Disney In Disgrace?

The children of our generation used to run home every day after school, eager to watch their favorite shows on their favorite channel. As of late, however, that generation has grown up, and although still racing home, they turn on the TV and then turn it off in disgust, exclaiming, “That is so NOT Raven!” *Insert fingers snapping in Z formation here with a hair flip as they sashay away

It is a widely held and passionately proclaimed opinion that teenagers find Disney Channel to have undergone many changes—most for the worst.

The current high school generation grew up watching shows such as That’s So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Lizzie McGuire, and so on. Beloved still to this day, these classics were excellent sources of entertainment for elementary school children.

Disney Channel has continued to provide entertainment to children of that age group, but with vastly different shows. Shake It Up and Dog with a Blog are now among the television series that grace, or disgrace, this channel. These shows still draw in millions of young viewers, but have turned teenagers away.

That’s So Raven, although about a teen psychic, dealt with vital, real topics such as positive body image during its time on air. During the episode in question, Raven, an amateur fashion designer, produced a dress that was then picked up by a fashion magazine to be modeled on the runway.

Raven wanted to model her dress, but was told, to her despair, that she did not have “the look” necessary for a model.

Thankfully, this did not dissuade Raven for long, and she did model her dress on the runway, although she had to dodge security to do so. She also told off the coordinator of the event, letting her know that “people come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re all beautiful. Put that in your magazine.”

Rachel Smith, a Pentucket junior, readily admits and regrets that Disney has changed, saying that Disney went from talking about “self-empowerment and [how] everyone’s beautiful to Amber and Ashley [of Hannah Montana] starving themselves. And they made it a joke!”

Current show Shake It Up makes jokes about eating disorders as well. In 2011, a character on the show, a seemingly sophisticated woman of high public stature, joked to the two teen stars of the show that “I could just eat you up—well if I ate,” to much laughter from her entourage. An unfortunately high number of people worldwide suffer from an eating disorder, and to have such an illness be the brunt of a cruel joke on a network for children is horrifying.

Former Disney starlet Demi Lovato, who struggled with an eating disorder herself and had to leave the network to seek treatment, fired back on Twitter, exclaiming that “I find it really funny how a company can lose one of their actresses from the pressures of an EATING DISORDER and yet still make jokes about that very disease.”

Disney’s public relations division on Twitter responded immediately, promising to pull the episode as well as another from a different show that also poked fun at eating disorders. They quickly clarified that “It’s NEVER our intention to make light of eating disorders!” However, the damage was already done: leaving many with hatred in their hearts for the channel that they grew up watching.

Lovato went on to muse, “And is it just me or are the actresses getting THINNER AND THINNER?” This statement refers back to the days of curvier leading ladies, such as Raven Symone and Hilary Duff, the likes of which are nowhere to be found; all of the main, title characters on Disney Channel are stick-skinny. This is not a bad thing, but coupled with the eating disorder jokes, shows a lack of much needed diversity.

Rachel Smith agreed completely with Lovato, noting that the female “characters are all the same,” and have very similar personality traits. Smith believes that this lack of diversity has a negative influence as “they’re not showing the variation that girls can have and still be accepted,” and undermines the true notion that everyone is fine just as they are.

The level of compassion and subtle guidance that was so lauded in the Disney channel of old is nowhere to be found. Perhaps Disney is going through its rebellious teenager phase, and will soon, hopefully, return to the channel that we knew and loved.

There are some glimmers of hope on the horizon, however.

Disney has recently introduced a same-sex couple on Good Luck Charlie —  the only current Disney Channel show that most teengagers deem tolerable — a show that is nearing its series finale date. Sunday January 26 saw the premiere of this progressive, yet controversial, step forward.

This change has been applauded by former Disney stars such as Miley Cyrus, but condemned by more conservative groups, such as One Million Moms, who maintain that Disney needs to “avoid controversial topics that children are far too young to comprehend.”

Whatever one’s opinion on this situation,  Disney is trying, and slowly succeeding, at making respectful steps towards redeeming their once good name in the eyes of teenagers.

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