The Power of Nostalgia

Staff Writer: Ian Clark

Growing up, visuals were an indispensable module of a common childhood. Children knew theme songs like the back of their hand, and eyes being glued to the television was a part of a kid’s daily routine. From shows like SpongeBob SquarePants, the most notoriously idiotic comedy to “CatDog” – known for stretching the imagination – the mid 90s and the early 2000s were the best times to be a kid.

There’s no joy quite like hearing the opening sequence of “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” and running to the living room TV to make sure no more than a second was missed. These experiences built the foundation for an entire generation’s childhood. Young adults can bond over these things – it’s common ground: something nearly everybody relates to and misses.

With the youngest of the generation soon graduating high school, they’re taking these treasured memories of animated streets and laugh tracks with them. Sonya Clark, a mother of two kids of the generation of Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney Channel Originals had this to say about the nostalgia of cartoons: “[My kids] were always watching cartoons, [my youngest] loved SpongeBob. Honestly, I think cartoons and sitcoms targeted at children is just something that everyone in that generation must relate to. My generation had its own respective series, but something really different was happening with television in the 90s and 2000s, and I think its mark was left”

Sonya is completely correct too. The 90s and 2000s were changing the scale of archetypes and techniques used in television for years. With a new generation came a different sense of comedy, and increasingly more complex topics. Kenan and Kel, one of the most popular live action television shows of the 90s, premiered on Nickelodeon during its prime. Although its archetype was very similar to shows from previous generations (such as I Love Lucy, Laverne and Shirley, Golden Girls, Three’s Company, etc.), Kenan and Kel elaborated on this typical “friends get stuck in bad situations” quintessence to create a fresh series, one that proved to be very successful.

kenan and kel

Poster for “Kenan and Kel” a live action show from Nickelodeon. The show followed the lives of two best friends, one with an unhealthy obsession with orange soda. Photo courtesy of IMDb.

Three years after the 1996 creation of Kenan and Kel came one of the most iconic, revolutionary and impactful cartoons of all time. SpongeBob SquarePants, although an obscure series, has become a household name in its 19 (almost 20) year run on television. It holds the title for one of the longest running animated series, only getting beat out by Arthur, South Park, and The Simpsons. Its plot follows the aquatic life of a sea sponge, his best friend (whom is a starfish), his job as a fry cook at a burger restaurant, and the situations that come as a result of these circumstances. The show’s creator, Stephen Hillenburg recently passed away (26 November 2018), and he’ll undoubtedly be remembered for his extremely influential contributions to Nickelodeon and television culture as a whole. He created something that will outlive generations and that alone is something that most people can’t say in regard to their success.


Stephen Hillenburg, the late creator of iconic cartoon series “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Nickelodeon honored him following his death via a Tweet: “”We are sad to share the news of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants. Today, we are observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work.” Photo courtesy of Hollywood Reporter.

Nickelodeon showed their respect for Hillenburg as a monumental component to the company’s prosperity with a statement: We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS. He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family. Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.” (Variety)


The main character of SpongeBob SquarePants, arguably Nickelodeon’s most successful series. In this particular scene, he’s seen saying his catchphrase “I’m Ready!” Courtesy of USA Today.

After an analysis of Generation Z’s appreciation for cartoons, one can conclude that the group is indebted to these creators. Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network: all these platforms created a base for childhood in the early 2000s. Of course, it’s easy to say that they’re “just TV shows”, but childhood is the most impressionable stage of a human’s life, and when someone is subject to these shows at a young age, they’re exposed to early concepts of friendship, humor, honor, and more.

In an article by Jen Juneau, she speaks of the lessons that Hey Arnold taught her. She explains that despite this show being a cartoon she watched a child, it taught her lessons that she was able to carry into her adulthood. Juneau says, “These characters all had very concrete problems – some arguably beyond the realm of their maturity, which made me feel like my sometimes-similar problems were worth paying attention to and normal, even when I felt far from it. In a time of my life when everything seemed upside down and I was turning to movies and TV a lot to help me through, Arnold, Gerald, Helga, Phoebe, Grandpa, Pookie, and the rest of the gang bestowed some great lessons upon me that I still remember to this day.”

hey arnold

The main characters (Left to right: Helga, Arnold, Harold) of the popular 90s cartoon “Hey Arnold!.” The show incorporated real world problems and life lessons that influenced many viewers carried into their adult life. Courtesy of Vox.

So yes: Hey Arnold!, Kenan and Kel, SpongeBob SquarePants, CatDog, and plenty more are just television shows, but these television shows paved the way for a new age of nostalgia, a feeling that every generation deserves to have.

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