Disney’s Achy Breaky Image

Remember when Disney was cute?

Think back to your childhood for a moment, if you will.  Recall the glories of princesses and prince charmings, the pristine nature scenes and the hand-crafted animation.  Animals talked, enemies became friends, happy endings abounded and morals were devoured by all.

Sure there was the odd cryptic sex imagery rumoured to pop its way into Aladdin (perhaps quite literally) or hover over the canyon in the Lion King.  They may have dealt rather precariously by times with racial issues and gender inequalities.  The hyenas in Scar’s cave might bring to mind some eerie semblances to Nazi Germany.

But when you’re five or six or seven or twenty-one years old watching the same crocodile scene from Peter Pan over and over again until you pee your pants laughing, you’re not thinking about those things anyway.

There used to be a time when we could watch Disney movies and not analyze them for sexism or racism or genderism or whatever other   “-ism” you want to throw onto the end of something to make it negative.  For the most part, those movies provided our half of this generation with wholesome morals and delightful soundtracks.  Whether we paid any mind to them or not was another matter, but they were present, and there was always some sense that, even if we couldn’t live up to those ideals, there was something “right” about them.

Fast-forward 15 years or so.

Enter Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, the Jonas Brothers, Vanessa Hudgens and all the rest of the teen wonders who now grace that fascinating entity known as “The Disney Channel.”  Filled with laugh-tracks, obnoxious teens who live “The Suite Life” (take pity on the rest who have to settle for the mansion in San Francisco) and idiotic parents, the shows of the latter half of our generation stray far, far away from the comparable series of our younger years (think “Boy Meets World,” “Saved By the Bell,” “Blossom” and even “Degrassi”).  While we laughed at the antics of the kids in junior and senior high and thought about some deep issues, the most The Disney Channel seems to muster today in the way of morals is “don’t steal your best friend’s boyfriend because … well, I don’t know, it’s just, like, bad.”

The laugh-track might be needed to convince themselves that this stuff is funny.

Somewhere along the line, Disney became sex.  Whether the kids watching this stuff realize it or not, Miley, Selena, Vanessa and their ilk are all on there for more than the simple fact that they’re cute little girls.  When you stop and think that they start acting around the age of 12, this becomes rather disturbing.  By the time they’re 16, we have nude pictures floating around the internet, short shorts, a resume of 20-year-old boyfriends and “natural, artsy” photo shoots in nothing but a bedsheet.

Miley’s daddy thought he had an achy, breaky heart in 1992 – the story was just beginning for old Billy Ray.

We could, and likely do, ask, “Where are the parents?”  Why are these kids allowed to shake their goods before they even have them?

Hollywood is a mystery that the average human, including myself, can never understand.  An article on the front of a magazine this month boasts headlines about $38,000 toy cars for celebrity babies and round-the-clock psychiatrists (if we think this generation is bad, think of the next one coming).  It’s easy to point the finger at the parents, and maybe Billy Ray and his wife, Tish (also Miley’s manager), should have more to say in their daughter’s wardrobe and love life.

But when your daughter turns 16, makes over $25 million a year, is listed in Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list and is sitting in 29th place on the Forbes magazine “Celebrity 100” list, it’s probably a little difficult to tell her what to do.  Handling that kind of celebrity as a child and as a parent is a whole other kettle of fish.

Another scapegoat is Anne Sweeney, co-chair of the Disney Media Networks and President of the Disney-ABC Television Group.

After joining The Walt Disney Company in 1996 as President of The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon alumna Ms. Sweeney began plotting ways to reach into a wider demographic of homes.  Between 2000 and 2004, as president of ABC Cable Networks Group and The Disney Channel Worldwide, she picked up where her predecessor, John F. Cooke, left off and solidified The Disney Channel’s presence in more than 87 million homes across America.  How did she do this?

By targeting the material to an older audience.

While anything aired on The Disney Channel claims to be acceptable for children between the ages of 6 and 14 (a statement made after The Teen Choice Awards aired in 2009, featuring Miley shaking her girlish booty and “pole-dancing”), the accepted audience seems to be preteens and teens.  The problem is, of course, 6-year-olds do still watch this stuff.

Juliet Shor’s 2004 book, Born to Buy, examines North America’s consumer attitude and its willingness to perpetuate overtly sexual material to children through Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel.  She tells the story of a three-year-old girl who was caught grinding and grooving like one Ms. Britney Spears.  This babe, when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, claimed she would like to be sexy just like Britney.

Let’s hope she was too young to remember the head shaving and the pink wigs.

What we watch affects us in one way or another.  Some of it is, as my friend likes to say, “Garbage in, garbage out” (like pretty much everything on the MuchMusic Channel).  But other stuff sticks around, especially in the minds of young kids watching The Disney Channel.  What makes this more sad is the fact that this material is supposed to be, and was originally, for them.  I hope that you can still find the true Disney classics kicking around in the bargain stores 10 years from now.

Ever wonder what Ms. Sweeney’s children watch?

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Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 9:00 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Gogo Mikie


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