Sooner or later, everyone does it: they turn on a children's program well after they've grown up and say, "What do today's kids see in this junk? I don't understand them." The age-old generation gap is still alive and kicking, and the gaps come more frequently now that the networks throw away everything and start over each time a new crop of kids replaces the old crop. There used to be perennial mainstays like the old theater cartoon shorts that each crop could say they grew up with, but now those have been pushed aside in favor of the umpteenth rerun of whatever Nickelodeon is pushing. With the exception of Scooby Doo, no two generations can say they have anything in common anymore. It's sad.
Keep in mind, though: what you see on the screen isn't always representative of what today's kids are really thinking, or really want. The network executives, as always, are mostly guessing. They still have blind faith in focus groups, who will approve anything if fed enough sugar. When I was a kid, I couldn't count how many times an effort by some 56-year-old pressed suit to get "with" us failed. The memories are actually pretty amusing, so it's NOW TIME FOR:
Like, for example: the Disney Adventures issue where they had to write a cover story on Urkel.
Do any of you out there remember this issue? In order to write a cover story on Urkel, they had to somehow understand why he was popular, and this would not be an easy task by any means. I don't think they had any idea, and the pressure to click with kids was on, so they came to an easy conclusion: anything popular with us must be considered the epitome of cool by us. So....nerds must be cool now!
The logic was severely flawed. A lot of people my age watched Family Matters, but I don't think any of us could really say it was "cool." We thought it was funny, but that's because our brains weren't fully developed. Funny doesn't always mean cool. We weren't even laughing WITH Urkel; we were laughing AT him. But what nine-year-old was going to analyze it all and present his findings to businessmen? They couldn't know any of this. Nerds weren't cool then and they never have been.
Which is why the cover story DA ended up publishing was so hilarious.
"But then when Urkel slipped on those stylin' glasses--and we're not talkin' Ray-Bans--we knew it was where it was at. Nerds were suddenly cool!" It went on to profile Rick Moranis, Milhouse and any other famous nerd from the last 20 years, saying they were now cutting-edge. And the youth of America scratched their heads at the drugstore counters and wondered if they'd somehow missed something.
DA went far enough into the perceived fad to provide a guide to "nerd-dom."
The article was so unbelievable that one girl wrote in to DA's mail page angrily convinced the whole thing was sarcasm. "There's nothing wrong with polyester, and fluffernutters happen to be quite tasty...how dare you!"
She went on. "Regarding the Nerd Hall of Fame, I've got a few for you....the writers who came up with this tasteless article!" To which the DA editors replied: "Hey, thanks for inviting us into the Nerd Hall of Fame; we can't think of a cooler place to haaaang." Yup.
Throughout my childhood I witnessed many more missed marks. Pretty much any public service message designed to teach a lesson kids weren't interested in was shrouded in faux-cool camoflauge. In a nutshell, said camoflauge could be summed up in three words: "White People Rapping." It wasn't an uncommon sight to see a middle-aged fat man in a green dinosaur costume jump up and down attempting to shake his groove thing, while spitting out "YOU DUDES GOTS TO RECYCLE TO SAVE THE PLANET, NOW LET'S GET A BASKETBALL AND REALLY JAM IT!!!"
There were a couple PSAs that tried to get a surer footing by paying the cash to license a popular character, but the places that made these didn't always have that kind of budget. When they did, though, the results were often just as bad--but maybe more memorable. One of the defining moments of my gen is the Ninja Turtle anti-drug PSA, the one that ends with little Joey telling off the drug pusher with......
"I'M NOT A CHICKEN, YOU'RE
Cowabunga, awesome zingerage! (Sorry about having to burglarize your screenshots, Matt...but my own ability to make TV screens is disabled right now.)
It's my opinion that the intelligence of children is greatly underestimated. When most people grow up, they seem to forget what being a kid was like. We really weren't mindless fish who would bite at anything that had flourescent colors and used the word "Rad."
Many video games of the late 80's and early 90's tried this gimmick. Whenever I peruse a long list of titles released for the NES, the first thing I notice is the amount of third-party products consisting of bulked-up Chuck Norrises with mohawks that took speech lessons from Bill and Ted.
They didn't even try to hide where they ripped these guys from.
If you've been on the Internet for any length of time, you know the most famous example of what I'm talking about--Bad Dudes. In this legendary title, you played as either "Blade" or "Striker," and your goal was to save the President from ninjas.
You look at these things, and then you look at Mega Man...a third-party character that defied all the rules by not sporting any sort of an edgy appearance (though the boxart for his American debut was an attempt at it, and that didn't go so well). Nay, Mega Man made Capcom rich and he accomplished this by just making good, challenging, fun games -- which was all we really wanted.
It was a lesson the video game industry never really learned--because they didn't need to. The gaming market shifted to teenagers and young adult males, who are more likely to bite into a gimmick than kids are. (Oh yeah? Well, then tell me what you bought this month....was it "Saint's Row," or "Okami"? Yeah, that's what I thought...you mindless lemming.)
One more for today. Remember those "Magic Eye Things™"? N.E. Thing Enterprises, the inventors of Magic Eye, first tested out their discovery by taking out ads in children's magazines in 1992. What they wanted to find out was if the 3-D pictures worked better among younger people than older people....so they made a survey ad. But if they expected kids to complete the survey, they had to appear....say it with us now....COOL.
N.E. Thing's effort to be cool was pathetic--they just slapped a couple slang words onto the top of the ad. They hadn't come up with the name "Magic Eye" yet either, so they were calling them "STARE-E-OS" instead...how terrible. But that's not the best thing about it. The best thing was whoever told them the slang of the 90's.....was "Froggy."
I love it. Unintentional comedy at its finest!
Your senses are sharpest when you're young. Your range of hearing is greater, your vision is crisper and your taste buds are a lot more vivid (which is why kids can't stand veggies but adults have no problem). So, then, is your sense of being patronized or talked down to. They thought we couldn't see through a transparent attempt to be hip, but we all could. We knew how lame it was. The next time you see a children's program and you think it was especially stupid, think about how THEY feel...instead of judging an entire generation based on what some TV programmers think about them. And THAT'S...One To Grow On.
Oh, and from now on, "Froggy" is official slang here at Platypus Comix.
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