Do you have fond memories of the Nickelodeon show Clarissa Explains It All? If so, it's probably just because you were brainwashed by the marketing around Melissa Joan Hart's later show, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Also, it's probably because you're a woman.
Or at least, that's what Mathew Klickstein, author of SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age, implies in a recent interview with Flavorwire.
Clarissa Explains It All, he says, is only now considered a big hit because "she was a girl, and many of the people who are writing these blogs and editing these pieces are women—which is fine, it’s just the way that it is, and a lot of the publishing world is women."
It's fine. Really. The womenfolk are entitled to express their opinions about the merits of patterned vests on their little Tumblelogs.
There are as many things wrong with Klickstein's thinking as there are droplets of fossilized slime on the Nickelodeon studio lot, so let's just pick an aggression at random and work from there.
First, the ladies. There are so many in publishing. So many, in fact, that "it’s very hard to be a man in the publishing world. No one talks about that. My agent: woman. My editor: woman. My publicist: woman."
Yes, why is no one talking about the scourge of matrons in the world of letters?
It might be because the vast majority of bylines, book reviewers, and authors reviewed by major magazines—including this one!—are still male. The entire BLS category that includes magazine, newspaper, and book publishing is just about half male. Even most children's books have male central characters.
In comedy, Klickstein said, women also prevail: "A girl can go up there and talk all she wants about how hard it is to be a girl, and she gets applauded."
That must be why most studies put the number of cartoonists or comedians who are female at around 10 or 15 percent.
Or why, earlier this year, the comic Christina Walkinshaw ignored a group of hecklers as they yelled, first, “show us your tits” and then, “show us your bush” throughout her set. A future set at the club was cancelled, the management later said, because of the unruly crowd she drew.
From there, Klickstein has more thoughts to share, particularly after he waxes nostalgic about the shows Pete & Pete and Ren and Stimpy. He does acknowledge that Pete & Pete contained no characters of color. But this, to him, is totally cool, because "it happens to take place in the suburbs of New Jersey, you know, it’s a whitewashed area!" And where a show takes place is where it takes place, right? That's something the show's creators have literally no control over.
Meanwhile, he decries a newer show called Sanjay and Craig for including an Indian character.
"That show is awkward because there’s actually no reason for that character to be Indian—except for the fact that [Nickelodeon President] Cyma Zarghami and the women who run Nickelodeon now are very obsessed with diversity."
It's those women, at it again.
The interviewer, Pilot Viruet, gives him an out, saying that shows include diverse characters so that children from different backgrounds can see themselves when they watch television.
What goes unsaid is that African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and disabled actors have been struggling to achieve proportional and fair representation on TV since the age of Andy Griffith. Or that exposure to media images of successful African Americans tends to improve racial attitudes. Or that a study in 2010 (14 years after Pete & Pete went off the air) found that black and Latino characters were still underrepresented on primetime TV, and "black and Latino characters were significantly more likely to be shown as being less intelligent compared to whites." A UCLA analysis of 172 American movies and 1,000 TV shows on 68 different networks during the 2011-2012 season found that minorities had lead roles in just under 11 percent of films, and just under 15 percent of cable comedies and dramas. Meanwhile, minorities accounted for 36 percent of the U.S. population that year.
Still, when it comes to producers creating diverse children's characters, Klickstein wonders, “Why are they doing this?”
This kind of thing is sad coming from anyone, but it's even worse when it's said by someone who took it upon themselves to document Nickelodeon's greatest hits in a book—and who is hosting a “Nite of Nickelodeon Nostalgic Nonsense!” in New York this Thursday. You would think that a chronicler of a network that brings joy to the masses would have a bit more respect for the masses.
Klickstein's embarking on his own stand-up career soon. It won't be without its challenges, however:
"I’m starting to do stand-up comedy now and it’s hard to go up there and talk about how hard it is to be a guy. People don’t wanna hear it!"
In this case, that's probably true! They don't!