Feminist Disney, Lizzie McGuire: kisses, culture, and being friends with your mom
Lizzie McGuire: kisses, culture, and being friends with your mom

So this is a tv review, which I haven’t ever *officially* done before.   I’ll go episode by episode, but since I did watch this show growing up, my review is going to have some inherent bias. My kids, if/when I have them, will probably learn to hate the internet because they’ll be like “Can we watch the show Offensive Magical Native Stereotype on tv?”  And I’ll be like “Here’s Lizzie McGuire on youtube! Watch it.”  “NO MOM NOT YOUR OLD FAVORITE SHOWS FROM MIDDLE SCHOOL AGAIN!”  I wish I could review 5 rather than 3, but it was getting rather lengthy.  

Episode 34: First Kiss

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I picked the first show at random, and it happened to be very focused on romance.  I’m usually of two minds about this- on the one hand, I think kids shows overall tend to overemphasize the importance of [hetero] relationships for kids and it creates a societal pressure where kids- especially girls since the message is aimed strong in their direction- feel like they have “failed” or are “not good enough” if they are not in a relationship/have the attention of the opposite sex.  

But, on the other hand, so long as it *is* a social pressure, then it’s one worth addressing with kids, rather than ignoring.  I think this episode did a pretty decent job of that. Around Valentine’s day, Lizzie becomes rather enamored with her paper boy Ronnie and it quickly becomes a relationship. In doing so, her brain turns to romance mush and she doesn’t talk about anything other than Ronnie/ignores Miranda/ doesn’t pay attention in school. The relationship (and episode) ends when Ronnie breaks up with her. The ending reinforces several points:

  • Romance can be fun, but at the end of the day, it is often short-lived, and the people who really stand by you and support you through it all aren’t the guy you met last weekend, but the friends and family you’ve come to love.   So throwing them under the bus the second you start dating someone is not a good idea.
  • Balance is important; Lizzie was messing with her friendship with Miranda by making her entire life about Ronnie, rather than seeing her relationship as one of many that are important to maintain
  • Gordo is clearly in love with Lizzie AUGH WHY DID THAT NEVER HAPPEN.


I’m not sure I’m completely on board with the girl-goes-bonkers-for-a-guy-meme because  I feel like it’s what our society mostly expects from young girls, and their other abilities and accomplishments are ignored or not addressed as much in tv/movies/etc., which creates a sort of catch 22. Society constantly tells girls it expects boy-crazy of them, so girls, since they always see it in portrayals of young women on tv, feel like it is an expectation they must live up to in order to be perceived as “not a failure.” Then society turns around and is like “why are 10 year olds obsessed with having boyfriends what happened to the good ol’ days?!”

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When Lizzie’s parents debated over whether or not she was “allowed” to date a boy (obviously she was going to anyway), it made me think of how gender binaried this discussion is, at least on tv.   I think it’s a reasonable concern for parents to have, that their children might get distracted by romance (yet kids, especially girls, will think it’s uper important because every magazine will tell them, from the tender age of 10, how to get the attentions of their crush, and every movie they watch will end with a blooming romance!) and not concentrate on being a kid/working hard in school/whatever.  

But I was thinking during this episode how we never see a reaction from Ronnie or Gordo’s parents (since he starts crushin). If it was just this one show, I wouldn’t think it meant anything, but off the top of my head I couldn’t recall a single episode I had ever viewed of any tv show in which a young boy was told by his parents to cool his jets when it comes to having a girlfriend (or boyfriend)/romance/whatever. I can recall multiple instances of this happening to girls. Is this overall trend indicative of the way our dialogues with children are quickly gender-binaried and influencing how they perceive their non-familial relationships?

I have to say, for a show that started off over 10 years ago, Lizzie McGuire had a fairly diverse cast, which I think Disney is better about with their shows than with their movies.  Lizzie and her family are, predictably, middle-class white people, but Miranda is latina,  Gordo is Jewish, and Matt’s best friend Lenny is black.   Which was an interesting casting choice since he never speaks (and it’s not clear if it’s a choice or if he actually can’t, to me it seemed that choice was implied?).   So in that way I feel iffy about the casting choice because on a larger level, black characters- especially in movies- are often given few speaking lines, no speaking lines, or have their lives explained to them/altered/made better by a white character.  So, it bothers me a little that Lenny’s viewpoints are always explained through Matt.   On the other hand, I did think it was in some ways a positive portrayal because never talking is really atypical behavior that IRL would probably get you in trouble with your peers,  yet Lenny is never shown as being bullied for it, and in fact always reveals himself to be incredibly creative and intelligent- without ever speaking.   He is not a stereotype of any sort I can recognize- he is an incredibly unique character who does not need spoken words in order to define himself to the audience.

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Episode 35: El Oro De Montezuma

Lizzie McGuire El Oro De Montezuma was… decent, but I think it was more haphazard than the other episodes and there was more obvious “this line is the point of the episode” lines from the characters.   An Indonesian student, Lee, transfers to Lizzie’s school, and at first she tries to befriend him but is amused/confused by his inability to understand the point she’s trying to make.  

Their teacher wants to do some project on cultures of the world and the first thing he does is ask Lee to tell the whole class about his culture because what a great opportunity!  I thought that was a rather awkward thing to do because it highlighted his “otherness” at a time when he’s trying to fit in/probably not draw too much attention to himself, as is often the case with newcomers.    And especially given that the teacher must have known he struggled with understanding english- why put him on the spot like that??   Lizzie quips, “This might take a while,” and then Mr. Diggs says, “So it takes a while.  We’re here to learn about other cultures.”   But- confusingly- the scene then cuts away… so it was so important that they didn’t want to include it?     It would take a while to actually show in the episode, so it wasn’t worth the time?? 

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Meanwhile, Miranda’s cousin from Mexico City is on a game show and invites them to come along when other contestants drop out.    Miranda and Gordo attempt to practice their spanish but Lizzie thinks that practicing the tasks will be better since they’ll have the cousin to translate.    Predictably, they have trouble understanding what is going on while they participate, and becuase Lizzie doesn’t understand the language or culture, she has to give everyone labels but has no idea what they mean and ends up seperating the cousin (who acts as the interpreter) from their group.   They then have absolutely no idea what the host is telling them to do and the studio audience laughs at them for it, which makes Lizzie feel really uncomfortable and- predictable parallel- realizes that she’s treated Lee like crap.    She goes back to school and instead of delivering her report on the Mexican game show, explains how she realizes she was wrong to be hard on him because she realizes now how difficult adjustment can be, and instead she presents a report on Indonesia, to the apparent delight of Lee.

While the intent of the episode was nice- realizing the importance of understanding other cultures/languages and the difficulty others encounter while getting to know our own (and why we should have empathy for them), I felt like the handling of Lee’s character was really shaky.    It ended up basically reducing him to nothing more than a physical representation of his culture- he is never able to talk for himself/about himself in this episode, instead all we know is that he is “Lee from Indonesia”- and Lizzie ends up being the one that teaches the class about his country and culture.  Seeing people as symbols and spokespeople for their entire race and/or nationality has often been a problem in US American culture (and elsewhere), and I don’t think this episode did anything other than perpetuate that concept.    It reflects the cultural dissonance we have in wanting to learn from others and thinking that our desire to learn negates all of their feelings on how this education is approached.   Not everyone likes being asked about their native homeland every time they meet someone new, as if that’s all they are or all they can offer everyone.

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What also bothers me about this episode is that it’s like an essay introduction without the punch of the rest of the essay.   They say all this stuff about the positive rewards of learning about other cultures, but what the viewer of this epsiode comes away with learning about either Indonesian or Mexican culture is less than the first two lines of their wikipedia entries. We only hear the intro of Lizzie’s essay and still learn nothing about the country. So it was like… “We think your culture is important… just NOT important enough to actually include it in our show.” 

The game show scene may or may not have been appropriative or inappropriate … it’s difficult to tell since I know a lot of game shows are legitimately really strange, so does it count as furthering a stereotype, or no?  Feel free to check out the episode and let me know if you have a more definitive opinion on it.
 
Episode 36: Mom’s Best Friend

 I love Lizzie’s parents as characters, so this episode was likely to be a rewarding experience. Lizzie is inspired by a book she’s required to read for class to have a stronger “friendship” relationship with her mother. Through Lizzie’s exploration of their relationship, a lot of good points are made.  She realizes that she has underappreciated her mother, that at some point her mother might not be there so it’s worth strengthening their relationship now, and she says something along the lines of wanting to be her mom’s friend because her mom has already been through everything they’ve gone through and knows how to relate.  

Her path causes Gordo and Miranda to attempt the same thing.   Gordo’s discussion with his dad is hilarious; he asks if his dad wants to go on a fishing trip. 

Dad: “As a psychiatrist, I’m aware you’re at a stage where it’s normal for you to seek seperation from your parents.  Yet, you desire closeness, rather than distance… [Gordo says something]… Saturday’s wide open.   We can leave at 6.30… breakfast at 7… we can be at Inspiration Overlook by 8.15.   That leaves time for a spontaneous discussion of our place in the world, and our emotional response to it.  

…What do you think, 3 minutes?  5 minutes?

Gordo: “…3 minutes.”

Haha nostalgia alone does not make this show hilarious.   But I thought that sort of highlighted that A) not every child/parent relationship is the same, B) it’s a two way street when it comes to strengthening that relationship and working at relating to each other as peers, and C) your relationship will probably work out okay even if you don’t plan it out every step of the way (while leaving space for spontaneous discussion, lol).    Miranda’s experience with her mother starts off positive- she just sort of blurts out “So, you want to be friends?”  And her mom is super excited and wants to go shopping and it seems like Miranda realizes then that constantly shutting her mom out of her life had been hurting her.

 Lizzie then realizes that her relationship with her mother is becoming overwhelming because she isn’t ready to relate to her/talk to her about adult things like her grandmother considering leaving her grandfather.   She tells her mom that it will have to wait a few years.

Lizzie: “But, I’m glad to know that we can be friends.”
Mom: “So am I.  And I know it’s going to be worth the wait.”

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I thought that was a really touching moment, and it was really a surprisingly insightful look into how to transverse the generational differences while kids are growing up.   It acknowledged that they wouldn’t be great friends right then, and that was sad, but that Lizzie understood that she wasn’t ready to tackle really serious stuff all the time- and that was okay.    It’s okay to be young, and it’s okay to wait for that parent-child-yet-friendship relationship to occur when it’s ready to.   It was a good reminder that growing up is both cool as you grow in your relationships with yourself and others, and painful at times as you become more aware of the imperfections in the world around you.

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Basically: Lizzie McGuire the show predictably has some problems with examining more complex issues like cultural representation, but it makes a decent attempt to examine multiple types of issues in a fairly non-shaming, humorous way that makes fairly progressive messages accessible to kids. It features multiple female protagonists who form strong relationships with each other and others around them.  I’d recommend it overall

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    And the funny bit about POC representation here is that Miranda is played by Lalaine who is actually fully...
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