Either You’re In or You’re Old: Kids Next Door and the Philosophies of Childhood Pt.1

Begin Transmission

I’ve had an epiphany: childhood is important, like really important!…Ok, so maybe it’s not that deep of an epiphany, probably pretty obvious in retrospect…Regardless, the thought occurred to me while re-watching Codename: Kids Next Door, a gem from my own childhood, making me think about the concept in general.

We’ve all had childhoods, that foundational time when we were young, inexperienced, and naïve, eager to experience the world around us in unique ways. Like it or not, our childhood experiences forged us into who we are today. My childhood may not have been the best, but I’m still thankful for it and all the fun times I had during it. I’m especially grateful for the cartoons I got to watch, like Kids Next Door, providing me joy through humor when I needed it most.

KND does a fantastic job of portraying the merits and virtues of childhood (and in a much more entertaining way than a long, preachy blog post, mind you). Ironically, it’s only when I’m verging on adulthood that I begin to realize the show’s deeper value, teaching me some profound things about what it means to be a kid as well as an adult. Gear up and prep for debriefing, agent. For the good of our missions, it’s time we discuss Codename: Kids Next Door.

First off, I just want to say how much of a great show Kids Next Door is. It’s creative, funny, and clever.10 years later, and it’s still entertaining. Part of its appeal is that it makes being a kid look so cool, understanding the plight of adolescence and having fun with it. Episodes are packed with satire and playful exaggerations of common childhood themes and occurrences, like chicken pox and dodgeball, but they’re never done with a mean or irreverent spirit. KND is like an affectionate parody done by avid fans of the source material. But enough of me gushing on it. Let’s get on to what it’s actually about.

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Here’s the intel: Created by Tom Warburton in 2002, Kids Next Door is about the titular global organization of highly trained kids, armed with high-tech 2×4 technology, battling against adult supervillains for the sake of kids worldwide. More specifically, KND focuses on the adult-battling exploits of the five members of sector V, each one designated by a numeric codename–a “numbuh.” Numbuh 1 is Nigel Uno, the skilled leader. The brains and ace pilot is Hoagie Gilligan, Numbuh 2. Kuki Sanban, Numbuh 3, is the cheerful one. Numbuh 4 is the scrappy brawler, Wally Beatles. Abby Lincoln rounds the team off as the cool-headed, mature Numbuh 5.  Their mission is to ensure that kids are free to have fun in a world filled with evil adult tyranny and other threats to childhood.

Yep, this is the show I’ve been raving about, claiming it has deep philosophy: a show featuring kids, equipped with weapons made of wood planks strapped to condiments, gum, toys, and more wood, battling against giant turnips, homework-eating werewolves, and grown men who literally steal candy from babies (Not exactly your Plato’s cave). Yes, it’s a simple, downright goofy premise that seems to only attract kids by indulging their rebellious fantasies, but believe me when I say that this show goes deeper than you could ever know, so deep that it goes straight to the top! No, it’s not a government conspiracy, but KND connects a number of significant dots, distilling the qualities of the childhood spirit that are important not only to kids but to adults as well. Believe it or not, the show gradually crafts a rather rich lore for itself, painting a picture of what it means to be a kid and an adult in the world it presents.

For a bunch of so-called snot-nosed brats, those in the KND actually have a lot of compassion for other kids. They’re always fighting to ensure kids are free to have fun and be themselves with the childhoods they’ve been blessed with. Their heart goes out for every kid who’s sick on a snow day or gets their favorite toy stolen. Those in sector V especially go out of their way, often putting themselves in danger, for the sake of other children. One adventure has them freeing captive kids put on display inside a “children’s zoo.” Another has them shrink to microscopic size to extract a dangerous Brussel sprout from inside Wally’s stomach. To the KND, no challenge is too great when kids are on the line. As Abigail bluntly puts it, “We are the Kids Next Door. We save kids. That’s our job.” Numbuhs 1 through 5 are all motivated by a strong sense of responsibility towards kids. After all, if they don’t stand up for those in trouble, who will?

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To be clear, they’re not standing up to all adults, just the evil ones. Adult authority is respected by the kids on this show, so long as they’re respected and cared for in return. It’s not like the KND encourages kids to go around blasting their parents and teachers with hot sauce every time they get scolded for misbehaving. No, the KND focuses its–surprisingly vast–resources on battling those who actively want to make life miserable for kids, an ever-present, evil threat. If kids aren’t careful, they might get their lunches taken, get spanked by a vampire (yes, you read that right), or get zapped by a ray that turns them into an adult, instantly ending their childhood. These are the kind of threats that rally the Kids Next Door to action.

It’s kind of funny when you think about it. So many characters on KND, both young and old, are willing to put so much time and effort into fighting over childhood, of all things. No sane adults would dedicate all their lives and resources to give kids get extra homework or ban them from soda until they’re 13. And I doubt many kids would dedicate the same amount of time and effort to make sure that doesn’t happen to other kids. However, there’s something special about childhood, especially in the way KND portrays it, that makes many people want to go through so much for it.

Kids Next Door shows childhood’s importance through the values it represents, values that naturally blossom through that period: Joy, wonder, freedom, courage, hope, selflessness, friendship. They’re the heart of the show, common themes embodied by its main characters, which I’ll explore in more detail as I continue this series. Until next time, agent, stay frosty.

Transmission Interrupted

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