A line in the sand

I was exposed to the Disney channel for the first time over the weekend.

(Yes, you are supposed to read that in the same sense as “I was exposed to measles over the weekend”. I will explain).

I’d somehow managed to avoid ever consciously viewing the Disney channel before this. Neither my wife nor I watch enough TV for cable to be a worthwhile proposition in terms of cost/benefit analysis, so actually it’s not quite as much of an achievement as it sounds. So my entire concept of the Disney corporation had been hitherto shaped by its films.

They’re relatively harmless fare. Sure, there’s that wretched princess hierarchy in which the more vapid and helpless you are, the higher up in the princess pantheon you rank. This is why the vapid and senseless Cinderella and Ariel appear on more merchandise than the relatively strong and capable Mulan and Jasmine. And there’s the whole mythology of Love At First Sight, in which you can somehow know that the two of you are Meant To Be from a single chance meeting without getting to know the person at all. And yeah, there’s the whole parental disrespect complex that goes along with it, in which Father Always Knows Zilch and parental boundaries are always an unreasonable imposition.

But I can handle that. Between their mother and myself and most of our friends, they are getting some pretty decent counterbalancing role-models.

However, I was shocked and dismayed by what I saw on the Disney TV channel.

I have no clue what the show was, but apparently they were doing a marathon of it. We had taken my daughter to the hospital to deal with a broken arm, and while we were in the holding pen some nice individual put the TV on for her. I had no way of knowing the true ugly nature of what was coming on, nor if changing the channel would result in something better or worse, nor even if another option was even possible. My daughter was in that blithe state of “my eyes are open but I’m barely here”, and turning the TV off altogether was sure to result in a bored little girl. I could probably have changed the channel, so it’s partly my fault.

But if my daughter never sees that show again it’ll be too soon.

The programme followed the dubious adventures of four misfit teenagers, so it was probably aimed at an audience quite a bit older than my six-year-old, but that doesn’t really change the objectionable nature of it. It would have been just as awful for teen viewing.

The most obvious problem was the continual belittling, denigration and disrespect. I think that in over two hours of this horror I heard maybe five interpersonal exchanges that weren’t insults or belittling. But apparently it was ok, because there was a laugh track. See? It’s humorous to tell people they are worthless.

The one that sticks in my mind was “I can’t believe I took advice from you – and it was good!” Ok, that’s actually pretty funny – unless you’re on the receiving end. But if you hear that directed at you, there’s no way of taking it other than “You are a complete cretin and the fact that anything good could come out of your mouth beggars belief”.

This is not ok, and it’s not funny. I was on the receiving end of this sort of crap enough as a child that I’ll be damned if I’ll let my kids go through it, or even worse, dish it out.

I’m not worried about good-natured teasing. Everyone should be able to develop a skin thick enough to handle the occasional good-natured ribbing. But this went way beyond that, and was anything but good-natured. The comments were witty, I’ll give Disney their due. But they were cutting, degrading, belittling, barbed and poisonous.

This kind of wit we don’t need. Sticks and stones only break bones, but names will rip your heart out.

Apparently there’s a line in the sand here. You do not get to teach my kids that putting someone down or belittling them is funny.

The other main problem that disturbed me was the subliminal suggestion that unless you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you’re worthless as a person.

I’m not a parent of teenagers yet, but I get the impression that this may be an accurate (within the bounds of comedic exaggeration) rendering of the typical teen mindset. But that doesn’t make it right. If you believe that you need a boyfriend or girlfriend to be a complete human being, you aren’t ready for one. First find out who you are without one, then we’ll talk.

Anyway, I have issues with this idea. My six-year-old is already obsessed with the idea of getting married and being a mother. At least she connects those two things, but I don’t need that fed yet. And I certainly don’t need her buying into the idea that she needs some male relationship in order to be validated as a human being. She’s a clever, sweet-natured, talented and strong little girl. I will not stand for you telling her that whatever she is is nothing unless she can attract a boy.

Disney is in a very powerful position. Our kids’ little hearts have been moulded by the excellent storytelling on which the corporation has built its reputation. As testament to the power of their storytelling, it’s difficult to conceive of any Cinderella other than the Disney version. To see this arrant crap vended by the Disney corporation is shocking.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be. Maybe it’s been like this all along and I’ve just been too blind or ignorant to notice.

I’m usually the last person to be up in arms. I generally figure that kids are a lot more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for. There weren’t a lot of “you can’t watch this; you can’t read that” rules that I remember butting up against as a child; I always figured to have about the same attitude with my own kids. But apparently even I have lines.Things like this are not right and not necessary.

Hurtful, belittling words and denigrating, dismissive attitudes have no place being portrayed as comedy. It’s not funny. Really.

This is the line. You will not cross this line.

So no, children. If this is what’s on, we will not be getting cable any time soon.

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2 thoughts on “A line in the sand

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