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‘Blue’s Clues’ Animator Tackles Obamacare, Medicare in Animated Videos

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

First there was the professor who complained wrongly that a raise he’d just received would put him in a higher tax bracket. Then there was the woman on Medicare who admitted she had no idea how Medicare was structured.

These were a few examples Eric Patrick recalled about what inspired him to create Citizen Primer, a series of animated videos that provide concise explanations of cumbersome but important political topics.

“It’s shocking really, how little people know,” Patrick said. “I don’t think anyone is making any informed decisions.”

Citizen Primer tackles topics like social security, the Affordable Care Act and the progressive tax code. Released earlier this year, the videos are all animated and scripted by Patrick, who is an associate professor at Northwestern’s School of Communication. He’ll be teaching a course this fall in the new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment.

Patrick’s varied animating career wouldn’t seem to suggest an interest in politics. He was nominated for several Emmy Awards and won a Peabody Award for his work on Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues. He’s also animated his own independent films, Stark Film and Ablution. Though the focus of his work seems difficult to pin down, Patrick says he’s always been interested in “how we perceive reality.”

“Over the years my work has gone from esoteric pieces about consciousness to becoming much more about social critique,” he said.

He first began thinking about Citizen Primer, which Patrick considers more educational than critical, when he saw his Fox News-watching family voting against their own interests as a result of their news habits.

“I’m not bashing republicans,” Patrick said, “they’re more Fox News knee-jerk conservatives.”

What Patrick saw unfolding in his own family he realized was happening everywhere: people use what he calls “voting heuristics” to make political choices. The problem is, those heuristics don’t leave much room for nuance, substance, or actual fact. Part of the problem is just the huge amount of media available to anyone with a computer and Internet access.

“In a way there’s so much information, it becomes psychological warfare, there’s an overload of information,” Patrick said. “People can’t make heads or tails out of it.”

The massive amount of media gave Patrick pause as he started working on this project. “Am I just adding to that?” Patrick wondered, “But I think it’s a poor argument that we should all throw up our hands and go home.” Patrick’s course this fall will focus on self-branding and marketing for creative professionals. Read more about it here.