First, a full confession. This column originally was intended as a review of Nick Jr. -- solo. But a closer inspection of that 28-page magazine intended for the Huggies Pull-Ups set soon made it clear that a review of 1,000 words or so would exceed the word count of the mag itself. Even padding the analysis of the "Spot the Differences" page wouldn't quite do the trick (and, yes, I noticed Grandpa's sweater had changed in the second illustration).
So now it's a twofer, and Nick Jr. shares billing with sibling periodical Nick. This seems more than appropriate since undoubtedly there must be many American households with siblings who maintain subscriptions to both.
Unfortunately, however, last week Nickelodeon Magazine Group announced it plans to shut down both kids' periodicals by the end of this year. Such news is always a shame, and for many reasons. But in this year of multiple media closures, it's particularly disturbing to think that so many budding magazine readers will soon enough find their mailboxes empty. One wonders if many of these kids will find other print publications to fill the void, or begin to focus exclusively on electronic media.
What's especially sad is that there's some good content for very young readers in Nick Jr. and slightly older readers in Nick. Though the May/June issue of Nick Jr. is geared toward a "Spring Into Spring!" theme, most of the editorial and art are as evergreen as a kids' restaurant placemat -- and that's not a bad thing for an interactive publication filled with puzzles and quizzes.
The best part, however, is the small "For Parents" print at the bottom of nearly every page, which effectively summarizes the activity, explains the skills it develops, and offers tips for additional endeavors. And not for nothing, but the one outside advertisement in Nick Jr. (for Johnson's shampoos) is isolated up front.
But big brother Nick is much slicker. I purchased my copy at a local bookstore and never realized until my son pointed it out that some unscrupulous shopper had removed the 3D glasses I would need to fully enjoy the 3D comic book insert. Even so, I summoned the power of imagination, since that's what Nick is all about anyway, right?
Despite all the media savvy embedded in Nickelodeon's corporate family tree, parents and caregivers need not worry about the potency of the editorial content itself, which is tamer even than the gags currently found in Mad (previously reviewed here.) The most biting humor in Nick rarely bites harder than riffs on nose-picking or dirty socks.
In fact, the gentle way in which the editorial staff schools a young reader on the art of satire is really quite sweet. "Q: I love Guitar Hero, but I have a question: How could you interview Lars Ümlaüt when he's a fictional character? A: This story did not have our [Real] Seal on it. This means we made it up. We love video games, so we thought it would be fun to imagine what the characters in them might have to say."
Ultimately, a cover-to-cover reading of Nick leaves you feeling that preadolescents are being primed for the magazine industry's big leagues: People, Us, and any number of check-out counter tabloids. There are Q&As with celebrities like Ben Stiller (hyping "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"), John Leguizamo (hyping "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs"), and Kara DioGuardi (hyping "American Idol"). And lots of filler hyping everything from video games to TV shows.
And then there's the hyping of Nick's sister companies. Nickelodeon isn't yet a god of commerce on the scale of Disney, but clearly Nick has learned from the master by using these pages to cross-market in-house products like the "iCarly" show or the theatrical release of "Imagine That." Ah, synergy!
But then the notion that kids can be entertained or educated in an environment free from sales pitches has become quaint in an age when textbooks carry ads and Pokémon provides math lessons. In "Amusing Ourselves to Death," the late media ecologist Neil Postman observed that "educational" TV wasn't really about education at all: "'Sesame Street' does not encourage children to love school or anything about school. It encourages them to love television."
That's not to say that Nickelodeon and Sesame Workshop and Disney aren't capable of entertaining, teaching, and even instilling values from time to time. It's just that companies of that size have raised cross-marketing "SpongeBob SquarePants" to an art form. The upshot, of course, is that it's way too late for any of us to protect children from media saturation and/or commercialization. In 21st century America, that's like asking fish not to pay attention to water.
Published by: Nickelodeon Magazines Inc.
Frequency: Nick: 11 times per year (double issue: December/January); Nick Jr.: 8 times per year (double issues: February/March; May/June; July/August; December/January)