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Watch kids' TV shows and movies.

If there’s one quick way to dip your toes into the prevailing popular culture, it’s by watching cartoons, specifically the recent hot cartoons. Many of these cartoons — think SpongeBob SquarePants, Phineas and Ferb, and Dragon Ball Z — have created their own popular culture (and generated millions of dollars in spin-off toy and DVD sales in the process).

There are all those live-action TV shows that have tween audiences — especially girls — mesmerized. What is it about these characters and story lines that prove endlessly entertaining? If you don’t know, you should find out.

Don’t forget about animated movies. They’ve evolved way beyond the Disney fare that you grew up on. Although those old favorites are still out there and going strong on DVD and Blu-ray, a plethora of fabulous animated movies and anime (largely imported animated movies and TV characters) are out there for today’s kids.

These movies spawn toys, which then spawn more films, which then spawn TV shows and apps . . . it’s a pop culture wheel that just keeps on spinning.

When you watch children’s cartoons or films, pay attention to the lines that generate laughs. Are they verbally subtle, do they bang the audience over the head, or are they largely physical slapstick? In what ways do they suspend reality or bring fantasy into the story line? Which cartoons and films are the most popular? What about them do you think generates this popularity?

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