It’s nothing usual for a television network to push a narrative centered around a social justice issue. However, when a television network built on the viewership of children gets overtly politically active, there’s going to be a backlash. The executives at Nickelodeon are no doubt scrambling today to put out a few fires of their own making.
ViacomCBS owns Nickelodeon. On Monday some of its outlets went black for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to commemorate the death of George Floyd, including some heaving breathing in the background. It happened at 5:00 p.m. By going off-air with this PSA, kids were watching 8 minutes and 46 seconds of a black background with the words “I can’t breathe” in white pulsing to the breathing. Also, text appeared encouraging texting in support of calling on “public officials across the country to take real action.”
The company posted a tweet about the PSA. It’s unclear if they did so to justify the action after some blowback or if they were simply wanting to jump on the bandwagon of other entertainment outlets making statements in support of Black Lives Matter.
At 5 p.m. today, many of our #ViacomCBS brands went dark for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to commemorate victims of police brutality, like #GeorgeFloyd. We stand united against racism, discrimination, and senseless violence. #BlackLivesMatter
— ViacomCBS (@ViacomCBS) June 1, 2020
As you can imagine, many parents didn’t appreciate their children being dragged into a political movement. It’s been many years since our house watched Nickelodeon on a daily basis as happened when our son was young but I can imagine how some parents must have felt. Nickelodeon is the network of SpongeBob Squarepants, Doug, Angry Beavers, and CatDog, to name a few that were popular in our house back in the day. How about letting parents teach their children about race and equality instead of being lectured by a television network, along with the sound of heavy breathing to make it a scary-sounding PSA? Remember, on the West Coast, it would have aired in the late afternoon or the middle of the afternoon, depending on where in the country you live. It also included a “Declaration of Kids’ Rights”.
During the moment, which started at 3 p.m. PT (6 p.m. ET), the screen went orange with a “Declaration of Kids’ Rights,” which read:
“You have the right to be seen, heard, and respected as a citizen of the world. You have the right to a world that is peaceful. You have the right to be treated with equality, regardless of the color of your skin. You have the right to be protected from harm, injustice, and hatred. You have the right to an education that prepares you to run the world. You have the right to your opinions and feelings, even if others don’t agree with them.”
— Nickelodeon (@Nickelodeon) June 1, 2020
The company signaled its support of #BlackoutTuesday on Monday, too.
Tomorrow, for #BlackOutTuesday, #ViacomCBS will be on pause as we reflect on recent events. Our focus will shift from building business to building community, moving from conversation to action, and sparking real change in the fight against racial injustice. #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/AyAgwGqJFm
— ViacomCBS (@ViacomCBS) June 2, 2020
#BlackoutTuesday was a chance for those wanting to show their support for Black Lives Matter by posting a black square instead of a photo on Instagram. The idea was for people to not be promoting themselves or their businesses for a day. It initially began within the music industry but soon spread to other celebrities and public figures. Even the lesser-known Trump daughter participated. She included a quote from Helen Keller with her post.
The movement spread to social media, with many posting black squares on their Instagram and Facebook accounts to show support. Celebrities such as NBA star LeBron James, actor John Boyega and singer Katy Perry were among those who joined in, as did President Donald Trump’s daughter Tiffany. Singer Rihanna posted that her Fenty beauty empire wouldn’t be conducting any business on Tuesday. And Pro Football Talk reported that the Chicago Bears had canceled all player and team meetings to mark the day.
Activists encouraged people not to use the hashtags of BLM or BlackLivesMatter in order to keep separate the #BlackoutTuesday posts from other information being posted on social media about protests and marches using those hashtags.
Television networks frequently use popular shows to present a point of view for young adults and teens. It’s usually a liberal point of view. The CW and Freeform (formerly the Disney Family Network), for example, are known for doing it. Both networks have primetime shows that regularly portray police officers and also ICE agents in a bad light, especially to normalize illegal immigration.