I realize that it is oh so cliché to expound the loss of innocence of all the generations that followed the great times of your own deprived and yet stronger childhood; but is there a chance that there is, in fact, some truth to these statements? Could it be that these little designer-clad, toddlers with self-proclaimed “edgy” yuppie parents, may actually turn out a little worse for wear? My mom thought it was funny to dress me in funny hats, your mom thinks its funny to dress you in Che Guevara – well, now I wear sillier hats, and you what, push the envelope by wearing shirts with the faces of men who killed hundreds of thousands of people instead? The loss of youth is not just a result of these cool parents; mass media is all the more to blame.
With a thing like television shows, no matter how neurotic a parent is, they can not always control the influence: kids go to friends houses, watch things when they are home alone, or even watch what appear to be innocent shows under the noses of their present and often caring parents. Looking back, it is clear that my childhood was not free of violent and sexual images – McCauley Culkin’s adventures in Home Alone were enough to kill a man hundreds of times over, and we all remember giggling at the letters S-E-X spelled out by stars in The Lion King, or the priests boner (not that I knew what that was) in The Little Mermaid; but that was child’s play compared to the smut my young cousins watch nowadays.
The difference was that these were cartoons and movies, little inadvertent things that children search for and giggle about in whispered tones, all-the-while unaware of the true meaning of the secrets they so mischievously presumed to have discovered. These new shows are not cartoons, they are not movies, they are not surreptitiously sexual; they are real people, in daily situations played on repeat just in time for the daily ritual of the afternoon snack. Milk, Oreos, and a bombardment of oversexed tweens exercising their newfound sexuality? Yes, please.
A few weeks ago my 12 and 9 year-old cousins had made the trip down from New York to stay with my family in Baltimore for a few days. The weather was too muggy to be bearable and so after reading for a few hours, we turned on the TV, pulled out some popsicles and plopped ourselves down on the couch; and I have to say, what I saw was worrisome. TV shows starring tweens seem to be all the rage, and maybe this was always the case, but the focus on tween dating scene is overwhelming. And while the main characters stay the same week to week, the subjects of the principle characters fantasies often change (gone are the days of long Corey Matthews-Topanga Lawrence-esque sagas, welcome to the world of speed dating and the never-ending parade of sluts – cue laugh track). The show that my cousins had turned on was a new one for me, a Nickelodeon show called iCarly about a girl who has an online television show (I can’t tell whether this is the Nickelodeon push to reclaim the internet as a child-friendly space, or to subtly whet the appetite of pedophiles everywhere). Due to some hastily explained back-story, 13-year old Carly (the principle character) lives with her kooky older brother Spencer in a large apartment in the middle of Seattle. Why she lives with her brother, and where the parents of the other principle characters of the show are, is hard to tell but I realized this turn against parental participation has come to be a trend, and it’s probably not a positive one.
While iCarly has a lot of morally ambiguous incidents or anecdotes, Nickelodeons part in corrupting the minds of our future leaders is largely overshadowed by the big ears of a certain mouse next door. It is Walt Disney, the orchestrator of many a childhood, whose television-based output is all the more disconcerting.
Two supposedly kid-friendly and incredibly popular shows on the Saturday morning Disney line-up are The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Hannah Montana. After randomly choosing to watch some of the shows that were on the weekend schedule, I settled in for a night with Walt. Apparently the new it-girl is 15-year old Miley Cyrus and her alter ego Hannah Montana, and her self-titled show, Hannah Montana, has been heralded for its good family values. Are we really so jaded as to believe that this 15-year old baby-face, appearing wet and nubile in the pages of October issue of Vanity Fair is really who we want our 10, 11, or even 15-year old girls to aspire to be?
Besides the personal issue I have with the forlorn look that the topless (and underage) Cyrus proffers from the pages of a magazine aimed at a slightly older crowd, I find the humor of these new Disney shows a bit off-kilter. In one episode of Hannah Montana that was re-aired multiple times this weekend, Hannah Montana’s older brother Jackson (roughly 16 years-old) is hit on in the most overtly sexual fashion by a young black girl who is in LA for the weekend (might as well start the regrettable-vacation-decisions trope as young as possible). This girl turns out to be the younger sister of Jackson’s best friend (putting this girl around 14-15), and the oversexed girl just achin’ for it suddenly transforms into the young doe-eyed little sister who would never dream of even talking with a boy, at the appearance of her brother. This deception is apparently hilarious and it only gets better.
Later that same night, the young girl shows up at Jackson’s house ready to dance, party, and make some bad decisions; in classic Disney fashion, Jackson’s best friend shows up, the sister hides and after a knee-slapping chain of events Jackson’s best friend leaves. Cue the return of slutty sister. Jackson gives her a stern lecture about friendship and the two shake hands as Jackson leads the young girl to the door.
Suddenly this young minx gropes Jackson, bringing him into a warm embrace. Of course, this is when Jackson’s best friend returns, and his entrance cues the return the young, naïve sister. Jackson’s sister leaves after playing the victim, and the scene (and misunderstanding) ends when Jackson reopens the door, only to find his sister entangled with the pizza deliveryman, cue laugh track. God, underage sex hasn’t been this hilarious since Lolita; but I guess it’s just as they say, “if she’s old enough for bleedin’, she’s old enough for breedin’.”
This whole scenario was the secondary plotline, to the primary one involving Hannah Montana and some guy she likes, essentially renering the themes of the episode some variation of deception and lust. I watched another episode, desperately hoping this one an anomaly, but it was no surprise that the plot of the second episode I watched was yet again about Hannah Montana and some boy (and again, deception and lust). Perhaps I am a bit of a prude, but I find it slightly disconcerting that each episode stars a different crush, a different kiss, and the same mating ritual.
Now why is this show marketed to my 9-year old cousins (with age rating TV-PG); yes, these actors may be playing teenage characters, but their audience is much younger. Are the young eyes supposed to watch slutty young sister make-out with numerous boys, and, hearing the jeers on the soundtrack, think wow, this is funny and appropriate behavior?
The Suite Life of Zack and Cody is also created around the idea of teen lust and the high farce that comes (ha!) from it. The twins live in a hotel with their mother, each episode features a parade of different girls and a new set of issues with the opposite sex; and in classical twin fashion, while Zack is a total bro, Cody is a nerdy academic. They have romantic dates in empty apartments, and kiss girls in school, in their hotel, in their suite; and have deep conversations about cheating and trust and all sorts of relationship issues that I have yet to encounter. Could it be that these 14 and 15-year old Disney starlets get more action than I do? And does this mean I should be worried about them…or me?
The episodes are somewhat self-contained, but there is clearly a string of constant scenarios and characters, and is one supposed to assume that the children watching these shows do not notice that their idols Hannah Montana, Zack, and even Cody, are chasing different tail each episode. Whatever happened to one person, rather than one person at a time? But what would be even better than monogamous characters would be the characters that deem to take interest in something other than their pulsing libidos. Is it impossible to find platonic scenarios upon which to fixate, to change the misunderstanding with a boyfriend to perhaps a misunderstanding with a best friend (think more The Adventures of Pete and Pete not Sex and the City)?
These shows teach us that our middle school interest in schoolwork, over the opposite sex is abnormal (because really, who prefers a geek to a bro) and that, at the age of 14, if you don’t have a portfolio of issues from previous relationships, then you’ve got some catching up to do. These tales of lust are more than clear, laying the message on as thick as the Black-ccents of the black Disney characters (Walt Disney, forever racially conscious).
But maybe this is all just my issue, maybe the condom is the new ninja turtle and racism is the new family moral. Sometimes you must just move with the trends, and so as the youth say these days, fuck a ho – Disney sure will.
I am not calling for television shows to be based around the wonders of chastity, but why are we promoting this much random dating, this fast? The episodes are somewhat self-contained, but there is clearly a string of constant scenarios and characters, and is one supposed to assume that the children watching these shows do not notice that their idols Hannah Montana, Zack, and even Cody, are chasing different tail each episode? Whatever happened to one person, rather than one person at a time? But what would be even better than monogamous characters would be characters who deem to take interest in something other than their pulsing libidos. Is it impossible to find platonic scenarios upon which to fixate, to change the misunderstanding with a boyfriend to perhaps a misunderstanding with a best friend (think more The Adventures of Pete and Pete not Sex and the City)?
These shows teach us that our middle school interest in schoolwork, over the opposite sex is abnormal (because really, who prefers a geek to a bro) and that, at the age of 14, if you don’t have a portfolio of issues from previous relationships, then you’ve got some catching up to do. These tales of lust are more than clear, laying the message on as thick as the Black-ccents of the Afro-Disney characters.
But maybe this is all just my issue.The condom is the new ninja turtle. Racism is the new family value. Sometimes you must just move with the trends, dear, so as the youth say these days, fuck a ho – if you don’t, Disney sure as hell will.