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The North Wind

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Annamarie Parker
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I am an English, Writing major with a double minor in German and journalism. I'm also pursuing my TESOL certificate while working for Housing and Residence Life. I love to travel and meet new people.

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Opinion — Quiet on Set: Nickelodeon’s cycle of abuse

Empathy for the abused abuser

A few weeks ago, streaming platforms like MAX and Discovery+ released a new docuseries causing a rift both in Hollywood and Gen Z’s perception of their childhoods. “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” features unfiltered personal accounts of the sexism, exploitation and pedophilia behind the scenes of the popular TV network Nickelodeon in the 90s and early 2000s. 

The two antagonists, Dan Schneider and Brian Peck, face public scrutiny for their heinous crimes of abuse while working with children. Dan Schneider for his rampant prejudice and ego, and Brian Peck for sexually abusing Drake Bell, a teen star for one of Nickelodeon’s biggest hit shows.

The release of this series caused a particular uproar because just three years ago in 2021, Drake Bell pleaded guilty for child endangerment himself. In the grand reveal of all of these secrets and complicated histories, we have to ask ourselves: does Drake’s past trauma “justify” his actions?

Nickelodeon is a channel starring kids, for kids. Outside of the long hours, poor access to education, and atypical childhoods where the stars were forced into professionalism and the harsh realities of hierarchy early on, the children were also subjected to both uncomfortable situations and predatory adult coworkers. The docuseries begins by focusing on Dan Schneider, the head writer and producer of iconic shows of our childhoods, like “All That,” “The Amanda Show,” “iCarly” and “Zoey 101.”

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During this time, the docuseries explains he verbally harassed and threatened to fire female coworkers if they didn’t do whatever sexualizing, humiliating acts he asked of them. He was a tyrant over every set he worked on, writing in inappropriate jokes for the children to act out for all the children watching at home, and showed blatant favoritism towards the white, conventionally attractive girls until they got “too old” and replaced them. 

However, this is only the first half of the four-part miniseries. It only becomes darker as they reveal the target of a brutal sexual assault case against a minor, an anonymous victim that not even the other cast members knew about until they watched the release of the show themselves. Brian Peck, Drake Bell’s acting coach, groomed and eventually assaulted Drake Bell repeatedly over the course of many months while they were shooting for Nickelodeon.

Drake Bell, known for his role as Drake on “Drake & Josh” (2004-2007) whose career started with Nickelodeon when he was only 15 years old. The last two episodes of “Quiet on Set” are shocking, harrowing, and deeply unnerving as his story unfolds. The quiet tension during the interviews with Drake as he confessed to the camera everything that happened, something he “hadn’t done outside of therapy” is soul crushing. Not only did Brian Peck repeatedly violate Drake Bell, he isolated him from his father, his girlfriend and all of Drake’s memories at Nickelodeon that could have been happy if not overshadowed by abuse. 

Watching this series welled up nothing but deep empathy for Drake, even with the preexisting knowledge of his predatory behavior in the last few years as an adult. While watching, it created an ethical dilemma inside me. It only makes sense that Drake Bell would perpetuate this cycle of abuse, especially under the extreme circumstances of being a public figure during a time of pure terror.

According to The Rolling Stone, Drake Bell’s allegations entailed text messages exchanged with a minor, an anonymous fan that attended one of his concerts when she was 15. He pleaded guilty and served 200 hours of community service. 

Drake’s trauma does not justify his actions, but it does create an understanding of them. It is possible to be both sympathetic for him and critical of him at once. Drake Bell is not just a child star or a public figure. He is a complex human being under public observance, and so our responsibility as the public is to view his situation under an equally complex lens.

“Quiet on Set” masterfully disgusts its viewers with the atrocities committed against the child stars we all idolized as kids while remaining starkly neutral on the producer’s views about Drake’s allegations. As viewers, we can only take what we’ve learned and use it to identify similar injustices in the future. We only know what Drake Bell felt comfortable sharing, and the way the documentary chose to depict the events.

This isn’t a matter of Drake Bell’s innocence or guilt– the point of the series is that under an industry that enables executives to weaponize power, not even children are safe from abuse. Drake Bell was a child at the time, and everybody in his industry failed him. We should neither defend or attack Drake Bell, because whether we’re watching “Drake & Josh” or “Quiet on Set,” our role is to be either informed or entertained, not become the judge, jury, and executioner of the subjects of our consumption.

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About the Contributor
Megan Poe, Opinion Editor
My name is Megan Poe and I’m an English (writing concentration) and Philosophy double major at Northern. My concurrent experience with being published in and interning for literary magazines has landed me the job as the Opinion Editor of The Northwind. Because of my passion for creative writing, I love that my job dwells in the more “abstract word soup” sphere of journalism rather than the objective and tangible one. In my free time, I like to write surrealist literary fiction, crochet, play the piano, read short story collections, and watch pretentious little French horror films.