“Adult” Disney Channel Shows and Their Controversy

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“Adult” Disney Channel Shows and Their Controversy

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Everybody can remember watching Disney Channel as a kid. Throwback shows such as Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, and the Suite Life of Zack and Cody are often remembered as “the good era.” So what does that mean for the new era of Disney Channel shows?

Some of the most current shows include, Coop and Cami Ask the World, Bizaardvark, Bunk’d, and the most groundbreaking and talked about, “Andi Mack”. “Andi Mack” is Disney Channel’s biggest hit. From the first episode it had fans captivated with its controversial plotlines and groundbreaking moments.

The show follows the program’s namesake, a 13 year old girl named Andi Mack. In the very first episode, Andi’s sister, Bex, comes home from a long time away. That night, Andi finds out that Bex isn’t her sister, but her mother. The rest of the series follows Andi trying to navigate through this shocking piece of news, finding her father, moving out of her grandparents’ home, all while trying to gain the heart of her 8th grade crush Jonah Beck. Andi’s character is riveting, being the first Asian American lead in disney channel. This allows the show to open up the topic of cultural diversity and representation, with some episodes revolving around cultural holidays like Chinese New Year and The Moon Festival tradition.

Andi is not alone, throughout the whole series she is followed by two of her best friends. One being Buffy Driscoll. Fans love Buffy for multiple reasons. Along with being biracial, Buffy is a military child who has shown the struggles of having a parent far away and having to move because of this predicament. A lot of fans also love her for her independence and feminism. Buffy has a tough outer shell, and seems to love more masculine hobbies such as track and basketball. One of her most beloved plotlines is when she tries out for the boys basketball team because there is no girls basketball team. She ends up making the team, despite multiple beatdowns from the sexist captain, and proves that girls are just as good as guys. She even moves on to start a girls basketball team for her school.

Cyrus Goodman is Andi’s other best friend. He is a charismatic character with a lovable demeanor. Cyrus is what you would call “the nerdy sidekick”. With his sweater vests, unathleticism ability, and hobbies such as filming, most people wouldn’t have expected him to have the impactful storyline that he did. Cyrus is the son of two divorced parents who are both remarried. A family dynamic not mentioned very often on Disney Channel. He is also Jewish and his character has been applauded for allowing us to see the inside of the Jewish religion with events such as his own Bar Mitzvah and a Shiva memorial for his late grandmother. What’s most interesting about his character is his LGBT story. Over seasons 2 and 3, we have seen him grow and evolve as Disney’s first openly gay main character. Tackling topics such as coming out and feeling confident in your own skin, Cyrus is a fan favorite. He is also known as the first Disney Channel character to say the words “I’m gay.” Fans have especially enjoyed shipping him with characters such as Jonah Beck (Andi’s crush) and TJ Kippen, the sexist basketball captain.

Speaking of Jonah Beck, this character is also fairly loved by those who watch the show. Jonah is first seen as an older boy that Andi has a crush on.  He also starts off the series being the captain of the Ultimate Frisbee team, and having a girlfriend, Amber. Throughout the series we find Jonah to be an oblivious but carefree boy who everyone wants to be around. In the Bar Mitzvah episode, Jonah starts to have trouble breathing, leading to a panic attack. He sits down, and eventually TJ finds him and gets him some help. This episode lead to multiple other episodes talking about his panic attacks and anxiety. Andi and her friends later find out that Jonah and his family are struggling financially, allowing kids watching to learn about bankruptcy and money struggles.

Finally, there is TJ Kippen, the mean basketball captain that Buffy had struggled with previously. Over the series, Buffy is told she has to tutor TJ because he is failing math. After one session, Buffy pieces together clues and thinks that TJ has a sort of math dyslexia. He didn’t know the time or room and he didn’t know the multiplication tables. TJ at first denies it but eventually learns to accept it after a talk with Cyrus. Fans have been most excited about TJ recently because of his “romantic relationship” with Cyrus.

“Tyrus” has been headcanon (fictional) in the fandom since the iconic swing scene where TJ and Cyrus have a heart to heart. But it seems to be becoming more and more canon (actual plot line) in recent events. In the most recent episode, TJ suggests doing two person costume with Cyrus but is made fun of for it by a female basketball player who seems to have a crush on TJ. When he is made fun of, it is very clear that he is questioning and feeling insecure about something. Most people believe that that something is his feelings for Cyrus and/or his sexuality. There is also an off-show series where we get to see the texts between Andi and her friends. Within those texts, we find that Andi and Buffy have a suspicion that TJ likes Cyrus, pushing fans over the edge of excitement.

The plotlines on in “Andi Mack’ are rare in most adolescent programming. Because of this, the show gained the attention of a family organization, One Million Moms. The organization took offense to the show’s LGBT storyline, suggesting that Disney Channel “may be choosing to sacrifice something far more precious…children’s innocence”. The organization suggests that by introducing a openly gay character, the show puts a child’s innocence at risk. A risk to what? Diversity? Tolerance? To protest the show and the “adult content” portrayed, a petition was made as telling Disney Channel that they “do not agree with the adult content [Disney is] pushing on families and children in programs such as Andi Mack.”. Also pleading Disney Channel officials to “cancel this controversial series immediately”. As of now, the petition has gained 13,017 signatures. In response, fans created a petition to renew “Andi Mack” for a fourth season. This petition as of right now has around 23,200 signatures, and it is going up.

This is not the first time One Million Moms has denounced a children’s show featuring a gay character. Recently, they also had an issue with an episode of  “Author” on PBS Kids, which featured a male teacher marrying his partner of the same-sex. The petition against PBS Kids made their message clear, stating “I am outraged that PBS Kids would use their children’s network to promote same sex marriage. It is offensive to me and my family that the network would glorify the homosexual lifestyle”. The petition shows the organization’s true motives. It is not an organization that wants to protect children from non age-appropriate programming, but is instead purely homophobic.

It was announced in April  that the remainder of the season three episodes planned to air in June would be the show’s final episodes. This caused an outpour of  resistance from viewers and fans alike. While no reason for the cancellation was given, the backlash of the LGBT storyline could be to blame. It comes to show when the more controversial, ‘adult storyline’, of Andi learning her sister is actually her mother was not complained about much, if  not at all. But Cyrus Goodman’s episodes dealing with his sexuality raised much more complaint. With that being said, Cyrus’s storyline resonated with a much wider audience, having a much larger impact.

Many popular Disney Channel shows often gain a fourth season, so why “Andi Mack” was not renewed has nothing to do with rating or lack of viewers. The fact remains: one of the most diverse, educational programs for kids and tweens was cancelled. When one big step is made, there is bound to be backlash and resistance. By simply having a main character say the words “I’m gay”, the show made Disney Channel history.

While intolerance and controversy remain at large, the impact of this show remains. Many people have been empowered by the many topics covered on the show and feel represented. It’s not everyday that a children’s show not only shows learning disabilities and LGBTQ representation. But it’s even more rare that a recurring deaf character and a gun safety episode is included as well. Growing up on Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place amounted in great entertainment growing up. But it did not educate me on different types of people and scenarios in an educational, but entertaining way. That’s an opportunity Disney Channel gave to this generation of youth, but has sadly also taken away. One can hope that in a world of live-action remakes and Jessie spinoffs, an original and good show would get one more season. But I guess we can’t keep our hopes up.  

A lot of high schoolers these days don’t believe that it is ok to still watch Disney Channel. But in the end, lots of people still wish they could relive their childhood with younger people viewing. If we can listen to songs from those shows, why can’t we watch them? I have met a lot of people who watch Andi Mack like a “regular teenage program.” I openly watch this show and I am not embarrassed. I believe that the show has a decent plot-line that keeps me engaged, such as shows like “Glee” and “Riverdale” do.

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