Kids Rule!: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship

Article excerpt

Kids Rule!: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship Sarah Banet-Weiser. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Geraldine Laybourne, former president of kids' cable channel Nickelodeon and oft-quoted personage in the pages of Sarah Banet-Weiser's new book, said of the early days of the network, "Nickelodeon decided to do what nobody else was doing-raise a banner for kids and give them a place on television that they could call their own ... In January 1985, we relaunched as a network dedicated to empowering kids, a place where kids could take a break and get a break" (qtd. in Banet-Weiser 82). Kids Rule!: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship attempts to tell the story of the channel from the moment of its relaunch in 1985 to its place as a global media power and seminal cultural brand in the early years of the twentyfirst century. In so doing, Banet-Weiser considers the impact consumer citizenship has had on the way we as a society conceptualize rights, power, civic duty and engagement-and, most specifically, childhood and the position of children as citizens and consumers.

Banet-Weiser's argument is that Nickelodeon, through a carefully constructed brand and deliberately honed marketing strategy, transformed itself from a "green vegetable" network offering pedagogy-based programming to young children, into a space, a "nation," devoted to the empowerment of kids. Through this process, the network claimed a mantle for itself as the purveyor of agency for the traditionally disenfranchised youth population, while also building a global media empire. By buying into the Nick brand, kids claim participatory citizenship in a public sphere defined by consumer culture, rather than liberal civic-mindedness and action. Nickelodeon is thus post-Habermasian, in addition to being postfeminist, postrace, postmodern; the civic self is determined by the marketplace, and cultural and national identity is about purchasing power. In such a realm, kids have just as much power, if not more, than anyone.

Nickelodeon, therefore, serves as a case through which to examine the ways consumer citizenship offers a new model for agency and empowerment, particularly for children, who are often excluded from civic life. In building this case, Banet-Weiser conducted interviews with industry insiders, including former employees of Nickelodeon; additionally, she interviewed fifty children, ages eight to thirteen, all of varying ethnic backgrounds, all of the middle class. …