Nickelodeon encouraging political activism is refreshing

In Opinion
Spongebob says that Nickelodeon will stop airing shows to represent students who walked out in honor of the 17 victims who passed in the Parkland shooting.

Kids who watched Nickelodeon in the ‘90s likely remember the network for dumping viscous, neon green slime all over anyone who dared to take part in one of its many game shows, but those watching in 2018 might be more apt to remember the network for supporting the decision to protest gun control laws.

It’s refreshing to see a network with a young audience encourage political activism, regardless of the opinions being endorsed.

On March 14, thousands of students across the nation walked out of their classes for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 Parkland shooting victims killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

At the same time, Nickelodeon and other Viacom networks stopped their usual programming to broadcast a message of support for the movement.

“In support of kids leading the way today, Nickelodeon will be off the air until 17 minutes past the hour,” Nickelodeon’s message read.

The fact that Nickelodeon would make such an explicit statement and encourage children to express their voices as citizens makes sense to Heather Osborne-Thompson, Cal State Fullerton associate professor of cinema and television arts.

“Nickelodeon is really a special case in that they have developed as a place specifically for kids that takes children seriously in terms of their political awareness,” said Osborne-Thompson, who teaches a general education course on children’s television.

The network has a history of inviting children to tackle adult topics, even if they aren’t old enough to actually vote including their annual “Kids’ Choice Awards” and “Kids Pick the President.”

Some might argue that an entity meant for children’s entertainment should not get involved in political arguments like this because it exposes their children to sensitive topics in an uncontrolled environment, like television. But in this case, it would encourage children to be naive.

Osborne-Thompson said this assumes they don’t already know about what’s going on, which denies them a space to talk about it and express themselves.

“They are aware that other children are being impacted, and I think the idea that they could actually mobilize in support of something or against something is really heartening,” Osborne-Thompson said.

America is a nation built on giving people a voice to face potential oppressors. This is why the rights to assemble and free speech are included in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

However, despite having the freedom to speak out, one of the most powerful tools to do so — the voting booth — is generally underutilized.

During the 2016 election, only about 61 percent of the voting population reported going out to the polls, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The youngest age group (18 to 29) was the only group to increase voter turnout between 2012 and 2016, but it was still the group with the least turnout overall at just 46 percent.

In California, one of the chief reasons for low voter turnout is “lack of interest,” according to a Public Policy Institute of California voter registration fact sheet from September 2015.

What better way to invigorate interest in voting than by having Nickelodeon assure children that their opinions are important? Maybe even important enough to break away from that new episode of Spongebob SquarePants?

Children and teens can be passionate about political issues, especially with how the nature of the Parkland shooting has drawn a passionate response from the country’s youth. Both the National School Walkout and the March For Our Lives movement, which will include a national march on Washington, D.C. scheduled for March 24, have been organized by students.

Regardless of politics, everyone can agree that fostering opinions, debating ideas and being politically active are essential to a thriving democracy. The nation’s youth have just as much of a right to be informed and find their own voice.

In that respect, Nickelodeon should be lauded for encouraging its audience to take that spot at the discussion table.

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