Tuesday, June 21, 2016

In Response to Disney Channel Buffoonery

I want to start off by saying that our household does not have cable or satellite television. We have Netflix and Amazon for our viewing pleasure. We really don’t watch a ton of TV, but what we do watch is limited to whatever those sites have streaming at any given time. While I am not one for censorship, I sometimes find that I have to control what shows the kids are watching. This seems appropriate when you consider what is on general network television, but when I have to start censoring Disney Channel, a so-called children’s channel, there is an issue.

For the purposes of this article, I am focusing on the live-action series on the network, both past and present. The animated series are a beast unto themselves that could be a column someday.

Last night, the girls were watching “Kickin’ It” when the issue I have had with Disney Channel once again reared its ugly head. The show is a comedy show starring Leo Howard and Jason Earles that takes place in and out of a martial arts dojo. The particular episode was “Dojo Day Care.” In this episode, Jerry is on the verge of being expelled (again) or headed to detention (yet again.) The school principal is portrayed as an adult who easily duped by the children of his school.

This is a common thread in most Disney shows. The adult, parents or authority figures, are almost universally portrayed as buffoons. In most cases, any parental figures a only insinuated, but always are shown as imbecilic morons who have no control and have no idea what’s going on in their childrens’ lives. As one climbs the authority ladder in these series, the more ridiculous they become.

In another “Kickin’ It” episode, “Kim of Kong,” Brooke Dillman plays Joan Malone. Her character is supposed to be the security guard for the mall where the kids hang out. There is absolutely no respect to almost anything the character does. One could say that she’s trying to connect with the kids so they don’t see her as another distant adult, but the writers have her coming off with no authority, and a whole lot of stupidity. It seems senseless to have nearly everyone in a position of authority be completely deemed irrelevant by the people they’re supposed to protect.

Moving on from that show to “Shake it Up,” we’re met with even more disrespect towards adults. The main character’s mother is supposed to be a police officer. What we’re faced with is almost the most unlikely of Disney characters. Georgia Jones is a police officer who wears her uniform open from the neck to below her bosom. She does wear a tank under the uniform shirt, but her breasts are definitely being showcased. Not only does that detract from whatever lesson they’re trying to teach with this show, but it also demeans police officers everywhere. It is a blatant thumbing of the nose to those people who have sworn to serve and protect.

Possibly the most egregious buffoonery I’ve seen on Disney Channel is the characterization of one of the parents on “A.N.T. Farm.” Finesse Mitchell portrays Darryl Parks, the father of Chyna Parks. He is an African-American man who is also a police officer. From their own page, Disney describes him as “hopelessly stupid.” I’m not sure where to begin with this one. There’s so much wrong with this single character that it could be an in-depth article on its own.

Let’s first tackle the “hopelessly stupid” aspect of Darryl Parks. As parents, we struggle to teach our children right from wrong, and how to respect other people. They also learn from some of the television they watch. When kids see the way this character is portrayed, and the way he is treated by the children in the show, they are basically unlearning everything we’ve been trying to teach them. Disney goes out of their way to make Chyna’s dad a complete idiot.

Moving on to his occupation, we find even more problems. He is a police officer. He is a bad police officer. He even brags about having the “cleanest cop car,” presumably because he doesn’t do anything at his job. He takes nothing seriously, and is shown to be a pretty good criminal, breaking basic rules at the station to do favors for his kids. This is a mockery of the law enforcement community.

Adding in that Darryl Parks is an African-American man, we’ve hit another low in Disney Channel standards. In a time where African-Americans are still struggling to feel relevant in Hollywood (see 2016 Oscars), the fact that Disney has made this man so overtly stupid is dumbfounding. The terrible stereotype of black actors being bumbling idiots should be far, far in our past. Instead Disney has resurrected this practice in this case. It teaches all of us the wrong lessons. It’s not okay.

To be fair to Disney, there are a couple shows that really hit the mark with regard to life lessons. “Liv & Maddie” is a fairly good show. While sometimes they show the mother (the assistant principal) to be a bit goofy, the lessons taught far outweigh the transgressions. Probably at the top of the list would be “Girl Meets World.” This sequel to “Boy Meets World” provides positive moral values. Again, the parents might do the occasional goofy thing, but no more than we as parents do once in awhile to break up the monotony. They, and we, are not self-denigrating.

Yes, I have a problem with the way adults are portrayed in many Disney Channel shows. We’ve only hit on a few here. Still, the onus is on us as parents to teach our children the correct way to treat and respect others, especially adults. When one of those shows comes on and we see the denigration of authority figures, we need to explain why that is not the right way to act. It is also critical that as parents we keep an eye on what they are watching and mimicking. I’m not saying to be a helicopter parent, but simply be involved.

At the same time, Disney is in the business of entertaining children. Their audience is very easily influenced. To continue to portray adults through buffoonery and downright disrespect is a serious lack of character by the powers that be at the Disney Channel. I urge those people to re-evaluate the method by which adults in their programs are depicted. I also urge parents to let Disney Channel know that this practice should no longer acceptable.

Craig Bacon has opinions that are his and his alone. If you agree or disagree, that’s fine. We can discuss it like adults -- respectful, responsible adults.