Tuesday, September 4, 2007

color television

..Okay sorry, I couldn't help it. Lol.
Anyway, as I've been sitting home and resting on my little bit of time off from working most of my activities have centered around catching up on cable television. Okay, so most of my one main activity. And if you know much about me, you know that I can a.) obviously get annoyed by most people and most things going on today (which can be seen on this blog) and b.) I love cartoons and children's programming in general. While at home my television is pretty much regularly set on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, and I stay watching shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and Jake Long American Dragon. For anybody who shares this should-have-been-outgrown-but-is-still-fun sentiment of mine, you know that these shows (while often sickeningly corny or sweet) are generally a really great time. Most of the time they give kids valuable lessons while providing harmless entertainment. Not to mention these shows really touch kids, and definitely have a huge influence on shaping entire generations (come on, how many of us don't get excited when somebody brings up when All That was actually good, or when talking about old episodes of Salute Your Shorts or Eureka's Castle?)- and what works at shaping these kids and developing strong brand loyalty? Relating. At least in the sense of having characters, situations and environments that really speak to a child's reality- after all, how can you get lost in a world when you can't really see yourself in it? And what makes a show really great? When it relates to minority audiences.
Yep, people of color have saturated popular culture, and while we don't control most of the wealth in this society, we definitely control a large cornerstone of its buying power (which is a problematic issue that I won't even get started on right now). Obviously this has been getting more and more well-known to corporate America, who has in turn developed whole genres of movies, music, product lines and commercials to serving this previously under-served and often ignored audience. The world of media & entertainment has caught on as well, and over the past 8 or so years has really ramped up programming that focuses on characters of color. And who has done this really well in my opinion?
Yep, ironically enough the corporation founded by and named for a huge racist, bigot, anti-semetic asshole has provided at least two really good shows centered around a black family. One, which I'm sad to say has been canceled, was The Proud Family. Focused on Penny Proud and her friends, this show did a really good job of attracting a Black audience (a Destiny's Child made theme song? Yeah) and sticking close to themes used by other children's shows (honesty, hard work, unconditional friendship, etc.) all while still feeling really genuine. What I mean to say is that The Proud Family didn't just feel like a regular cartoon with Black people pasted in, it felt very natural. Another show that accomplished this same genuine feel was definitely That's So Raven. Using Raven's great ability at physical comedy (I'll probably be roasted by someone for saying this, but she's often really reminded me of a young, Black Lucille Ball) along with a cast whose acting styles really blended well with Raven's extravagance and eccentricity, Disney was able to deliver a show that was entertaining to everyone, but could really reach out to a young Black audience.
While I love Disney for these shows, I also love me some Nickelodeon, and for a while was annoyed that they seemed for some reason to be seriously sleeping on an audience of color. Yeah there use to be Taina and Keenan and Kel, but shows like that have been long since canceled and other shows like Zoey 101, The Naked Brothers Band and Ned's Declassified have taken over. And don't get me wrong, these shows are cute (I actually really enjoy Ned's Declassified, that kid is hilarious) but there's a serious lack of color.
So where does the color come in with Nickelodeon?
Nick Jr.
So yeah, this is definitely not that tween audience that most companies seem to be clamoring for, but it's still a really impressionable audience that could be served well by having characters to whom they can relate. And, interestingly enough, Nick Jr. is serving up minority programming in a really innovative way. And no, I'm not going to be talking about Dora the Explorer or Go, Diego, Go! but I'm going to focus on some equally great shows.
First up- The Backyardigans. This show is, in addition to being incredibly cute, secretly for Black kids! Okay, so obviously it's for everyone, but with a Black female creator and characters named things like Uniqua, Pablo and Tyrone, this show is definitely for children of color. My first encounter with The Backyardigans was when my friend Tiff told me "there's a show with Black kids singing on Nickelodeon!" and then urged me to check it out as soon as I could. So I did, and I'll admit that first I was a little thrown off by the fact that none of the characters are actually humans or like, you know.. correctly colored even for the animals that they represent, but I immediately warmed up to it. These "backyardigans" use their rich imaginations to create entire worlds in the back yards where they explore typical kid issues all while being surrounded by great imagery and making use of a really amazing soundtrack. Not to mention Nickelodeon does a great job of serving a minority audience not by simply having a cast of minorities, but by completely integrating them into the programming- children of color voice the characters and the characters are given what most people would classify as typical "urban or ethnic" (read: Latino or Black) names, kind of giving the feeling that of course it's natural for them to be in this setting because they are as much a valuable part of this society as anybody else. So yeah, I basically have a new spot in my heart for this cute bunch of back yard kids.
But Nick Jr. hasn't stopped with The Backyardigans in its interesting use of and appeal to minority audiences. Another show that has recently premiered on the daytime network for children is Yo Gabba Gabba!, a show that uses hip hop and dance to help kids play to learn. Okay, so when I first heard of and saw a few clips of Yo Gabba Gabba! on YouTube I was definitely not impressed, and was almost a little annoyed at the whole fried-chicken song (I can't find the clip, but yeah..). However today as I was sitting around watching t.v. I flipped to Nickelodeon and found an episode of the new show and was almost immediately drawn in. And I'm 22. Okay okay, so I already admitted that yes, I am oldish and I love children's programming, but this show is like actually freaking great. Maybe it's just me and my generation, but the way it uses hip hop beats reminiscent of old-school along with bright colors and shapes and a really interesting 90's aesthetic (down to the pixelated video-game backgrounds used as sedge ways between games and dances) this show really masters playing to learn and does a great job of getting kids up and moving (an issues of increasing relevance in a society that is definitely saturated with weight problems in all age demographics) while showing that different kinds of musical aesthetics have value. So you can see what I mean, here's a clip of the intro to this show in action..

The point of this rambling? I really love kids shows, and I'm really pleased at what I've been seeing develop over in the pre-K area of entertainment for kids- I'm really excited to see what they come up with next.

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