Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Politics, Philosophy And Hilary Duff

It occurs to me that some people might be wondering why a forty-seven year old guy like me even knows who Alyson Michalka is. It also occurs to me that some people might suspect they know why a forty-seven year old guy like me knows who Alyson Michalka is. The actual, real reason has a little politics in it, a little philosophy in it and a little Hilary Duff in it. I’ll talk in Wednesday’s post about why I started watching some shows on the Disney Channel.

My Alyson Michalka / Giant Clown Hammer Fantasy


I am not by my nature a fan of anything Disney. I think there are real monsters in Disney creations. [The Monsters In Disney’s ‘Mulan’] But life takes us on expeditions and half the fun of an expedition is discovering things you never expected.

My expedition to the Disney Channel started about five or six years ago at a political website called “Free Republic.”

Politics and Philosophy

Five or six years ago most of the time I spent on the internet was at Free Republic. I’m not a very political guy and I’m certainly not a libertarian, but back then Free Republic was a wildly diverse, wildly smart and wildly fun site. A great many Freepers were the kind of people who were interesting to talk to about anything. [La Belle Dame Sans Merci]

One day I was going on and on about a great book called “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” and I was singling out TV violence, saying violence on TV was not only omnipresent, but it wasn’t operatic and it wasn’t realistic, it was just insane and almost always depicted with bizarre and unreal consequences. A Freeper agreed with me, but then suggested I might enjoy a TV show on the Disney Channel called “Lizzie McGuire.”

Now, normally if someone recommends something to me I just make a mental note and then move on, waiting until I hear a similar recommendation from two or three other people. However Freepers are a breed unto themselves and when a cool Freeper recommends something I generally check it out.

Free Republic is not the same today as it was back then. Many of the people I was close to have been banned in one or another purge at the site. Political groups do such things. Of course, many people return using a new screen name, but the general social tone of Free Republic isn’t as fun as it used to be. There are still wildly interesting people there, but the ratio of cool-to-mundane (or even cool-to-lunatic) has changed drastically.

The social scene at Free Republic seems to be following the basic laws of human stupidity as discovered by economist Carlo Cipolla.

Whether one considers classical, or medieval, or modern or contemporary times one is impressed by the fact that any country moving uphill has its unavoidable X fraction of stupid people. However the country moving uphill also has an unusually high fraction of intelligent people who manage to keep the X fraction at bay and at the same time produce enough gains for themselves and the other members of the community to make progress a certainty.

In a country which is moving downhill, the fraction of stupid people is still equal to X; however in the remaining population one notices among those in power an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity and among those not in power an equally alarming growth in the number of helpless individuals. Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the X fraction and makes decline a certainty. And the country goes to Hell.

The Laws are not as easy to find as they once were, but right now they are here: THE BASIC LAWS OF HUMAN STUPIDITY

Hilary Duff

So a Freeper recommended a Disney Channel TV show called “Lizzie McGuire” and I checked it out.

And I discovered what very quickly became one of my favorite TV shows of all time.

“Lizzie McGuire” was (it only filmed 65 episodes) ostensibly a kids’ show about a young girl and her friends making the transition from junior high to high school. But the creators and producers actually patterned the look-and-feel of the show after a reasonably adult and very odd film, “Run Lola Run.” The result was a “kids’ show” with almost always interesting stories almost always told in interesting ways. In a nutshell, it was like “Seinfeld” but without the adult, New York ethos.

It’s always a very good sign when a live action TV show involves animators, and “Lizzie McGuire” not only featured cartoon interludes by animator Debra Solomon, but some episodes were directed by the always funny Savage Steve Holland.

“Lizzie McGuire” stared then unknown Hilary Duff and the show became so popular that the young star was able to—or rather her parents were able to—leverage her success into manipulation of the show’s content. So, the final few episodes of the show were not as good as the bulk of the episodes.

Those years—just after the turn of the century—were a kind of golden era for the Disney Channel. In addition to “Lizzie McGuire” there were three other shows that have become justifiable famous. Oddly—almost predictably—Disney allowed all these good shows to run out their contracts and did not negotiate reasonable terms to keep the shows in production. (The partial exception was “Kim Possible.”)

Even Stevens” was another family show about kids in high school. But like “Lizzie McGuire” the creators and producers kept their eyes on the stories rather than just on “kids’ issues” and most episodes were fun to watch.

Kim Possible” was an animated series and, again, the creators and producers focused on action and entertainment and avoided cookie-cutter silliness that seems to infect normal cartoon shows. “Kim Possible” won so many awards and became so popular that even Disney buckled and negotiated reasonable terms for a fourth season after production halted.

Phil of the Future” was another family show about a family from the future struggling to get by in the present world. (Alyson Michalka played the young man-from-the-future’s present-day girl friend.) The show wasn’t always as independent-minded as the three other shows I’ve singled out, but it was usually pretty darn good.

The Disney Channel of the present day is pretty lame compared to what it used to be. (I don’t watch anything in their current lineup.) It could be the basic laws of human stupidity at work, or it could be the simple ebb-and-flow of behind-the-scenes talent in the TV business.

But a few years back, the Disney Channel, amazingly, was really fun to watch.

1 comment:

Gideon said...

Wow, I had a similar experience but only because I had to cut my son's (he was 7 at the time) TV watching habits because of his disability that we were still diagnosing. We ended up cutting a lot of Cartoon Network out and adding Disney shows which are all the ones you mention with the exception of Lizzie M. That wasn't in the lineup at the time.