In Kids Rule!
Sarah Banet-Weiser examines the cable network Nickelodeon in order to rethink the relationship between children, media, citizenship, and consumerism. Nickelodeon is arguably the most commercially successful cable network ever. Broadcasting original programs such as Dora the Explorer
, SpongeBob SquarePants
, and Rugrats
(and producing related movies, Web sites, and merchandise), Nickelodeon has worked aggressively to claim and maintain its position as the preeminent creator and distributor of television programs for America’s young children, tweens, and teens. Banet-Weiser argues that a key to its success is its construction of children as citizens within a commercial context. The network’s self-conscious engagement with kids—its creation of a “Nickelodeon Nation” offering choices and empowerment within a world structured by rigid adult rules—combines an appeal to kids’ formidable purchasing power with assertions of their political and cultural power.
Banet-Weiser draws on interviews with nearly fifty children as well as with network professionals; coverage of Nickelodeon in both trade and mass media publications; and analysis of the network’s programs. She provides an overview of the media industry within which Nickelodeon emerged in the early 1980s as well as a detailed investigation of its brand-development strategies. She also explores Nickelodeon’s commitment to “girl power,” its ambivalent stance on multiculturalism and diversity, and its oft-remarked appeal to adult viewers. Banet-Weiser does not condemn commercial culture nor dismiss the opportunities for community and belonging it can facilitate. Rather she contends that in the contemporary media environment, the discourses of political citizenship and commercial citizenship so thoroughly inform one another that they must be analyzed in tandem. Together they play a fundamental role in structuring children’s interactions with television.
List of Illustrations ix
1. “We, the People of Nickelodeon”: Theorizing Empowerment and Consumer Citizenship 1
2. The Success Story: Nickelodeon and the Cable Industry 38
3. The Nickelodeon Brand: Buying and Selling the Audience 69
4. Girls Rule! Gender, Feminism, and Nickelodeon 104
5. Consuming Race on Nickelodeon 142
6. Is Nick for Kids? Irony, Camp, and Animation in the Nickelodeon Brand 178
Conclusion: Kids Rule: The Nickelodeon Universe 211
“Kids Rule! challenges us to think about Nickelodeon’s impact on our ideas about childhood, consumerism, and citizenship. With wit and insight, Sarah Banet-Weiser explains how this phenomenal cable and branding success story changed children’s TV while deftly promoting its brand worldwide. A must-read for parents and teachers.”—Ellen Seiter, author of The Internet Playground: Children’s Access, Entertainment, and Mis-Education
“Kids Rule! is an immensely important and exciting book. Based on meticulous research, with a strong cultural production approach, it is a book that will be widely read by scholars and students alike. It fills a large gap in this terrain of work and it is lively, thorough, and brimming with insight and argument.”—Angela McRobbie, author of The Uses of Cultural Studies
“In this remarkable book, Sarah Banet-Weiser delves into the political, cultural, and economic forces that drive Nickelodeon. As it has moved from upstart cable network to international conglomerate, Nick has tried to have its cake and eat it too—it is a place where ‘kids rule!’ but also a network that understands the value of pleasing parents. The book compellingly reveals how Nick addresses its young viewers as consumer-citizens and how it commodifies both ‘girl power’ and ethnic diversity to forge a unique place for itself within the children’s television marketplace.”—Heather Hendershot, editor of Nickelodeon Nation: The History, Politics, and Economics of America’s Only TV Channel for Kids