How Kids Incorporated Saved Me From
By Rocco Passafuime
When I was growing up, I dealt with a lot of blows. The first
was being born with Asperger’s +Syndrome, which impaired my ability to
socially function properly (which wasn’t discovered as the root cause of my
“eccentricities” till I was 13, mind you) which sentenced much of my
childhood through many periods of cruel ridicule. The second was my father
leaving my family at the age of three, which no doubt crushed my mother and
left her a bitter, cynical, and angry person, somewhat to this very day.
However, before the latter occurred, my mom discovered on
syndicated television (here in New York on ABC 7) a children’s series where
young performers performed mostly the pop music that was out at the time
called Kids Incorporated. I don’t know what it was that drew my mom to this
that made her so sure we’d like it, but she ended up taping most of the
second season for me and my sister. Little did she know that doing that very
thing would provide me the seeds planted for what would be my refuge from
the cruelties of the world around me at the time.
I loved Kids Incorporated instantly and I watched the
episodes taped so much that they are practically ingrained as part of my
childhood memories. It also guaranteed me a lifelong love affair with
preferentially 1980’s pop. That did more for me loving the series than
anything. Augh the series airing on The Disney Channel did very much to keep
it going, it being a pay service at the time and how much my mom struggled
to keep me and my sister’s life kept that going for me on an inconsistent
I think the series no doubt kept me in a state of immunity
from dealing with how the world around me perceived my eccentricities. It
was not till coincidentally when the series ended in 1993 that I started
having problems dealing with my peers in school, who teased me mercilessly
for what had become my personality.
I wasn’t as enchanted not only by the pop music that had
become part of the scene in the mid-1990’s (at least not at first), but by
the increasingly cynical and vitriolic attitudes that had purveyed the mood
of my peers in 1990’s urban New York. As I got older, I had to really fight
to protect myself from the onslaught of cruel slander that was waved at me
from grammar to high school, particularly mistaking my kind, sweet, and
idealistic attitudes as making me suspicious of being gay, which hurts me
every time people ever say it.
It wasn’t until years later when Aris established this web
site that I realized truly how much the series had played an unlikely role
in keeping my core personality intact from the cruelties that can mutate
people as they grow older.
I realized that the series was indeed an anomaly in
children’s television, both at the time and now. It was good-natured, yet
not preachy, pandering, patronizing, or embarrassingly cheesy. I hope in my
heart of hearts my admittedly rose-colored perception is right about this,
but I believe the series’ creative team really tried their best to create a
genuine environment based on kids having fun while dealing with bumps on the
road, big and small, along the way.
What really sealed the deal with the series for me were the
performers. Most of the casts, particularly the ones of the 1980’s seasons,
always performed with a sense of enthusiasm and genuineness that’s rare in
live-action television then and now. They did so much to make their
characters seem real that it compensated for any aspect of the show that was
a potential weakness in being beloved by its viewers, such as the series’
admittedly often bizarre and outlandish plots.
I usually liked a lot of the performers because they were a
bit off from the stereotypes that you see in children’s programs before,
during, and since. The writers treated them not as goody-two-shoes or
shrill, mischievous, or troublemaking brats, but real kids you can’t
necessarily categorize into a box. It was this that usually made a lot of
them extremely likable to me and no doubt many of the fans.
I identified the most with Ryan Lambert’s character. His
being an ultra-stylish and intellectual, but sort of introverted personality
was one I could instantly identify with and I’ve yet to find any kind of
young performer before or since that’s been any bit like Ryan Lambert.
Even in later years when his character had become somewhat streamlined as
the show’s big-brother successor to Jerry Sharell’s Mickey character, he
still handled the change like a pro. As detached as his performances often
came out, Ryan still injected enough of a sense of humor about performing as
the character to keep him a favorite of mine all four years he was on. As a
sort of odd hindsight, he has a unique and sleek Japanese sort of style
which can partially account for why I’m so fascinated now with Japanese pop
culture of all types since the series’ end.
In conclusion, I think it’s truly a travesty that this series
is not at least in reruns today. I think children today would still like and
identify with it as much as we children of the 1980’s and early 1990’s did.
The then-present day songs would be a bit of a challenge for modern-day
audiences to accept, but then again I think it’s no less easy to enjoy then
when the Kids often performed music from even older decades. It would
definitely show them that not all children’s television is out to insult
their intelligence and merely divert their attention for cheap ratings.
However, I’m attempting to keep the spirit of the series
alive through my own work. I’m an aspiring author and have written two
novels that contain subtle and subliminal influences no doubt from Kids
Incorporated in particular. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep at least the
spirit of what made the series so great to me alive in my own work so I can
provide people an alternative to the misery and cynicism in their lives as
Kids Incorporated did me.