Youth Culture   /   Spring 2009   /    Books

Taking Nickelodeon (A Little Too) Seriously

Review of Sarah Banet-Weiser’s Kids Rule!: Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship

Ashley Rogers Berner

Nickelodeon booth at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con International at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California (Gage Skidmore). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Sarah Banet-Weiser tells the story of how Nickelodeon, the first network dedicated exclusively to children’s fare, moved from obscurity into global dominance and effectively mapped out a “nation” of what Banet-Weiser calls “consumer citizens.” Her thesis is that tight boundaries between the commercial and the real no longer apply and that the children inhabiting the Nickelodeon universe are, in effect, political actors. How does she get there, and is she right?

Banet-Weiser does an exceptional job of analyzing the development of the Nickelodeon brand. Using internal documents, private interviews, and hours of television programming, she notes Nickelodeon’s movement from an edgy, experimental network to a global brand with seemingly unassailable market share. Banet-Weiser relays without judgment the contradictions between Nickelodeon’s appeal to parents (nonviolent, “let kids be kids”) and its appeal to youngsters (“Us versus Them”). She tacks back and forth between comments of creative directors and programmers and those of Nickelodeon kids to illustrate the putative kinship between Nick’s progenitors and loyal fans; she gives the reader a strong sense of what it means to be “in” the Nickelodeon brand.

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