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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Variations on a Theme

A typical scenario: It’s a weekday evening, and I’m sitting at home watching television with my roommates. The TV is turned to the Disney Channel – “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” to be more precise.

As I watch the tow-headed twins get into easily avoidable, G-rated (but still entertaining) mischief, the simple and obvious fact dawns on me: I’m 21, and I still watch the Disney Channel. Avidly and with utmost enthusiasm, in fact. Sometimes, I actually change the channel to watch shows like “Hannah Montana” or the umpteenth showing of “High School Musical.” Bonus points if it’s the karaoke edition.

So why haven’t I grown out of these shows?

Like most of you, I come from a bygone TGIF-Nickelodeon-Disney era. I grew up with the Winslow family and the Tanners (I was never really a fan of the Huxtables), I entered middle school looking for my own Feeny mentor. “Clarissa Explains It All” ended; two years later, I moved on to “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.” I had my daily dosage of Nicktoons, and I can still remember the jingle that went along to Zoog Disney movies.

Nevertheless, the evidence still stands: I have no little brothers or sisters to use as my scapegoat. I don’t baby-sit. My interaction with children is pretty much limited to pointing out and cooing over cute babies from a polite distance. Ergo, my tastes are essentially as sophisticated as they were over 10 years ago.

Then I consider the vast technological advances over the past decade or so. Perhaps age and naivety had the best of me back then: I had to share a computer with the rest of my family up until college, and before then, my web browsing was pretty much bound to research for some social studies project or doling out the e-props on my friends’ Xanga blogs. With the age of innovation ingrained into society and infinite stores of knowledge so easily accessible, it would make perfect sense that the attitudes of today’s youngsters have evolved to be more mature as well.

That might be the case on actual school grounds, but in terms of Disney Channel land, not so much. Take the Jonas Brothers, for instance. Sure, they play real instruments and wear jeans as tight as any other scene kid, but the JoBros are basically as sugarcoated as any pop boy band circa 1999. Their songs feature lyrics that are as thoughtful and original as any ‘N Sync number, and equally catchy.

There hasn’t been any real evolution in terms of television plotlines, either. A couple of minor changes, and any episode of some preteen-oriented program could easily be a scene straight from “Boy Meets World.” With the main character hosting her own Internet show, you may think that Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” is about a tech-savvy, enterprising young woman. But don’t forget that Clarissa Darling already made her mark on the interwebs long before, just with a far crappier interface.

When all else fails, turn to the blame game. My answer: The Disney Channel is simply too difficult to avoid.

Think about all the multiple media outlets available: Television shows, movies, record deals, websites, video games, clothing lines – you name it, and someone’s face and name is probably plastered all over it. The Olsen twins mastered this art of promotion famously with their production company Dualstar Entertainment Group before they reached legal drinking age. Even now, the two are still experts in running the media gamut, but also they cater to the cosmopolitan crowd in addition to the kiddies.

Today’s prime example of multimedia meat is 15-year-old Miley Cyrus, the girl responsible for playing “Hannah Montana” on the Disney Channel. The show’s premise is ridiculously appealing to all: During the day, she’s Miley Stewart, your regular brown-haired girl-next-door. Come nighttime, she’s teen pop princess Hannah Montana, in all her blonde and highlighted glory.

As might be expected, she has transferred this television success to the music industry. Her “Best of Both Worlds” tour, which featured Cyrus as well as her pop star alter-ego, grossed $36 million, with tickets being sold by scalpers for as much as $1,000. The girl has become her own brand: Her face is imprinted on T-shirts, backpacks, blankets, notebooks – basically, any item necessary for everyday living.

So, does it make a difference that I realize the hyper commercialism and formulaic of these new teen queens and kings, or am I simply another victim? I can scoff and poke fun all I want, but the bottom line is, I still watch. A lot.

 

RACHEL FILIPINAS hopes that readers won’t lose respect for her based on her choice of entertainment. Chastise or empathize at rmfilipinas@ucdavis.edu.

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