Scripps’ Spell

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 30, 2013 @ 03:51 PM

Spelling BeeTonight at 8 pm, families around the country will turn on ESPN to watch a hard fought final among a group of seasoned competitors. They’ve trained, they’ve endured, and now they will spell. It’s the highly anticipated final round of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

What makes this event so mesmerizing?

  • Kids take center stage. Kids might have many opportunities to see themselves on television, but not often do they see a group of seemingly ordinary kids (not actors, not stage kids) rise to the occasion.
  • They all have a story...Just like Olympics coverage, which turns unknowns into bearers of epic narratives, the producers of the Scripps Spelling Bee showcase the heroic in its kid competitors, and importantly, its parent patrons.
  • Everyone has a shot. There’s no denying that the kind of perseverance and pure stamina required to learn so many words, and the ability to recall them from their memory on a stage gleaming with hot lights and audience feedback is a talent, the Scripps National Spelling Bee might make kids (and families) feel that anything is possible. Unlike athletes or singers that they’re used to seeing in the spotlight, these kids shine simply because they did their best – something parents promote and kids hope pays off the way they’ve been told it would. In a world in which sports have become more exclusive and elusive than ever, learning to spell seems possible regardless of a child’s shape or size.
  • It’s good clean fun. More and more, families seek out shows they can co-view together. Talent competitions have certainly scratched the itch for many…But they also include the risk of a rogue contestant who doesn’t take family entertainment to heart. And these marathon seasons require more commitment than many families can make. In one night, the Scripps National Spelling Bee captures the drama of an entire series. And what’s not to like about kids who have earned their way to the stage through studying…
  • There’s drama! Let’s be clear…Spelling wouldn’t be televised like a sporting event if there weren’t for some drama! The reality of the Scripps Spelling Bee makes it memorable and mesmerizing for parents and youth…These contestants will cheer, and probably shed a tear. Their precociousness will come off as endearing, and exhausting, sometimes in the same breath. And kids and parents will negotiate their understanding of these extraordinary kids together…

Tune in and let us know your favorite moments! We’ll be watching…

Tags: Education, youth research, TV, youth media, news

Generation Adaptation

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, May 22, 2013 @ 10:12 AM

In our 2012 YearBook, we share our “Five Vibes” for the year. This past year, we included one that we called, “Survival Savvy.” Like all of our “Vibes,” it’s not a trend or a fad, but rather our feelings about the state of youth right now. We see some eviYouthBeat Yearbookdence of the Survivalist trend on reality television, particularly of the basic cable variety. And while the Hunger Games’ Katniss serves as the poster girl for this idea, we think of it as more than just a fight to the death. For this cohort of youth, “making the most of what you have” is a necessary stance in a world that requires adaptation to new terms.

While we sometimes see youth as changing the game, it’s also important to acknowledge that this generation has had a few surprises thrown their way. Teens have encountered changing expectations about college and how they should calculate its costs. Growing up in a down economy means that many can’t count on summer jobs – but that’s just a starting point.  Many have adapted to uncertainty surrounding their own financial future, becoming a generation more likely to value thrift-shop finds than extravagant expenditures. Some have bemoaned this generation’s seeming loss of interest in the environmental crisis (it’s fallen on our YouthBeat list of top concerns), but perhaps this generation has come to expect that they need to change to sustain. Instead of reacting to crisis, this generation recognizes that they need to simply readjust.

In their book, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy suggest that “most of us were born into a culture which aspired to solve all problems. How do we support people and create systems that know how to recover, persist, and even thrive in the face of change?” They argue that the skill that this generation of problem-solvers requires most is the ability to know when a problem cannot be solved. In contrast with the “me, me, me” generation that Joel Stein describes in the May 13th issue of Time, this generation might be listening and carefully calculating in ways that we’ve overlooked. Look to them to solve problems by seeking the viewpoint of all sides, and to make decisions of all sorts with a careful understanding of how their desires look in the light of day. They might be more realists than dreamers, and more measured than spontaneous. And for brands, content providers and organizations, it means not underestimating their ability and their intent to adapt to an ever-changing world.

Tags: youth research, culture, youth media, market research

Phineas, Ferb and Old School Funny

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, May 06, 2013 @ 11:02 AM

Disney’s Phineas and Ferb may not have the power to unseat SpongeBob Squarepants as top cartoon, but the series and its title characters take the second spot to the porous perennial favorite. And while they might fall behind the lovable sponge from under the sea, Phineas and Ferb should hardly be seen as taking a backseat to anyone…

phineas y ferbPhineas and Ferb might be a relative new kid on the cartoon block, but its sensibilities stem from old school cartoons. But each cartoon convention gets a fresh twist in this show starring two boys whose faces defy a circular shape. First, it’s always summer vacation for Phineas and Ferb. Today’s elementary schoolers might be more likely to move from the school year to another structured setting (camps of all kinds, enrichment programs, etc.) but Phineas and Ferb fuel the fantasy of a summer day with nothing to do. They take the classic Rube Goldberg devices found in cartoons like Tom and Jerry and give them a playful purpose. Each plan comes from their own hands, and the intention is authentic entertainment, taken to the extreme – from a miniature golf course and an oversized roller coaster on their lawn to a backyard beach (complete with island music and an impromptu surf competition). Phineas and Ferb includes genuine good guys and bad guys, battling in each episode. But the evil Doctor Doofenshmirtz’s devices seem more likely to turn up on an infomercial than to truly help him take over the world! All the better for the young viewers who revel in seeing Doofenshmirtz’s silly plots get foiled by the unlikeliest of heroes, Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus, Perry. (The popular platypus served as the front man for the app “Where’s My Perry?” a version of the popular app, “Where’s My Water?” Phineas and Ferb include sibling rivalries, with big sister Candace constantly trying to catch her scheming little brothers in the act. But unexpectedly, the two step-brothers who star in this show seek to include Candace (along with the other members of their eclectic gang). Phineas and Ferb works because kids route for them, but not because they’re bad – because they’re just so good. And as an added bonus for mom and dad, Phineas and Ferb exemplify the kind of creative, constructive play that gets mom and dad’s approval.

The show follows a formula that delivers on the “I knew it was going to happen” that kids love, like when someone asks the boys if they aren’t too young to be a rollercoaster engineer, for example. Each episode includes a song and dance that allows for a silly segue to the next scene. But the predictable plotlines include enough imagination to make each episode feel like an adventure. At the end of each simulated summer vacation day, it’s the boys’ preposterous planning and casual cool that make this cartoon a modern makeover of the classic toons of the past.

Tags: play, digital drugs, TV, youth media