Old School Nickelodeon: A Tribute

There are two types of people in this world: Those who had Nickelodeon as a kid, and those who did not.

Those who had Nickelodeon in the late 80s and early 90s were privy to a renaissance of kiddy culture. A celebration of kidness! A rebellion against grownups! The emancipation of slime! In its heyday, Nickelodeon was the Discovery Zone of cable networks.

My heart goes out to those unfortunate souls who did not have cable growing up, not only because they were denied participation in the greatest era of television of all time, but also because they now lack a considerable pocket of knowledge in pop culture—a knowledge that can only be earned by spending some serious time on the orange couch.

Whenever the topic of Old School Nick emerges in conversation, there is always that one ill-fated sucker who cannot identify names like, “Patty Mayonnaise” and “Stu Pickles.” The ill-fated sucker is doomed to sit in silence while the rest of the group reminisces about the lineup of Snick and The Adventures of Pete and Pete. A typical conversation runs like this:

Someone: Hey, remember that show, “The Roundhouse?”
Someone else: Uh, Yeah! Old School Nick was the best!
Another someone else: Hey, Remember Global Guts?
Ill-Fated Sucker:  …

It is at this point in the conversation when the group realizes that the ill-fated sucker is indeed one of the poor souls who has never watched Nickelodeon. The group exchanges a knowing nod and silently recognizes what this means: if the conversation is pursued, this sucker will be ousted. The poor sap gives the group a look that can only be described as deer-in-headlights-meets-Hulk-Hogan-rage. Please, not again. The group has sympathy, but the fact remains: a conversation about Old School Nick cannot be resisted. I have seen conversations run like this time and time again, and every time, you just gotta rehash the Snick lineup. It’s a Pandora’s Box of tv memories.

The conversation usually becomes a mere trivia session—What is that chemical that spilled on Alex Mac? (GC161). What was the name of that big head in Legends of the Hidden Temple? (Olmec). What were Clarrissa’s parents’ names (Janet and Marshall). But what exactly Nickelodeon did for kids often remains unspoken.

As I look at some “kid’s” shows on tv today, I realize how fortunate I was to grow up alongside Doug Funny and Alex Mac. Current Nick shows like “iCarly and “Big Time Rush” have the look and feel of a baby MTV. They are “edgy” and “cool,” but they are not, “kid.” The shows placate to a celebrity-obsessed culture: Carly stars in her own TV Show. The gang in “Big Time Rush” moves to L.A. to become the newest pop sensation. They “hang at the pool and attend late night parties.”  Not surprisingly, Carly’s parents live “overseas,” and only one parent accompanies “The Big Time Rush” gang when they move to Hollywood. While Old School Nick characters persevere to trump authority, current Nick kids effortlessly sidestep it. Why rebel against “Adult Swim” when you can “hang at a Hollywood Pool?”

Clarissa Darling: The ultimate free spirit.

Current Nick shows are not about kids, but little superstars in the making. And the ultimate message to viewers? There’s nothing special about being a kid. You have to be a Jonas Brother. The Current Nick shows demonstrate a bizarre twist on the way childhood was viewed in the Victorian Era: Kids are not kids, but rather “little teens.” The beauty of Old School Nick lies in its simplicity. Alex Mac, Clarissa Darling, Doug Funny, et. al are “average” kids. They worry about how they did on that test. They missed the bus. They wear jeans and T-Shirts.

Yes, Nickelodeon is, “just tv,” after all, but we can’t underestimate the impact it has on kids. Childhood and early adolescence is a time where a kid starts to realize, rather subconsciously, that she is a thing among things. A person with a unique body, personality and traits and talents. She learns proper conduct from studying others. TV personas serve as a blueprint for conduct—a behavioral reference book of sorts. And during a confusing time, Old School Nick gave us some encouraging lessons.

Doug taught us that it’s OK to be just OK. Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, showed us that you can be eccentric and powerful.  Little Pete showed us that it’s beautiful to cry out of happiness if you’re that marvelously affected. Ellen taught us to always ask, “Why?” Clarissa showed us what it is to be a free spirit, Ren and Stimply taught me the concept of “Kitsch.” And Rugrats prepared me for existential angst, as featured below:

Didi: Stu, what are you doing?
Stu: Making chocolate pudding.
Didi: It’s four o’clock in the morning! Why on earth are you making chocolate pudding?
Stu: Because I’ve lost control of my life.

Hi. I’m Brigid Duffy, and I’m still a Nick Kid.

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2 Responses to “Old School Nickelodeon: A Tribute”

  1. Hey that is an interesting point that all those old Nick shows were just about regular kids, perhaps with something slightly quirky about them, like Pete and Pete, Doug, etc. I’ve only seen about 2 minutes of the Jonas Brothers show, and I know there’s also the Miley Cyrus show, and both of those shows are about being regular kids PLUS being superstars, atleast i think. There was so much creativity in just finding the special things in regular life… Ok I am probably not qualified to comment on kids’ TV shows today, unless the Colbert Report counts as children’s TV.. which it may.

  2. brigidduffy Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Sean!

    I haven’t seen the Miley Cyrus show or the Jonas Bros show either, but I think you’re right- it’s usually about balancing being a “regular kid” AND a rockstar. As if being a regular kid weren’t difficult enough!

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