'iCarly' is based on late 2000s social media culture, but it's more relevant than ever
- "iCarly" is a popular late 2000s Nickelodeon sitcom about teenagers with a web show.
- While the series sometimes feels dated, it captured viral ambitions that are still prevalent today.
- The show echoes conflicts, tropes, and milestones in today's influencer space.
When "iCarly" premiered in 2007, it was a reflection of a mid-aughts aspiration: that anyone with a sense of humor, a camera, and internet access could become famous.
The series, which follows three teenagers who host an incredibly popular web show that's also called iCarly, is chock full of references to late 2000s and early 2010s humor. Bits like the show's iconic "random dancing" sequences, and the completely nonsensical shirts the main characters wear that say things like "Mister Duck Lumps," evoke the era's junior high culture.
But in the years since it debuted, it has taken on a peculiar kind of relevance. Despite the potential pitfalls of making a show pegged to a particular era of the internet, "iCarly" still feels more relatable than ever. That might help explain why it's been floating around in Netflix's top 10 in the United States since it hit the platform in early February.
While it doesn't map onto the current era of social media perfectly, its portrayal of internet drama, online personalities, and viral aspirations makes "iCarly" a surreal and valuable piece of media in 2021. These days, it seems to be one of the first representations of a possibility that has gripped generations even since - the idea that you have the agency to go viral and become famous from your own home.
'iCarly' was savvy about bridging the gap between viewer and star
YouTube launched in 2005, creating an entirely new avenue to attain fame. At that point, posting your content online wasn't just a way to get famous on TV or the silver screen. Instead, it was possible to build a fanbase from your own home with content tailored to the internet itself.
iCarly - the in-universe web show central to "iCarly," the Nickelodeon sitcom - is a livestreamed comedy show hosted by the titular Carly Shay (Miranda Cosgrove) and her best friend Sam Puckett (Jennette McCurdy). Their AV-savvy friend, Freddie Benson (Nathan Kress), runs the technical side of the show and helps the crew stream on their own website, iCarly.com.
Occasionally, their videos end up going viral on SplashFace, a fictional platform that's essentially a YouTube clone.
"iCarly" capitalized on those early days of YouTube, both by capturing its spirit in the show itself and in the way it connected with viewers. Writer Jonathan Dee wrote in 2007 that "iCarly" presented an opportunity for Nickelodeon to engage cross-platform with their audiences. Teens watching the show could go online and visit the "iCarly" website, uploading their own comedy videos for a chance to be featured on the show.
Despite being a typical sitcom otherwise, it represented a new future of programming that played into the growing trends of the digital age.
And grow they did. In the time since the show's heyday, livestreaming technology and culture have rapidly developed. Every major social media platform, from streaming giant Twitch to Facebook-owned Instagram to Gen Z-favorite TikTok, has some sort of capability that allows creators to stream in real-time and narrows the distance between them and their audiences.
The show still captures modern tropes and characters of the influencer world
Like some of today's TikTok stars, Carly, Sam, and Freddie happen upon their internet career with a bout of accidental viral fame after Freddie uploads a video of Sam and Carly making fun of a teacher on the internet. Soon after, they're drawing half a million - half a million! - viewers to their webcasts.
As In The Know internet culture reporter Kelsey Weekman wrote in her newsletter, the events of "iCarly" feel shockingly similar to news items we'd write as reporters who cover the internet in 2021. Like today's influencers, the iCarly crew ends up embroiled in feuds with other creators.
But in at least one case, the feud ends up bringing them further popularity. Drama with 2000s YouTube icon Fred Figglehorn (a fictional character created by Lucas Cruikshank on YouTube) in the episode "iMeet Fred" ends up driving visitors to both their websites.
That parodies the way that conflict can often propel influencers to further fame. During the YouTube beauty guru drama of May 2019 known as "Dramageddon 2.0," Tati Westbrook publicly announced that she was ending her friendship with James Charles.
In the height of the feud, Westbrook's subscriber count skyrocketed. Charles took a hit in the moment, but analysis from Insider's Madison Hall and Kat Tenbarge showed that countering Westbrook and Jeffree Star's claims during the feud helped his subscriber count rebound.
The iCarly team also faces an influencer-marketing scandal, endorsing a bogus sneaker for money in "iPromote Tech Foots." Influencer marketing, as Chris Stokel-Walker reported in The Guardian in 2019, came under increased scrutiny after big-name influencers including Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner promoted the disastrous Fyre music festival online. In recent years, platforms like Instagram have cracked down on influencers who don't disclose when a post has been sponsored.
Meanwhile, throughout the series, they're engaged in a bitter rivalry with commentary blogger Nevel Papperman (played by Reed Alexander, who also happens to be an Insider finance reporter). They're also "shipped" - the term when fans want to see characters or celebrities in a relationship - in a way that mimics real-life fandom tendencies. In "iStart a Fanwar," Sam incites a fight between "Creddie" (Carly and Freddie) and "Seddie" (Sam and Freddie) fans.
The characters in "iCarly" also fall into archetypes reminiscent of today's online personalities. Papperman, an influencer in his own right, falls somewhere between the celebrity bloggers of the aughts and the YouTube commentary channels that are just as big stars as (if not bigger than) the influencers they cover.
Meanwhile, number one iCarly fan Mandy (Aria Wallace) is an early manifestation of stan culture, developing a parasocial relationship with the crew that bleeds over into real life.
-moaning lisa (@JMFierros1024) February 13, 2021
'iCarly' feels relevant because it was at the forefront of viral fame
Making a show or movie that's so focused on the internet is a risky gamble. The terrain of the internet changes quickly, and the culture of individual platforms like TikTok shifts at lightning pace. By the time you're able to produce something, its depiction of online life could already be outdated.
"iCarly" avoided this problem by being ahead of the curve. The show premiered during a period of time when YouTube still felt like a novel phenomenon and being an online creator wasn't as viable of a career path as it is now. As Miles Klee wrote for Thrillist, 2007's online culture was more focused on individual viral videos rather than creators or trends. "iCarly" premiered at the beginning of that transition, and the show paralleled the rise of creator culture during what some have called YouTube's golden age.
Still, "iCarly" has its outdated moments.
Like other shows from the era, the mainstream cultural barometer of what's considered "acceptable" has moved beyond some aspects of the show, like running jokes involving the term "hobo" and an hour-long special that caricatures Japanese people and culture.
Its "random" humor - the running bit called "random dancing" makes the web series hosts pause to, well, randomly dance - smacks of late 2000s tweenage culture.
And the infrastructure that has blurred the line between influencer and conventional celebrity wasn't quite in place. Carly, Sam, and Freddie weren't particularly concerned with monetizing their content, for example.
But "iCarly" managed to encapsulate many of the tropes and players of the creator world, as well as the defining spirit that anyone - or, in this case, an affluent teenager with a quirky attic space and a decent camera - can become famous from the comfort of their home.
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