Youth Culture Rewind: Or, What’s Behind a Comeback

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jul 07, 2010 @ 10:16 AM

Karate Kid in theaters, Indiana Jones on your Legos and Star Wars top YouthBeat’s list of favorite all-time films among kids.

Don’t pinch yourself – it’s not 1984.

Actually, in 1984, youth marketing wasn’t really a profession, and few creatives could afford to focus on kid stuff. (Nickeloden did not take off as a network until the 1984 relaunch, with the first use of the orange “splat” that we know today.) With so much more focus on creating content that speaks to the hearts and minds of today’s youth, why aren’t we creating new properties that overtake the old ones?

Today’s youth experts and content creators might know more than we think…Here are just a few reasons why, when it comes to kids, oldies are still goodies and what’s old can easily become new again.Indiana Jones

First, it’s not nostalgia that drives kids’ choices – its naivete. Perhaps that sounds harsh…It’s more like innocence. While the stories that shaped our way of seeing this world and worlds beyond are indelibly imprinted in our collective conscious, kids don’t know that (spoiler alert!) Darth Vader is Luke’s father. They don’t know that Harrison Ford was the hero in Indiana Jones, long before he played Shia LeBoeuf’s father. And they are only vaguely aware that their older brothers and sisters grew up on SpongeBob – and watched many of the same episodes that they watch today. Every four or five years, we graduate a group of kids, tweens and teens and replace them with a fresh set of eyes and ears – ones that see the stuff created for their predecessors as new to them.

So if these shows aren’t retro or these reruns familiar fun, then what makes them stand out among the new? The concepts are solid: good versus evil…The underdog ending up on top…While many of these properties were created to appeal to an all-family – or even adult – audience, they leverage themes that connect with kids. The Hero’s Journey might be a formula for success for many narratives, but these coming of age stories are even more salient to kids, tweens and teens who are embarking on new adventures everyday.

But what has made these properties stand the test of time is not just a timeless concept, but makeovers that made sense. Star Wars’ update came in the form of a cartoon – Clone Wars on Cartoon Network – that made the characters even more ageless and gave kids a chance to absorb the narrative in bite-sized pieces. Indiana Jones breathed new life into the franchise with a younger star – all while paying homage to the baton-passer, Harrison Ford. And Karate Kid? The story moves from LA to a whole new continent, and the protagonist is no longer a twenty-something acting like a teen, but the story – a tale of found strength and brains over braun – continues to ring true.

And what they haven’t done is also worth noting. We still see technology, but only where it belongs. We might see updated cuts in clothing, but we don’t see anachronisms. While bringing these stories to a new generation, their creators have preserved their authenticity. And that’s something that youth recognize – even in something they’ve never seen before.

Tags: Nickelodeon, Indiana Jones, movie, Karate Kid, TV, tweens