosive rebels. They are bold, creative, intense, and often over-assertive. As Linus explains, “everything revolves around John.” They also tend to be funny in a dark sort of way, and emotionally or spiritually troubled.

Donatello is George Harrison

Donatello/Georges may fly under the radar at times, but they are integral to the group’s success: they are intellectual, introspective, and supremely talented. Where would these respective groups be without Donatello’s technical know-how or George’s understated contributions? They’d be totally f’ed, that’s where they’d be.

Michelangelo is Ringo Starr

Linus’ “clown-child” brings a much-needed dose of levity and humor. Michelangelo/Ringos are fun, if a little unsophisticated, and generally don’t take themselves quite as seriously as the others (although their flippancy may mask deeper, more complex emotions). As the TNMT theme song states, a Michelangelo may indeed be a “party dude.”
Well, there you have it: the four archetypal personalities. Below you will find my attempt to project these onto a series of other famous groups from all realms of pop culture and beyond. Feel free to comment with your own suggestions and additions! But remember to take it extremely personally if you disagree with any of my choices. This is the internet, and I’m expressing an opinion, so I deserve to be liberally criticized and attacked.

Boy Meets World
Cory – Leonardo
Shawn – Raphael
Topanga – Donatello
Eric – Michelangelo

The Channel 4 News Team
Ron Burgundy – Raphael
Brian Fantana – Leonardo
Champ Kind – Michelangelo
Brick Tamland – Michelangelo
(The lack of a true Donatello is probably why the News Team fell to pieces so quickly after Ron’s departure.)

Seinfeld
Jerry – Leonardo
Elaine – Leonardo
George – Raphael
Kramer – Michelangelo
(Jerry and Elaine are both Leonardos — that’s why they didn’t work out together.)

The Simpsons
Homer – Raphael
Marge – Leonardo
Bart – Michelangelo
Lisa – Donatello

The Ghostbusters
Egon– Leonardo
Ray – Donatello
Peter – Raphael/Michelangelo
Winston – N/A
(The Ghostbusters were wholly functional as a trio, as evidenced by the first half of the original movie, because Peter Venkman is so badass he pulls of a Michelangelo and a Raphael simultaneously. However, they weren’t harmed by the addition of Winston, because he’s just a cool dude who played by his own rules.)

Grunge Bands
Pearl Jam – Leonardo
Nirvana – Raphael
Soundgarden – Donatello
Alice in Chains – Michelangelo

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Frank/Charlie – Raphael
Dennis/Dee/Mac – Michelangelo
(This highly unstable balance is the reason for this group’s constant volatility and lack of cohesion.)

The Four Horseman (Wrestling)
Ric Flair – Raphael
Arn Anderson – Leonardo
Barry Windham – Donatello
Tully Blanchard – Michelangelo

I Love Lucy
Lucy – Raphael
Ricky – Leonardo
Fred – Michelangelo
Ethel – Donatello
(I’m being pretty generous toward Ethel, here. I kind of hate her.)

Mount Rushmore Presidents
George Washington – Leonardo
Thomas Jefferson – Donatello
Abraham Lincoln – Raphael
Theodore Roosevelt – Michelangelo

The Hangover
Phil (Bradley Cooper) – Raphael
Stu (Ed Helms) – Leonardo
Alan (Zach Galifianakis) – Michelangelo
(This group really needs a Donatello. I would say that’s why they’re always searching for Doug, but he kind of seems like a tool.)

Friends
Monica – Leonardo
Chandler – Raphael
Joey/Phoebe – Michelangelo
Rachel – Donatello
Ross – Krang

The Who
Roger Daltrey – Leonardo
Pete Townshend – Raphael
John Entwistle – Donatello
Keith Moon – Michelangelo

South Park
Stan – Leonardo
Kyle – Donatello
Cartman – Raphael
Kenny – Michelangelo

Famous Italian Artists
Leonardo da Vinci – Michelangelo
Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (Donatello) – Leonardo
Michelangelo Buonarroti – Raphael
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael) – Donatello

Sex and the City
Carrie – Leonardo
Samantha – Raphael
Charlotte – Donatello
Miranda – Michelangelo
(I’ve never actually seen Sex and the City, so, I dunno — you tell me.)

The Godfather Sons
Michael (Al Pacino) – Leonardo
Sonny (James Caan) – Raphael
Fredo (John Cazale) – Michelangelo
Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall, informally adopted son) – Donatello

The Big 4 Thrash Metal Bands
Metallica – Leonardo
Slayer – Raphael
Megadeth – Donatello
Anthrax – Michelangelo

Fantastic Four
Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards) – Leonardo
Invisible Woman (Susan Storm) – Donatello
The Human Torch (Johnny Storm) – Michelangelo
The Thing (Ben Grimm) – Raphael

Entourage
Vincent – Leonardo
E – Donatello
Drama – Raphael
Turtle – Michelangelo

Full House Adults
Danny – Leonardo
Jesse – Raphael
Joey – Michelangelo
Rebecca – Donatello

Scooby Doo
Fred – Leonardo
Daphne – Raphael
Velma – Donatello
Shaggy/Scooby Doo – Michelangelo

Gumby
Gumby – Leonardo
Pokey – Raphael
Prickle – Donatello
Goo – Michelangelo

Rugrats
Tommy – Leonardo
Chuckie – Raphael
Phil and Lil – Michelangelo
Spike – Donatello
(Phil and Lil are like the most worthless Michelangelos ever. They suck.) TC mark

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  • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

    *slow clap* *stands* 

    *still clapping*

    *OMFG STANDING OVATION*

    (Though Reed is definitely a Donatello, with Sue Storm being the real Leonardo)

    • Anonymous

      You’re absolutely right about Reed and Sue

  • Scott

    This is incredible. I lost it when you got to “Famous Italian Artists”!

    • http://twitter.com/fayerfayter Fire

      I like the fact it’s a 4-cycle:
      leo -> mich
      mich -> raph
      raph -> don
      don -> leo

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    I’m just dying right now. Great job. 
    I’ve often wondered the 3 contestants paradigm but this takes the cake.

  • Mark

    My friend sent
    me this link cause, I’ve had this theory for years and talked about it to
    the point of annoying.  I’ve always referred to it as the “Four
    Character Analysis.” I initially noticed it when I realized
    the similarities between TMNT and Golden Girls.  Loved that you
    caught that Scooby Doo characters were a “doubleup” with Shaggy and
    Scooby being roughly the same.  My Simpsons break different – I switch
    Homer and Bart based on first season rebelliousness and comic relief
    purposes.  

     

    A few
    keys from what I’ve noticed over the years-  leadership does not
    necessarily have to reside with the Leonardo. In comedies in particular, it can
    reside with the Raphael – such as Venkman in the Ghostbuster
    films (though not really in the animated).  One of the key
    elements of a Leonardo, is that he seems to have an aspect of
    moral similarity to the audience – so actually for Ghostbusters I had
    Winston, because he is there to relate to normal people, such as when he
    talks to the mayor.  Actually had Ray as the Homer/Michaelangelo
    – food obsession to some degree (marshmellows), and naivete
    (“Get her!  Great plan Ray!”). 

     

    Donatellos,
    besides usually being a technical genius of one aspect or another, are
    also often “supra moral” as in having a morality above what
    is expected.  For example, although all of the characters are corrupt
    in Seinfeld- technically it is Elaine, who shows her moral superiority
    when berating others for stuff that is “above what is expected”
    by normal folk, such as attacking George for eating tuna, which
    could harm dolphins.  It’s a Lisa Simpson, E from Entourage,
    Hermione Granger (see later) thing. Because of their “supra
    moral” nature, Donatellos can get a bad rap. 

     

    You can also
    expand to 5 or 6 characters – some easy splits for example, are taking the
    Michelangelo character and splitting Naivete and Comic Relief – for example
    like in the “Warriors” between Vermin and the tagger kid (I
    forget his name).  It can also be contracted to three – Harry,
    Hermione and Ron – and then two – your typical the odd couple. 
    I think the whole thing may somehow derive from Greek Drama – the Protagonist,
    Dueteragonist, and the Tritagonist and some sort of comic relief.  Could
    also be a nuclear family breakdown – Father (Leo), Mother (Don),
    Teenager (Raph), Child (Mike).

     

     

    Also works for
    “Watership Down,” the OC, the four Zodiac elemental
    signs (Fire, Water, Earth, Air), the houses from Harry Potter, and
    super bonus points if you can do the “Four Horsemen of the
    Apocalypse” (hint: think of it in terms of the Godfather kids.)

     
     

    • Ted Pillow

      Wow, that’s awesome Mark. Totally agree on the Simpsons – I botched that one. Got a little too caught up in Lethem’s responsible parent/genius parent/responsible child/clown child distinctions. Just curious, how do you see the Golden Girls breaking down?

      • Mark

        Well Rose is clearly Michelangelo – naïve and a point of comic relief.
        Blanche is Raphael.  She doesn’t so much compare to Raphael, but with his general archetype.  A good way to distinguish the two “child” characters as you put it, is to look for a breakdown of the seven deadly sins.  For example, Sloth and Gluttony are obviously a Mike/Homer/Scooby/Shaggy thing, but Pride and Lust (at least in sexual terms) usually goes to the Raphael.  She compares to Samantha on Sex in the City or Venkman, who are sex obsessed to some degree, both of whom I also put as a Raphael.  Now on to the “adults.”    
        There’s more to the Donatello character than I mentioned before.  Being that their archetype is the “Mother,” they also are often literally mothers on the show.  Sophia is literally the mother on the show (even though they all technically have their own kids I think), while Miranda of the Sex in the City, literally has a kid. “Mother” can also mean being the female amongst males – Sue Storm from the Fantastic Four.  From what I’ve seen, Sophia plays a support role to the other characters, particularly with them seeking her advice, an important idea with Donatello’s and Deuteragonists in general (think of the Godfather and the consigliore role).
        Dorothy – though some can probably argue she goes more “supra moral” than Sophia and that she may be more Donatello – I think she really supposed to represent the “straight man” on the series – another trait of Leonardo (Seinfeld, Stan on South Park) and set the moral basis for the series.  Leonardos and Raphaels are also most likely to fight with one another over issues of Pride – the Raphael can lead a Leonardo into a “Pride battle” – think Fantastic Four.  On the other hand, Raphaels will go after Donatello’s for their “supra moral” attitude, Michelangelos for their weakness and childishness, but not usually neither of them for Pride specifically.  To that end, Dorothy does face off against Blanche on several occasions and let her Pride get the best of her in certain circumstances.         
         

      • Ted Pillow

        Awesome, man. I thought about including The Golden Girls, but I think I was thrown off because, as you mention, Blanche is kind of a weak Raphael. Also I think the Sophia character confused me too – I usually think of elder members as Leos (Leo is the oldest turtle, hence his leadership qualities), but Dorothy seemed like more of a leader/straight man (ha ha). So I wasn’t sure exactly what Sophia was, but Donatello definitely makes sense.

    • Claire

      Ryan = Raphael
      Seth = Donatello
      Summer = LeonardoMarissa = Michelangelo

      • Mark

        Well it’s referenced on the show actually.  Summer compares herself to Blanche (Raph) and Anna to Rose (Mike).  There’s an episode where it’s declared that Anna and Seth are the same person, so that makes Seth Rose(Mike). 
         
        Seth being Michaelangelo fits anyway – slothful, likes video games, childish, naive and a point of comic relief. 
         
        Summer being the initial Raphael makes sense, but she transitions and eventually becomes more “adult” than Marissa, who then in turn becomes the source of more drama herself.  Just as Drama is called “Drama” on Entourage – Raphael’s and Tritagonists in general create drama for the shows they’re on.  At the end of the day I would say Marissa becomes the true Raphael of the show.  **Spoiler** When she dies, the drama dies with her to the point where Season 4 was just goofy **Spoiler End**.  As the series progresses, Summer takes on a more motherly role, common among Donatellos, and her as a “Mother” even becomes closer to literal when she adopts Waffles the rabbit in Season 4 (or is Pancakes…).
         
        Like a true Leo, Ryan rarely creates trouble, except in the beginning episodes, but is the one who resolves them.  As the series finds itself, more often it is Marissa or Seth who cause problems that Ryan has to deal with and save them from (Oliver, Donny, etc.).  To help distinguish between the two “adults,” Leo and Don, Leos deal with external forces, Dons deal with internal forces and support the group.  
         
        The parents work too – Sandy (Leo), Kirsten (Don), Julie (Ralph), Jimmy (Mike).  That is, of course, unless you consider Sandy Master Splinter. 

  • Aria

    Don’t you dare insult Phil and Lil.

  • http://twitter.com/alalalex alex

    I actually think Stu might be Donatello in The Hangover, with Doug as the tentative Leonardo.

    • Ted Pillow

      Which would explain why they completely fall apart without him…makes sense!

  • Sex-and-the-city viewer

    Samantha is definitely Michelangelo (from sex and the city).

    • Guestropod

      I feel like Samantha fills the Michelangelo and Raphael spots.  I would say Miranda and Charlotte are both Donatellos.  

      • Leo

        i dunno…i think that samantha definitely fits the description of being dynamic, bold, creative, and overassertive. and she is a visionary in her own right, not to mention that she pretty well adheres to the ‘everything revolves around john’ characteristic. 

        And charlotte is definitely donatello; not too central, but things would definitely fall apart without her. buut I dont really think things would fall apart without miranda…miranda sucks. not a class clown or party dude, but really as dispensable/replaceable as ringo.. I think he nailed it. impressively done especially never having seen the show.

        also boy meets world is SO DEAD ON

  • Anonymous

    Heads up: I showed this to Rider Strong (because we’re Twitter buds) and he agreed with your assessment of Shawn.

    • Ted Pillow

      …you just absolutely shattered my universe.

      I should get on this whole “twitter” thing.

      • Anonymous

        I have some weird celebrity Twitter friends.

        But anyway, congratulations! He thinks you nailed it.

  • Anonymous

    The is the best thing anyone has ever written. 

  • adastra8

    Mind BLOWN (brain splattered on the wall).
    This was brilliant!

  • Edonner17

    As far as Entourage goes, I’d say Drama is more along the lines of a second Mikey.  Ari is Ralph.

  • https://thoughtcatalog.com/ted-pillow/2014/03/the-ghostbusters-formula-that-will-change-how-you-see-trios-in-pop-culture/ The Ghostbusters Formula That Will Change How You See Trios In Pop Culture | Thought Catalog

    […] few years ago, I claimed that the character traits of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a blueprint for groups of […]

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