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Has Disney lost its edge?

In a time of political turmoil, exam stress and the scary reality of adulthood, we all want to be taken back to a simpler, easier time in our lives. The Disney Channel is loved by millions worldwide; however, many have deemed the new “generation” of Disney shows subpar, and rightly so, for more than one reason.

 

Gone are the days of That’s So Raven and Lizzie McGuire and in their place are shows like Shake It Up, Good Luck Charlie and Jessie. Sure, there are some decent kids’ shows on the air, but they lack the same educational edge of their predecessors. Issues of size-shaming, racism and mental health illnesses continue to exist in our society, even in 2015, but it was the Disney shows of the late 1990s and early 2000s that dealt with these issues best.

 In fact, today’s Disney shows largely fail to recognise these issues, and in one show in particular, eating disorders were mocked.

 Take the issue of racism, for example. Some of the most popular Disney shows, like The Proud Family and That’s So Raven, as well as Raven spin off Cory In The House, all featured African-American or culturally diverse characters as their main cast. That’s So Raven in particular, strived to deal with issues of race and body image. In one episode, focused around Black History Month, it explicitly dealt with Raven being denied a job for being black.

 

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This was, and still is, a hugely significant issue. To inform children that these instances of oppression are a daily occurrence and to educate them on such issues, is a beautiful accomplishment that the old Disney managed to achieve. In 2015, only one of Disney’s leading ladies is non-Caucasian, and no show would dream to tackle these issues in the same, brash way of old, for fear of causing a stir. Shake It Off’s Zendaya is that leading lady, with Shake It Off being a show that has received a lot of negative attention.

 

In contrast with That’s So Raven, the dance-based show made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Demi Lovato, of Camp Rock fame, took to Twitter to slam the show for its mocking of anorexia. Lovato, a sufferer of bulimia herself, which ultimately lead her to leaving Disney, quoted the infamous line, one which altered the public perception toward the seemingly innocent show. “I could just eat you up, well, if I ate’…. What are we promoting here?” Lovato tweeted, before continuing to say she “missed the days of Raven and Lizzie McGuire”, both of which had tackled body image in a positive way.

 

In a two episode arc of Lizzie McGuire, Lizzie’s best friend Miranda struggled with her eating habits. This was at a time when the subject of eating disorders hadn’t been brought to the forefront of social discussion, especially on teen television. Raven addressed the subject of body image shortly after Lizzie’s exploration of the topic. Disgusted when a picture of herself in one of her own dress designs was doctored beyond recognition. Raven, in all her plus sized fabulous glory, was the star of the show.

 

Of course, there are modern Disney shows that tackle vital issues. Good Luck Charlie was the first show on Disney to have same sex parents, albeit in a supporting role. Jessie frequently tackles issues of bullying, and for American kids, growing up in a military family.

While we nostalgically crave older Disney shows, it must be recognised that these shows shaped the individuals that today are fighting for equality amongst sexes and races, as well as having provided comedic value. Today’s Disney is, without doubt, still entertaining, but there’s little of the same awareness raised in a time when the Millennials need to be most aware.

 

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