How Spongebob and Rugrats Influenced This Election!

By Jack Myers ThinkTank Archives
Cover image for  article: How Spongebob and Rugrats Influenced This Election!

An awareness of Internet Pioneers' early television experiences can help us better understand their values, attitudes and expectations today, including their voting decisions in this week's election and their future behaviors and consumption patterns. During their formative years, Nickelodeon had a strong influence on Internet Pioneers and many of their ideas, perspectives, sensibilities and attitudes can be tracked to these early television viewing experiences. Nickelodeon programs dominate the list of shows that Internet Pioneers name as their favorites at age 12 or younger.

Internet Pioneers' Favorite Shows from When They Were Age 12 and Younger
Source: Myers Survey of the Hooked Up Generation, 1,000 Internet Pioneers born 1991-1995, conducted July 2011

1. * Rugrats
2. * Spongebob Squarepants
3.   Pokemon
4. * Hey Arnold
5. * Doug
6. * All That
* Nickelodeon programs

Geraldine Laybourne, the educator who led Nickelodeon during its formative years, shares the story of her first visit to the set of Linda Ellerbee's groundbreaking Nickelodeon news program. "Linda had posted a sign that said 'Question Authority.' I told her to take it down… and replace it with a sign that said 'Question Everything." When Nickelodeon was launched in 1990, the network issued a Declaration of Kids' Rights that, in many ways, serves as the mantra that Internet Pioneers grew up with and that defines how they perceive their rights and entitlements.

Nickelodeon's Declaration of Kids' Rights(June 7, 1990)

In the course of history, it has become pretty clear that all people are born with certain inalienable rights; among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But these rights haven't always applied to kids.

And that stinks!

Now, 200 years after the creation of America's Bill of Rights, this declaration proclaims to the world that you have rights too:

You have the right to be seen, heard and respected as a citizen of the world.

You have the right to a world that's peaceful and an environment that's not spoiled.

You have the right to be treated with equality; regardless of race, religion, nationality, sex, personality, grades or size.

You have the right to make mistakes without someone making you feel like a jerkhead.

You have the right to be protected from harm, injustice and hatred.

You have the right to an education that prepares you to run the world when it's your turn.

You have the right to your opinions and feelings, even if others don't agree with them.

So there!

"When we first came up with the mission to connect with kids and connect kids with each other through the world of entertainment, we were less a cable TV network and more a philosophy," Gerry Laybourne explains. "We had a wide range of TV including Linda's news programs that covered topics like AIDS and the Gulf War, game shows like Double Dare, cartoons like Doug and Rugrats, live action shows like Clarissa and All That. We encouraged kids to try new things and supported them when they didn't succeed."

Clarissa Explains It All was the first program with a girl as a central character, an early sign that girls were aware of equality as a central issue in their lives. "She was smart and cool with boys as friends, an attractive central character who all kids would like," says Gerry. "We were trying to create common experiences that could get boys to understand that girls could be cool. In all our programming, a sense of humor was the most important quality we could impart to kids. No matter what challenges our characters were confronting in their lives, with wit and humor they could shrug it off and get through it. We enjoyed making kids laugh."

Gerry acknowledges Nick was "slightly naughty and was not educational per se. We had pies in the face, slime, fun. We were a playful place where there weren't rules about what we could or could not do. We plugged into kids and kids were plugged into us."

"Our pre-school programming was very thoughtful on a developmental basis. What could we teach about cooperation, nurturing, friendships, how to deal with bullies? We did studies to see if our shows were having an effect. We weren't teaching ABCs, but modeling good behavior and getting kids en- gaged. Blue's Clues had kids getting off their chairs and interacting with the screen way before the Internet. Our pre-school programming left kids better off than we found them; nicer and better citizens. That honestly was our criteria. We asked a profound question to every producer: 'What does the program do for kids?'" ~ Geraldine Laybourne, Former Chairman, Nickelodeon

Laybourne developed The Nick Studio 10 Commandments, rules and guidelines she gave to producers before they developed any series for the network.

The Nick Studio 10 Commandments

1. Thou shalt have no network before Nick.

2. Thou shalt not treat kids like cattle. Each kid is an individual and deserves an individual experience of Nickelodeon.

3. Thou shalt focus first on kids and not pander to parents…but allow parents to experience the kid joy of Nick first hand.

4. Thou shalt have kids-only areas.

5. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's theme park. Nick's success comes from being different.

6. Thou shalt not talk down to kids.

7. Thou shalt not be predictable — sight, sound, surprise.

8. Thou shalt give kids a chance to be on Nickelodeon and talk back to Nick.

9. Thou shalt always strive to be humorous and always change with kids.

10. Thou shalt "bottle" Nickelodeon with wit and humor.

So who are Internet Pioneers today? Nickelodeon captured the imaginations of this group during their most formative years and has, in some ways, helped define their mindset and influence their future.

Internet Pioneers value their individualism while recognizing themselves as belonging to many groups.

• They welcome their parents' involvement in their lives, but they also want areas of their lives to be private and in their own control.

• They consider themselves to be the intellectual and social equals of — if not superior to — adults and want equality in communications with them.

· They welcome surprises and both understand and use humor.

• Interactivity is expected; sit and watch them talk back to the TV even when there is no one listening.

• And they like to have fun!

Television programming and commercials have had enormous impact on the attitudes, beliefs, actions, behaviors and purchasing decisions of Internet Pioneers. Our survey gave Pioneers ten viewing options and asked which three options they'd eliminate if they were forced to do so. The results showed that 48 percent would eliminate AOL, Yahoo and MSN. Only 11 percent would eliminate cable networks such as Bravo, MTV, ESPN, Comedy Central, TBS and USA, while 14 percent would remove broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. And only 11 percent would eliminate YouTube. The survey asked males to name their favorite TV program of all time and Family Guy blows away all competition. That program also ranked highly with females, second only to ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars. While Family Guy and Pretty Little Liars are all-time favorite programs, the most influential TV network among Internet Pioneers is Nickelodeon and its landmark series Rugrats,DougandSpongebob Squarepants.

Excerpted from Jack Myers' best-selling book, Hooked Up: A New Generation's Surprising Take on Sex, Politics and Saving the World, a biography of today's college students -- the "Internet Pioneers" born 1991 to 1995 -- who are the first generation to grow up with the Internet as an embedded part of their lives. Hooked Up is available in paperback and e-reader format atAmazon, and all booksellers. More knowledge at

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