The ‘Carmen Effect’: How one character helped shape a generation

For kids who grew up chasing the elusive thief, Carmen Sandiego was an icon in every sense of the word—she was an impeccably dressed, fearless world traveller, who even taught them a few things along the way. The season one of Carmen Sandiego animated reboot is streaming on Netflix and it is starting from today 18 January. The animated reboot, produced by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and DHX Media, will see the master criminal pulling off epic adventures and evading laws with her crew. The series is based on the property which became popular in 1985 with an educational computer game Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego, which also created multiple titles, an animated series (1994-99) and a live-action kids’ quiz show. The midst of testing kids’ geography knowledge, Carmen did more than simply bestow millennial the rank of investigator or ace detective. An analysis of Carmen-related social conversation over the past five years reveals those clues on a computer screen gave the generation a sense of independence that has outlived those old floppy disks and CD-ROMs. It’s manifested as a love of travel, passion for geography, or the occasional urge to buy a red coat. For others, Carmen was a first-of-her-kind superhero, showing both girls and boys how to be sly, funny and brilliant as a badass Latina role model. And now, almost 20 years later, her legacy lives on as a brand new series debuts on Netflix 18 January, with Gina Rodriguez voicing the lead role. “Playing the role of Carmen Sandiego is a dream come true. My sisters and I grew up playing Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? We didn’t know who she was or why she was doing the things she did, but she was this smart, savvy Latina woman who was getting out in the world, seeing all kinds of places and exploring different cultures. I idolised those things about her. And now I’m lucky enough to extend the story of a character who still inspires me every day, introducing kids not just to her adventures, but also revealing new details about her past,” said Rodriguez. If history’s any indication, the next generation of gumshoes is in for more than a globe-trotting expedition as they follow Carmen and sidekick Player (Finn Wolfhard) around the world. Categorising a selection of Carmen-related tweets uncovered some pretty specific impacts of The Carmen Effect: Signature Style (60 per cent): Fans can’t get enough of Carmen’s iconic look – her red hat and matching trench have shown up everywhere from high-fashion runways to Halloween parties. Passport Goals (20 per cent): It is synonymous with “travel” – many frequent fliers fancy themselves a modern-day Carmen, and some even attribute all that virtual jet-setting to an increased sense of wanderlust in adulthood. Sandiego Smarts (16 per cent): To this day, people admit learning a thing or two from Carmen – many of which they still remember (read: the currency of Thailand or the definition of ‘spelunking’). Trailblazer (7 per cent): For others, the impact of Carmen went a level deeper – she was considered one of the first great role models, admired for her ambition, independence and intellect. Beyond these categories, there are countless mentions and references of Carmen in pop culture that elevate her to icon status. From the unforgettable theme song to memories of hours spent playing the computer game in elementary school, it’s clear Carmen never really left. The upcoming Carmen Sandiego series pays tribute to everything fans loved about the original – each episode is filled with fast facts that’ll turn any kid into a Jeopardy pro, following a heroic (and stylish) Carmen from Indonesia to Ecuador in the fight against V.I.L.E. But unlike past iterations of the franchise, the animated series will reveal one of the biggest mysteries of them all: ‘Who is Carmen Sandiego?’ The first two episodes of the series detail the origin story that led to Carmen becoming the super thief she is today.
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