The Secret Grief of Justin Time

If you wish to maintain your positivity and innocence in the face of certain children’s shows, I would warn you to stop reading. I’m about to make one kid’s cartoon very, very sad.

As a father of young children, I watch a lot of children’s cartoons (and by the by, it is interesting that, in this day and age, I must specify). Anywho, one of my daughter’s favorites is Justin Time – a show about a little boy who imagines that he goes back in time to various places around the world and learns lessons while there. On the face of it, the whole thing is pretty tame and basically educational. My primary critique would be that very little effort is made for historical accuracy, unfortunately, but it is clear that such is not the show’s purpose – it uses imaginary environments to teach our protagonist, Justin, lessons about responsibility, honesty, manners, and so on. In that regard, it does a fine job.

Olive, Squidgy, Justin

Olive, Squidgy, Justin

What is curious about the cartoon are the characters. Justin is a stereotypical imaginative little boy living in the suburbs somewhere with his Mom and Dad (who barely feature in the cartoon at all). Justin has an imaginary friend, Squidgy, who is some kind of blanket/shammy that Justin carries around and who takes on various shapes and talks while we adventure in imagination-land. Third, and most perplexing, is Olive – the slightly older girl who lives wherever back in time Justin travels. She acts as guide, friend, and assistant through Justin’s adventures.

What I find peculiar about Olive is how she differs so completely from all of Justin’s other imaginary creatures. Squidgy and the denizens of the imaginary past are all caricatures – silly, one-dimensional, and peripheral to Justin’s struggles. Olive, however, seems like a real person who is engaged in Justin’s conflicts in each episode directly and who, unlike most of the other characters, has a direct emotional impact on Justin’s mood. Justin cares how she feels and always works to help her and she does the same – they are a team. Furthermore, she is everywhere Justin goes while in the past. She is there waiting for him, every time.

So, why would a boy who already has an imaginary friend who travels around with him feel the need to create the same, fully realized, slightly older girl in every historical period he imagines? Why not shake it up? Why is Olive so central to the plot every time?

To answer this, I enjoin you to read this brief article by Ronald Pies PhD on PsychCentral.com. In it, Pies explores the phenomenon of hallucination and delusion as a response to grief. This explains Olive and Justin. Olive is Justin’s older sister. His deceased older sister. What we are watching in this cartoon is more than just a boy’s imaginative adventures through personal development – we are watching one little boy’s dealing with complicated grief.

Now, of course, this could all be just me projecting my own always-simmering grief over the decease of my own brother and I will readily admit that my evidence is entirely circumstantial, but the theory does fit. Consider this: if Olive is, indeed, the image of Justin’s dead sibling, then a lot of other things fall into place, too. Consider her name: Olive, as in Olive Time, as in “All of Time” – the same kind of play on words as her brother. Consider her role: supportive, wise, friendly, very older sister-ly.

Justin’s parents don’t mention or discuss her, true, but this, in fact, may be an indicator of why Justin’s grief has become so complex. The parents, bereaved at the loss of one child due to accident or disease, shelter their other, younger son. They explain Olive has “gone away” and then cannot bear to discuss her further. Justin, imaginative as he is, invents an “away” for his sister to dwell in – a place where he can visit her and be with her without upsetting his parents (whom he must know are upset). So, there we find Olive or, perhaps more accurately, her shade – there in the past, waiting to guide her brother towards maturity, trapped in limbo for all of time – until Justin, at some unknown point in the future, can finally release her.

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About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on October 20, 2014, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. I knew i wasnt crazy! My wife didnt believe me! 🙂

  2. This is a great explanation about Olive. I was thinking of a more upbeat approach that Olive and just are connected mentally and meet each other in a shared imagined environment.

  3. Lauren Galvin

    This is one of my kids shows that i always enjoy watching. I never thought of it this way but now I will always think of this explanation. Very inciteful. Thank for the interesting read.

  4. I found her odd. But I took more of a middle ground. That Justin doesn’t have any real friends and has to invent them all.

  5. I always think about why the boy imagine that girl friend in everywhere. Now is obvious…

  6. If they’re siblings then wouldn’t Olives grandpa also be Justin’s grandpa? Remember we met her Grandpa in one episode

  7. Brian Plummer

    Justin lives somewhere in Canada and Squidgy is some type of clay figure

  8. I just re-watched the first episode fully and realized that the boy other than Justin is a new neighbor but I kept wondering about Olive.

  9. But Olive is Asian and looks nothing like him.

  10. i always saw olive as a spirit guide of Justin who guided and looked after him and being of a metaphysical manifestation could see his imaginary friend squidgy but also took him to points in time which where on a spiritual plane of existence to teach him, notice how he always say goodbye when someone back in reality is calling for him as if he was in a meditative state.

  11. Good call. My 5 year old is watching this justin time. I googled olive because I found her a pretty strange choice of characters and then this post came up. Don’t think I’ll share this info with the boy, but for grown folks this insightful layer is making the show immeasurably more watchable. So thanks.

  12. Olive is muy girlfriend i love you Olive 😉

  13. This blew my mind. Makes me look at the show in a different light. Thanks for your post, it was very well written. Now I feel sad for Justin. I tell all my friends about Justin, and him in his imaginative state. Appreciate it.

  14. It was worth it to google about this! Funny how people think alike, I started to pay attention to Justin Time and I after a few episodes I noticed he wasn’t a normal child! I really like your vision about Olive, but I was thinking about something else and I would love your opinion about it.
    When I came to realise that Squidgy disappears every time his parents are around, I found it very odd, because children keep their imaginary friends “there” even if their parents are present, they even talk about then like if they were normal, because in the end it is a normal process for children.
    It took me a while to notice that Olive was the only human friend that appeared constantly in the episodes, she is kind of omnipresent, she is everywhere and claims that she lives at that place/time! He never objected that, he just accepts it. I think it is because when his parents calls him, it is more easy for him to leave her behind, “she just lives there anyway and she will be fine”.
    For a while I thought he had no friends, until I saw a few episodes where this little boy, his age, appears and tries to interact with him. Justin hides and just don’t want to talk to the boy, or he does not show interest in doing so, even Squidgy hides, which I find it more odd because children don’t keep these things from each other.
    Then there was this episode in one of the imaginary land where there is a wall and he has to climb it to get his ball or something like that, and his dad calls him and he has to say goodbye and leave Olive behind, his dad ends up talking about the neighbour like if Justin has never met them, and tells him that he is having a party and ask if Justin wants to go and meet them. It came to my attention that Justin haven’t met his door-to-door neighbour!! Why? Not because they’ve just moved in I bet.
    I thought he is an schizophrenic boy, his parents would have told him that some people he meets and things he experience are not real, so he chooses just not to talk about them anymore, keeping it a secret from everyone. The way he treats his real life “friend” shows that he has no interest in playing with actual people, he prefers the imaginary land because it is much much more interesting, turning him a bit antisocial.

  15. Intresting article and post, but I do have another question. Why do they show the dad’s face, but not the mom?

    • See, my instinct would be to go to the whole patriarchal “woman as object” thing (a la Ms. Bellum in Powerpuff Girls), but nothing else in the show seems to support that, so I’m not sure.

  16. Interesting and insightful theory! My take was that Olive represents the Superego in Justin’s psyche. In each of his imagination meditations, she always emerges as having perfected the idiosyncratic skills or knowledge necessary to thrive in the given environment of the theme at hand. She often attempts to correct Justin’s ego intuitions into socially/morally acceptable constructs. Squidgy, on the other hand, would then represent the Id – characterizing the innate urges of the subconscious, always supportive of Justin’s instinctive responses to outside stimuli. Note how Squidgy can communicate with animals, symbolizing his accord with primal nature. At any rate, I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the writing room when conceptualizing this series… it’s great that such a seemingly simple kids’ show is generating such thoughtful conversation!

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