(Note: this is an old post taken from my old blog. I had written about my childhood experience with Nickelodeon, which you can find here. Today’s post will feature my thoughts on Disney Channel, another huge influence on my pre-adolescent self. Hope you enjoy!)
Ah, Disney Channel…
The programs on this ubiquitous channel have received a lot of smack since its establishment in 1983: as a hub for bad acting, hackneyed plots, child exploitation, and for tabloid messes that the actors and actress experience once they “graduate” from the Disney world (including, but not limited to, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, and Miley Cyrus).
I admit, I think the channel has gone to crap in recent years (more on that later). But, there was a time when Disney Channel was actually decent, if not good. Its shows instilled life lessons, without being too corny and the characters were well-written role models for preteens and adolescents, all being balanced out with just the right amount of slapstick and dialogue humor. There was nuance to it.
Although the channel has existed long before I was born, I am going to describe the shows that I grew up watching. The good ones. Specifically, it is the period between 2004 and 2008, when I was less cynical at everything. Let’s bounce.
Lizzie McGuire (2001-2004)
From what I can remember, this was the first show that introduced me to Disney Channel. Although I started watching it when the series was just ending, the channel continued broadcasting reruns for the next few years. The format of the show was distinctive in that it combined live-action with animation, the latter which represented the thoughts and conscious of the titular character. My god, Hilary Duff was so young when she debuted. While her acting was less to be desired, her character was both an archetype and a role model for tween girls. She’s shy (but dreams of being popular at school), a self-proclaimed “straight-B student,” and all-around a typical teenager just struggling to find her niche. Tweens resonate with her character, because they see a bit of themselves in her: learning, making mistakes, but growing up just the same. Additionally, I adored “The Lizzie McGuire Movie:” it was cheesy as hell (c’mon, she becomes a pop singer while on vacation in Rome?), but it was so entertaining. The soundtrack isn’t half-bad, either. 😛
Phil of the Future (2004-2006)
“He’s the twenty-second century man!” Man, was that opening tune groovy. It was a good show, despite it being short-lived. Like “Lizzie McGuire,” there was no laugh-track, which meant that I didn’t have to be forced to laugh at the jokes- it just came naturally. Simply put, “Phil of the Future” was transcending. And I’m not saying it in a dramatic, metaphorically way. In fact, I mean it literally, about time. The show also taught good values to children, about dealing with family issues, fitting in at school, and establishing friendships, regardless of whether you live in the present, or, in Phil’s case, the future. Even the futuristic gadgets say something about our world: even with the immense amount of technology pervading society today, there isn’t a device that can teach you how to grow up, how to love people despite their background or level of intelligence. That comes with experience. And *spoiler alert! although Phil and the Diffys do return to their time at the end of the series, the amount of information that they discovered about the 21st century is indispensable. Plus, Ricky Ullman was quite a looker… 😉
That’s So Raven (2003-2007)
Forget “Mean Girls.” “That’s So Raven” had some of the best quotable lines and catchphrases during its 65-episode-plus run. “Ya nasty,” “How y’all doin’?,” and, of course, the famous “Oh, snap!” Raven Symone was KILLING it on this show, with her outrageous, but endearing antics. She had sass, both in outfits and attitude, unlike other lead characters from other shows, who suffered from general blandness. And if you want to get into the politics of this show, you can also make the argument that “That’s So Raven” was one of the first Disney Channel shows which had a primarily African-American cast. It is also interesting to note that the Baxters (as Raven’s family was called in the show) were of middle-class and growing up in San Francisco. It is reminiscent of “The Cosby Show,” which depicted a middle to upper-class African-American family and interestingly was where Raven Symone got her acting break. Besides being just another coming-of-age teen sitcom, “That’s So Raven” also brought in supernatural elements, particularly the titular character’s ability to see the future. The fact that Raven was able to predict the future, as well as her efforts (and failure) to stop it from happening demonstrates the futility of striving for idealism. Indeed, being psychic is a gift and a curse. Although I think that the quality of the show declined a bit towards the end of its run, “That’s So Raven” continues to charm me with its dynamic cast of characters (gotta love Chelsea, Cory, and Eddie) and its silly, slapstick humor.
As I grew older and these mentioned series ended, I became attuned to the juvenile aspects of the new shows. Yes, I know that Disney Channel is geared towards a young audience, but what I mean about “juvenile” is that the shows grew dependent on already-used formulas and trite humor. They still taught moral lessons, but with less focus. Instead, the shows focused more on appealing to preteen girls, and a specific demographic as well: the girly, fashionable, wannabe popstars kind. You didn’t see the female leads express interest in science, math, or even school in general (the school just became a backdrop for all of the drama to happen). Even those who were “tomboy” were stripped down to supporting roles. Males were also underrepresented on these shows: the ratio of leads for girls and boys was commonly 2:1 (with the exception being “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”).
The shows that ran between 2005 and 2007- “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Hannah Montana,” and “Wizards of Waverly Place- were decent, at least from the beginning. They still engaged in slapstick humor and life lessons. But somewhere along the way, something soured. Maybe the producers got too comfortable with the show, and as a result suffered from formulaic productions. The characters became more annoying, bratty, and the jokes were too forced and unfunny. I pretty much stopped watching the channel altogether after “Sonny with a Chance” aired; by then, I couldn’t handle the “fakeness.”
Recently, I decided to revisit the channel. From what I know, the current popular shows now on air include “Shake It Up!,” “Austin and Ally,” and “Jessie.” I watched an episode of “Shake It Up!” and, well, that was twenty-three minutes of my life that I can’t get back now. Maybe it’s the fact that the child actors and actresses are younger than me, but I was appalled at 1) the horrible acting, 2) the character’s outfits (not sleazy or anything, but I don’t think typical twelve-year-olds wear elevated heels on a daily basis), and 3) the story concepts. Because all that the shows are now are about chasing your dreams through being a singer/dancer/fashionista/actress/etc. The message is kind of limiting, by teaching young female viewers that those are the only options you have in order to be successful in life. This is not to say that Disney Channel should encourage girls to become astrophysicists or lawyers (not a bad idea, though), but at least “shake it up” in terms of originality.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about the channel. But it was a big part of my childhood, and I do miss the shows that it used to have. The memories will live on, the good and the bad.
– The Finicky Cynic
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