“Blocking the Disney Channel”

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While having a conversation with another parent the other day, the talk went from the usual “your kid doesn’t want to go to sleep at 9, mine neither” conversation to a much weirder one that I had not prepared myself to be having at any point in being a parent.

That kind of stuff they don’t put in the handbook, so to speak, along with a handbook’s worth of other stuff too, like “how to stop your kid from asking for McDonald’s at every meal?”

I wondered how it had gotten there, and after a bit of backtracking, I realized that it was the fault of the good people at Walt Disney.

I love Disney movies, and have spent the better part of my life watching them over and over again. Being the oldest of five kids, I spent the better part of my youth and adolescence with a Disney movie on in the background; so much so, in fact, that I can tell you what was going on in my life at the time of each Disney film’s release.

For instance, when the movie “Aladdin” came out, I remember that was the year that my brother brought home the chicken pox and all five of us kids were quarantined to the house, left with little else to do than watch that film over and over again. I still know every single word to “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me.”

“Finding Nemo” was the first animated film that my son had on repeat and could not get enough of, to the extent that a goldfish that we owned for the better part of six months before it’s untimely demise was called “Dori.”

I still cringe every time I see “Mary Poppins” as my brother, who is eight years my junior and whom I shared a room with, went to sleep watching the Julie Andrews musical every night for about two years. I have a weird phobia of Dick Van Dyke as a result, yet I did have a short-lived career as a chimney sweep in college.

So, with all that being said, I have to tell you that when my conversation with one of my fellow parents went to the little Disney Channel juggernaut called “Hannah Montana”, I was less than thrilled to be chatting about it.

That coupled with the fact that she is the daughter of once mulleted country-singing one hit wonder, Billy Ray Cyrus, you could say that such a conversation was causing my “achy-breaky heart” to beat irregularly.

You see, my friend has daughters, and I a son, yet my son seems to have taken a liking to Hannah Montana the way that young girls get “twitterpated” over Justin Timberlake or middle-aged Delawarians get turned on by NASCAR’s Dale Jr.

I guess I just didn’t think that my five-year-old would already have some sort of celebrity crush, and what’s even more troubling, is that I’ve heard teenagers and people in their twenties speak of her attractive qualities in ways that just gives me the creeps.

How can someone that Disney created into a superstar be so mass appealing to so many age groups, from the harmless five-year-old, to the creepy guy at the bar?

Perhaps Disney gets a free pass because it’s the company that people think of first for quality family entertainment. Disney characters are timeless and for the most part harmless for your kids to want to pretend to be.

However, the pre-teen craze that has evolved from the Mickey Mouse Club that created Britney Spears to this “High School Musical” madness that has made Zach Effron into some sort of quasi-celebrity is something that the people at Disney should really look at and realize that they are selling something else to our kids that isn’t timeless fairytales and a journey to a magical kingdom of imagination.

There is a difference between Cinderella and Hannah Montana, and the difference has nothing to do with being able to get small mice to make dresses and it is this: Cinderella doesn’t have a cell phone and she can never enter rehab, and she doesn’t have an image or a publicist.

What they are selling to kids these days, at least in these pre-teen shows is that it’s perfectly normal to want glamorous things, and that rock stars and movie actors are the only people in this world worth emulating.

Disney movies are one of the only things that we can put on to block out the constant bombardment of infotainment in this celebrity obsessed world, in which the lifestyles of the rich and famous are a nightly trainwreck that we watch on the evening news and read about on “the john” in the glossy magazines.

Shouldn’t it be a priority of the Disney corporation to stay true to what made them one of the biggest companies in the world, rather than just cash in and pollute the minds of our tweenagers and teeny boppers by just making sitcoms for kids with laugh tracks, product placement and pubescent sex symbols?

Adults have become so depressed by the routine of our mundane lives that we obsess over what celebrities had for breakfast. We would rather read about the negative things in a celebrity’s life than deal with our own, and we live in a world where guys that hide in bushes and snap pictures of celebrities in their underwear (or without it in some cases) are the highest paid photo-journalists in the world.

I can come to terms with a lot of things in this world and put them in the Bruce Hornsby and the Range “That’s Just the Way It Is” category, but if everything else has become a cross-marketed selling point to a larger demographic and even putting a smile on kid’s face is something that focus groups of middle age “suits” deliberate on, why shouldn’t I hold the people at Disney to a higher standard?

I’ve been saving for several years just to take my kid to Disney World because like London, you can’t walk down the street toward the Magic Kingdom without hitting an ATM.

Perhaps they should do what they do best, and that is stick to animated family films that kids love to watch over and over until their parents find themselves singing “Hakuna Matata” in their Friday morning sales meeting.

And furthermore, Disney could also help out parents in other ways such as taking their movie figurines out of Happy Meals nationwide, thus appeasing every parent who cringes every time they $4.69 on Grade F meat for their kids so they can get the damned Happy Meal toy.

But then again, I‘ll probably just wait for Hannah Montana to go to rehab, and then I’ll be justified in telling my son “No, No, No” when he asks to watch the Disney Channel.

Email me at domspino@yahoo.com.

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