Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why We Outlawed the Disney Channel

Adios, Dog with a Blog!

Stella's teacher has a daily system to let parents know how their child performed. Green is great. Yellow-orange-red means that boundaries were tested to various extremes.

As a reward for a green day, we let Stella watch some TV. We might as well pay her $1,000 per day, as much as that kid loves TV.

Soon, we're going to switch to an Internet-based system of watching TV (and hang out with all you guys who've already made it to the 21st Century), but at the moment we have the most basic of cable packages. The two kid channels are PBS and Disney. By the time Stella comes home, has dinner, and does her homework, PBS has switched to either quirky British sitcoms or shows about rural Kentucky farmers. So, Disney Channel was the obvious choice.

Soon, we developed our family favorites. Dog with a Blog topped this list, to the point that I'd find myself watching it long after Dave had taken Stella up to bed. I obviously have no shame, since I'm admitting this publicly. Other favorites were Austin and Ally, Jessie, Girl Meets World, and Liv and Maddie.

Dave was the first to raise concerns. He wasn't a fan of how the adults on the shows seemed buffoonish, and how the kids were always sarcastic with them. I thought Dave was overreacting, although I myself hated the incessant jokes about teachers on Girl Meets World, and how this middle school teacher seemed to have no papers to grade. Nor any lesson plans to create. Nor any staff meetings to attend. Nor any data on student growth to compile and present as evidence that he deserved to stay at his position. Nor any administrators screaming at him when he just stood by and let adolescents flirt instead of learning. Nor any trouble-making students calling him obscenities. But I just chalked it up (get it?) to the usual hatred of seeing your profession misrepresented in the media.

Then I started getting concerned about anti-feminist messages embedded in the shows. Prom was made out to be the single most important night of a young person's life, and the boy's proposal (always the boy - not a single girl ever asked someone to prom) was always this huge, elaborate, bigger-deal-than-most-marriage-proposals-type affairs. Dave and I told Stella that prom is just a dance, and the odds are good that the person she goes with (should she go with a date - or go at all), is almost certainly not going to be the person she ends up marrying. Should she decide to marry. Which we are not pressuring her to do. Because it's her life and she may want to live it alone.

The girls are almost all universally very, very thin. And very, very made up. And hyper, hyper-feminine. Of course, there are "plain" girls who get makeovers and are suddenly OK to date. That's always a heart-warming moment. (Grr.) Some girls, like Maddie's (of Liv and Maddie) best friend Willow, are considered shudder-worthy and disgusting. Why? Because she's not a size 2 and she doesn't wear four pounds of makeup and she loves sports. Trish of Austin and Ally is a bigger girl who actually (GASP) has a boyfriend, but he lives on the other side of the country, so the audience doesn't have to be exposed to the horror of a plus-size girl kissing someone. At one point, Stella looked at me - a bigger woman who only wears makeup for special occasions and isn't too interested in jewelry and almost never curls her hair - and said I needed to do something about my appearance.

I happen to think this young lady, Jessica Marie Garcia (Willow) is gorgeous.

But most concerning to me were the blurred lines and lack of emphasis on consent when it comes to relationships. On more than a few shows, a stalker-ish boy (and occasional girl, to be fair) was considered funny or even complimentary, rather than the red flag he is in real life. Artie on Liv and Maddie just refuses to leave Maddie alone, and talks about how she will one day be his. Since he's nerdy, it's made out to be harmless and cute. But I told Stella that if a boy continued to pester her after she told him she wasn't interested, that that's called harassment and that he'd have to stop or else get in a lot of trouble.
But still, we let her watch. We figured we could have some teachable moments. We figured we could show her how to stay strong and have integrity, even when bombarded by the media's crazy messages. But mostly, we were really freaking lazy and wanted that half an hour to zone out after a day at work.

But then Stella changed. She started having snappy comebacks for just about every request we made of her. "Stella, it's time for dinner." "God, you people think you own me!" "Stella, it's time to go to bed!" "That's so stupid!" "Stella, tell your brother goodbye!" "I refuse to talk to that little rugrat." "Stella, you need to do your math homework." "Ugh, math is SO HARD."

We were astounded. Sure, Stella has always had a touch of sass in her - just enough to make her smart and interesting and challenging. But suddenly everything was a fight and she was completely devoid of respect for me and Dave. And math is hard? No it's not! She's the top of her class in math!

Stella is more sensitive than most. She picks up on others' emotions and ways of talking. So maybe there are kids who could watch the Disney Channel at night and not transform into Snarky Kid. But that's just not possible for Stella.

I'm conflicted. On the one hand, I remain a devoted Disney-phile. I loved our Disney Cruise, I love Disney World, and we still love the Disney Junior shows (that Doc McStuffins is a fine feminist role model). But I can not, in good conscience, let my kid watch the Disney Channel at night until she's too old to want to do so.

Hey Disney - we need more shows like Doc McStuffins, mmmkay?

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