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Analysis: Nickelodeon

Why does the Nick fandom ignore and absolve Jerk Sue, Alpha Bitch, and Draco in Leather Pants characters while Girl Next Door characters and Megan receive hate? Why are Belligerent Sexual Tension pairings involving Jerkass characters popular?

In the Nick fandom Jerk Sue and Draco in Leather Pants characters such as Sam Puckett, Helga Pataki and Jade West are far more popular and 'get away' with their Jerkass or Jerk Sue behaviour by not being called out on it in the fandom while Megan Parker, Tori Vega and Carly Shay have been hated as the Creator's Pet or The Scrappy.

When you think about it, it seems unusual. Megan played pranks on her brothers. Sure, some were over the top, but it's around the same level as Sam's physical attacks on Freddie. Helga was incredibly mean to people. Fandom often uses the excuse that "it's just a comedy" all the time for Sam and Helga, but this never comes up as a defence for Megan. Megan suffers hate for doing stuff that's pretty much equivalent to things Helga and Sam have done. Both Tori and Carly are hated by aspects of the iCarly and Victorious fandoms, they both suffer accusations of "boring!" while Sam takes over as a one-woman Spotlight-Stealing Squad on iCarly, with her 5 episode Sam/Seddie-centric arc without any major fandom complaint as the fandom is dominated by Sam/Freddie shippers. Why is it so?

The main reason is simple. It's Shipping. The ability to ship these Jerkass characters is what determines how much tolerance the fandom will have for them.

Megan is a sister to Drake & Josh. Now that alone isn't enough to kill a Shipping pairing as we have seen with Wizards of Waverly Place, but the killing blow is her age. She's simply far too young for any pairing. It would be paedophilia and filled with Squick. Sam on the other hand is the same age as Freddie and not related to him. Helga and Arnold have the same age similarity. Jade has an canon pairing on Victorious from the pilot.

Helga has her feelings for Arnold known by the audience for the entire run of the show. Helga and Sam's actions towards Arnold and Freddie are interpreted as a misunderstood Tsundere who has 'hidden feelings' but are unable to act on them (Sam because of Freddie's feelings for Carly, for Helga it's Arnold's feelings for Lila). Jade has her existing relationship with Beck which tells the audience she does have 'hidden feelings' and this is backed up with an episode where Beck breaks up with her and she breaks down because of it.

These hidden feelings, even if they have no canon foundation initially, allow 'subtext' which gives fandom the excuse to absolve them of responsibility for their various beatings and emotional attacks. When subsequently feelings are revealed it is an absolution of that defence. The End Justifies The Means. A crushing Downer Ending by being rejected for their horrible behaviour in the past is unlikely, so the romantic 'target' will at the very least forgive them, or will hook up with them and forget their actions caused actual hurt and pain. Arnold was meant to end up with Helga. Sam and Freddie were in the process of a romantic arc together which had no indication of even discussing Sam's previous behaviour, and also has completely and utterly ignored four seasons of development between the Just Friends romance of Carly and Freddie. They broke up in the 5th episode of the arc because they had literally nothing in common and when they tried to do things together that didn't involve making out (like going on dates, visiting family, or tagging along with each other's hobbies) their relationship broke down completely and self-destructed to the point it could only ever be a physical and non-emotional relationship if it could last.

Trina Vega is self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing, ungrateful with an overblown belief in herself to the point of ignoring criticisim and often attacking those who do criticise her. She is a massive Jerkass. But there are many who hate her. Why? She's Tori's older sister. She's the Spencer of Victorious. Despite only being a year or two older at the most, she's outside the core group. The fandom excludes her from the shipping that goes on between the core 6 member cast. As there's no-one to ship her with, there's no reason to see her as having any depth at all. There's no 'hidden feelings' that the fandom will interpret and excuse her behaviour for. So Trina is thrown into the same pot as Megan. Spoilt. Brat.

No-one sees much depth in Carly, one of the biggest negative labels placed on her is that she's 'shallow' (ie, no 'hidden feelings'), because people don't want to ship her with Freddie, and without Freddie her only romantic interactions have all been one-episode boyfriends of zero substance (which fuels and reinforces the idea she's 'shallow') or Joke Character Gibby. Carly is also treated much the same way that Megan is and called a spoilt brat because she occasionally disobeys Spencer. Thus Carly is declared "boring".

Sam is given Hidden Depths via her Freudian Excuse and because people want to ship her with Freddie and have done so for 4 seasons, thus they have a massive backlog of Fanon they can use as Subtext to 'prove' that Sam has secretly had hidden feelings for Freddie all along.

Jade's relationship with Beck is the most popular ship on Victorious. For a general idea of the popularity, on Fanfiction Dot Net, the Beck/Jade pairing on it's own has roughly as many stories as every other heterosexual ship on the show combined. It's as popular as Andre/Tori, Andre/Jade, Andre/Cat, Andre/Trina, Beck/Tori, Beck/Cat, Beck/Trina, Robbie/Cat, Robbie/Tori, Robbie/Jade and Robbie/Trina combined. The Ship Mates fleet of Beck/Jade, Tori/Andre and Robbie/Cat are the 1st, 3rd and 4th most popular pairings. Beck/Jade is 30% of the total with any story involving Jade by herself or with any other partner is just over 50% of all stories. Jade is as popular as every other character on the show combined.

For Sam, stories involving her on her own or in a pairing make up 75% of the 10,000 stories. This is more popular than Freddie on his own or with any pairing even though Freddie is part of both Seddie and Creddie. Sam/Freddie is 61%. Carly/Sam is 7%, Sam/Spencer and Sam-only and Sam/Other stories make up 7%. Stories with Carly but not Sam are 11% (with Carly/Freddie making about 7% of that). I won't do Helga since character filters weren't around when that show was in production, which would skew the stats. But it's more popular than even Beck/Jade, and probably more than Sam/Freddie.

So that gives you a general feel for their popularity. Sam, Helga, Jade and their respective main fandom relationships are massively popular.

Despite being Jerkass characters, why do people give them leeway for them behaving like jerks and attacking people both physically and emotionally? Why are their actions either dismissed as 'part of the comedy' or ignored, whilst Carly, Tori, Trina and Megan's do not get the 'part of the comedy' excuse, or blown up to make them look worse compared to the popular Jerkass characters?

The hidden feelings give the bad behaviours a 'subtext' that the fandom can cling to. Helga and Sam's actions can be interpreted as Slap-Slap-Kiss romantic despite being incredibly violent or emasculating in certain episodes. Jade is often emotionally abusive and repeatedly attempts to sabotage Tori or keep Tori away from Beck. On the other hand Megan's actions can't be romantic. She's just a mean little girl. Megan has no 'hidden feelings' or 'Slap-Slap-Kiss' subtext for people to use as a justification for her actions. Even though every show is a comedy, no-one uses the 'it's a comedy' defence for Megan, but will regularly trot this out for the other characters, Sam in particular due to iCarly being Live Action which requires more Suspension of Disbelief when she throws Freddie out of a treehouse after giving him a harsh beating with a tennis racket because his opinion didn't match her more popular one. If a Jerkass does something that would be a Kick the Dog moment, it needs a reason. A shipper will point out 'hidden feelings' and move on.

There's also Freudian Excuse at play. Sam has an absent father and a mother who was given a Hilariously Abusive Childhood background with her mother Pam which fandom sees as Abusive Parents subtext, there is also Melanie who shows up as a different Freudian Excuse (Parental Favoritism) for Sam. Helga has actual Abusive Parents and Olga who fills the same role for Helga that Melanie does for Sam. Megan has two parents, even if one of them is a step-parent, who both love her. Carly has a loving brother, and Freddie as a Just Friends Boy Next Door as a shoulder to cry on. Despite having a dead or absent mother and a long-term deployed military father, Carly never uses this Freudian Excuse and if it was people would say she was a whining brat and she should be grateful compared to Sam's 'harsh' life. Tori has her original parents, they are well adjusted and supportive, and her sister is less talented than her, making Tori the one who gains from Parental Favoritism.

Helga, Sam and Jade repeatedly have their Freudian Excuse's played out on screen. Pam Puckett shows up in an episode after dozens of references to her bad parenting. Sam's father is eventually mentioned as having left and never coming back. Jade's father disapproves of Jade's career choice. Helga's mother is basically an alcoholic and her father treats her like crap. If these characters were the Alpha Bitch, then people would consider their Freudian Excuse as a cheap attempt to give the Alpha Bitch some depth and it would eventually be rejected once the Alpha Bitch goes back to being the Alpha Bitch. In the case of main characters, a Freudian Excuse is an example of Protagonist Centred Morality and gives more depth and excuses for the fandom to latch on to. Even if a main character goes back to being a Jerk Ass, the Freudian Excuse along with 'hidden feelings' will absolve them of responsibility.

There is an existing canon relationship on the show between Jade and Beck. Tori comes in and in her first episode, makes it clear that she likes Beck and eventually kisses him. This does not go down well in the fandom. People do not want her to end up with Beck. They do not want Jade and Beck to break up. And so Jade gets absolved of her misbehaviour which is mostly aimed at Tori. They want to protect the Jade/Beck pairing and so they latch onto negative aspects of Tori's behaviour which leads to her suffering Die for Our Ship while Jade becomes a Draco in Leather Pants.

One odd thing to note is that if Beck and Jade had swapped personalities, then a Beck/Tori pairing would be a run-away Fan-Preferred Couple for the same reasons that Sam/Freddie and Helga/Arnold are popular. Jade would be the Sam or Helga, and Tori would be the Freddie or Arnold. Just like Megan's age and family status kills the chance for a canon pairing with her, the fact that Jade and Tori are both girls kills the chance for a canon pairing there.

On Victorious there is also the Reality Subtext of the singing aspect of the show. Victoria Justice might be the star of the show, but she is not as talented (although still very good) in singing ability to both Ariana Grande and Liz Gillies who have already had long careers in professional musical theatre. Victoria isn't worse by much, but it's enough that the some fans of Ariana and Liz both dislike when Victoria (through Tori) is given the vast majority of songs to sing on the show.

As for Carly and Sam, again, it's Shipping. Carly stands in the way of the Sam/Freddie ''Seddie'' ship because of Freddie's feelings for Carly.

Carly and Sam have very different personalities when it comes to guys. Carly will take charge and move in the first moment she sees an opening for a guy she likes. Sam is moody, detached and rarely makes the first move and has no success with guys. This is then converted into points like "Sam needs Freddie because she deserves someone who loves her" while Carly is considered to "have enough boys that she doesn't need Freddie" or called a slut that doesn't deserve Freddie's love after rejecting him for years. The fandom that prefers Sam/Freddie ignores that the reasons for Carly and Sam's personality in relation to guys is because Sam spent years being a bully to guys to the extent she has a reputation as a 'badass' and 'one of the guys' and as someone who throws potential boyfriends out of tree-houses or breaks their fingers.

Now as shown, the pairings involving Sam, Jade and Helga as Jerkass characters are more popular than pairings involving Tori, Lila and Carly. The next question is why are the pairings and the characters in them more popular in the first place?

Consider the target audience. Tweens and Teenagers. They are in the very early stages of coming to terms with romance. Their hormones are racing. They are often extremely energetic in general. Their attention spans are often short. They want stimulation. The Slap-Slap-Kiss styled relationship appeals to them for several reasons. The first is that for a lot of them their main interactions romantically are of the schoolyard crush type. The type where a guy will pull a girl's hair if they like them. Or a girl will smack a boy in the face or chase them around the schoolyard to try and catch and kiss them. Many of them will identify with a Belligerent Sexual Tension pairing as they will often have recently participated in similar early-teenage romantic involvements but have not yet grown into more mature post-middle school relationships. The subtlety of the deeper, longer lasting relationships that can start to form in late-high school and college is lost on them at their young ages. They see slowly developing and non belligerent Just Friends type pairings which generally oppose the Slap-Slap-Kiss pairings as 'boring'. They want the excitement of seeing a couple bicker, fight, argue, attack each other and then end the show with a Slap-Slap-Kiss moment.

The characters are popular because of Draco in Leather Pants and Jerkass Dissonance. This is the reason why the non-Jerkass characters aren't as popular.

These three shows aren't the only example of this. Zuko/Katara on Avatar: The Last Airbender is another example of a fandom which supported their Belligerent Sexual Tension relationship. Jimmy Neutron and Cindy are another example. Drake & Josh had Josh/Mindy.

This isn't to say that Belligerent Sexual Tension is the only relationship type that works on Nick, and that Jerkass characters are always the most popular ones. There are several shows where the opposing type Just Friends relationship was popular and became canon. Austin & Ally, Danny Phantom/Sam, Ned/Moze, True Jackson/Jimmy and The Troop all had couples that weren't Belligerent Sexual Tension.

The difference between them and the others mentioned here? That none of those shows had a Jerkass as part of the main cast and the main trio of those shows was the lead, the lead's best friend of the same sex, and a love interest of the opposite sex:
  • Show Lead: Danny = Ned = True = Jake = Austin or Ally.
  • Best Friend: Tucker = Cookie = Lulu = Felix = Dez or Trish.
  • Love Interest: Sam = Moze = Jimmy = Hayley = Austin & Ally (with each other).

No Jerkass = Just Friends relationship, that are popular in their own right on those specific shows. On Victorious the desire to avoid breaking up Jade/Beck has lead to Tori/Andre and Cat/Robbie which would both be examples of a Just Friends relationship becoming popular as well.

If you put a Jerkass in the main cast of a Nickelodeon show and follow that by adding an appropriate target to ship them with, then the fandom will likely instantly make the Jerkass a Draco in Leather Pants and want a Belligerent Sexual Tension canon pairing between the Jerkass and the target by the time the show ends. Any other type of pairing will be a Beta Couple at best or suffer Die for Our Ship at worst. And woe betide if you create a Love Triangle and do not go the way of the Belligerent Sexual Tension pairing.
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