Critically Analyzing Teen TV

Take a close look at iCarly to examine the use of humor and the representation of social roles and the ethical use of digital technologies

These activities can help you support the critical thinking and communication skills of students in middle and high school, college/university and teacher education programs. 

About the Show. Airing on Nickelodeon from 2007 to 2012, iCarly is a teen TV show that follows a group of friends who make a popular comedy web series, depicting the many wacky situations that they experience while making the web show, in school, and at home with their family. iCarly is still the longest-running live-action sitcom in Nickelodeon history, with more than 100 episodes and upwards of 7 million viewers per episode in 2012. The program's depiction of teens as competent performers and media makers and the use of many different forms of technology for creative expression provides an opportunity for showcasing some digital and media literacy competencies that parallel the DIY YouTube culture that a growing number of children and young people experience in their online lives.  Click here to access some digital clips for classroom use.  You can read brief descriptions of the clips.

ACTIVITY 1. REFLECT ON YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH TEEN TV. Read about the 12 iCarly clips and access the digital folder to view them.  After watching iCarly Clip 1, offer your reflections on the show through informal writing combined with pair-share discussion. Consider exploring these questions: 

  • Have you seen this show before? What do you remember about show? What is the typical situation or context in which you view it? Do you watch alone or with others? In what room of the house? 
  • Based on this clip, what are your expectations about the show? What's likely to happen in this particular story? Will you enjoy this show? Why or why not?
  • What other teen TV shows are you familiar with? What other teen TV shows do you remember enjoying when you were younger? How isthis show similar and different from those other shows?
  • Were you a media maker when you were younger?  How useful is this show to you? What aspects of the characters' behavior are realistic?  What seems unrealistic about the show?

ACTIVITY 2: VIEW AND DISCUSS. Divide into three groups. One group views iCarly Clips 2 and 3 (about gender representation); another group views iCarly Clips 3 & 4 (about ethnic representation); and the third group views iCarly Clips 5 & 6 (about the social roles of adults). Working in teams, use the Media Literacy Remote Control and the five critical questions of media literacy to guide your discussion. Share your own ideas and listen to those of your team members. Ask "why" and "how" questions to encourage deeper reflection. Document key ideas and share each team's ideas with the whole class. What patterns do you notice in how gender, ethnicity and the social roles of adulthood are depicted in these clips?

ACTIVITY 3: CLOSE ANALYSIS OF HUMOR IN RELATIONSHIPS. Watch iCarly Clips 7, 8, and 9 from the "iNevel" episode. Work with a partner to watch and listen carefully to the laugh track to identify five different types of humor. These include: 

  • Visual humor: something looks unusual or unexpected 
  • Insult humor: a character is made to look foolish or silly. 
  • Slapstick: some kind of humorous aggression
  • Wordplay: playful or entertaining use of language
  • Running gag: a repeated action or behavior

Then view the same clip again to explore how various social roles and relationships are depicted. Some examples may include: 

  • Parent-child
  • Man-woman
  • Boy-girl
  • Brother-sister
  • Teacher-student
  • Friend-friend
  • Friend-enemy

You may want to look at all 12 iCarly clips to create a chart to document which types of humor are associated with which relationships. Discuss: Which patterns are most significant? Which patterns may be common on other teen TV shows? What are some potential implications of these patterns?

ACTIVITY 4: TECHNOLOGY ETHICS IN ICARLY. The show features teens who create media as a form of entertainment, using a variety of technologies. How is technology used as a form of social power in this show? View iCarly Clips 1, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11 and pay attention to how different types of technologies are depicted. Discuss: Who is using technology? What is the technology used for? Who is being affected by the technology and how are they being helped or hurt? Which uses of technology are ethical and which are potentially unethical?

ACTIVITY 5: INFORMATION SEARCH & EVALUATION STRATEGIES. Working with a small team, engage in an information search activity to see how much you can learn in a short time period. Select one of the following activities below. As you work, be sure to comprehensively document your search journey. First, talk over a plan for your research with your team members. Then keep track of all the keywords you use as you search. Using cut-and-paste, create a list of all the URLs you visit, including ones that are useful and the ones that are not useful. As you gain information, make detailed notes to capture what you learn from each resource you review. Remember-- research is a process. Reflecting on how you find information is as important as what you find. Be prepared to describe the process you used to gather information - and what you learned from the search process itself.  

  • Find out more about the show's producer, Dan Schneider. How much money does he earn for producing iCarly? What exactly does an executive producer do?
  • Name five products that are advertised on Nickelodeon website. Find out how much Nick charges for a 30-second ad on iCarly or a banner ad on the website. Interview your friends to see if they have purchased or used any of the advertised products and find out their opinions about the goods and services.
  • What can you learn about Jeannette McCurdy, the actress who plays Sam, by watching three YouTube video clips? What can you learn about her by finding and reading three different websites?
  • Online fanzine companies offer online video content about teen actors featured on iCarly. Compare and contrast how Clevver TV and Fanlala represent Miranda Cosgrove, the actress who plays Carly. Look carefully at how these two websites structure the online experience for fans. What are some similarities and differences between these two websites?
  • What famous actors have had guest appearances on iCarly? What different reasons might motivate an actor to choose to appear on the show?
  • Watch three YouTube videos created by people who "hate" iCarly and make a list of the specific reasons they give for disliking the show. Offer your own opinion about their ideas and their possible motivations for expressing their dislike of the show.

ACTIVITY 6: CROSS-MEDIA COMPARISON.  Teen TV shows rely on a familiar set of characters, plots and tropes to achieve their comedic effect. Live action TV shows like iCarly can be compared to older animated shows like Rocket Power. Compare and contrast the "iChristmas" episode of iCarly with the "Channel Surfing" episode of Rocket Power, which was broadcast on Nickelodeon from 1999 - 2004. These are two different shows from two different time periods. But can you spot some of the similarities and differences between the shows? Use a Venn diagram to represent the patterns you notice.  In a small group, discuss why there are similarities and what might be the significance of the patterns you observe. 

ACTIVITY 7: GAMING, SIMULATION & ROLE-PLAYING. Be the game producer for iCarly. After viewing an example of a Stack and Stash game based on iCarly, work with a partner to brainstorm a new type of game based on iCarly. Think about your target audience and your purpose as you brainstorm ideas. Be prepared to share the best ideas with the class.

ACTIVITY 8: MULTIMEDIA COMPOSITION. Many people have been inspired by iCarly and created their own media that incorporates bits of the show in creative new ways. View the Twilight-iCarly remix and consider how it relies on the audience's familiarity with two different types of teen TV shows. Then create your own remix composition that uses still and moving images from iCarly mixed together with your own point of view about teen TV shows. You may want to share what you've learned about the types of humor, social roles and technologies depicted in the show. Combine bits of iCarly images along with your own voice narration to create an original screencast that conveys your ideas and opinions. Learn more about how to evaluate whether your use of iCarly is a fair use by exploring the curriculum on copyright and fair use for digital learning.  

LEARN MORE:

LaTouche, J. (2011). My Real Imaginary Friends: iCarly and the Power of Hyperreality. Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture 1900 to Present.  

In this essay, the author examines how iCarly offers a hyperreal world to viewers by inviting them to join in on creating hyperreality through posting comments and videos on the website.

Dare-Edwards, Helena Louise (2014). The Schneiderverse': Nickelodeon, Convergent Television and Transmedia Storytelling. VIEW Journal of European Television History and Culture 3(6), 95-109.    

In this essay, the author identifies the iCarly as a "convergence comedy" that brings together brodcast television and online media, complicating traditional notions of media spectatorship. iCarly intentionally blurs distinctions between real and fictional representations and between producers and consumers of media content. 

Uhls, Y. T., & Greenfield, P. M. (2012). The Value of Fame: Preadolescent Perceptions of Popular Media and their Relationship to Future Aspirations. Developmental Psychology48(2), 315. 

Focus groups with children ages 10 - 12 reveals that most believe that being famous is the most important social value in relation to their future aspirations. Children recognize that online video sharing is the most likely way they will achieve fame.