Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Disney Channel's Jessie

I've been meaning to watch the show Jessie for a long time. I came across it one night while channel surfing, and I got really excited when I saw an Indian kid! (Actor Karan Brar).

Growing up Filipino-American in the United States, I always got excited when I saw an Asian person on television. Now that I have a child, I am even more excited when I see people of Asian descent on TV. I want my daughter to see that there are people who look like her, that she isn't an anomaly.

But my excitement soon vanished after a few minutes of watching, when Karan Brar's character Ravi Ross turned out to have a really bad Indian accent. Oh boy. In 2013, can't we let go of the "awkward Asian kid with the really thick accent" stereotype yet? Do we still poke fun at minorities for laughs? Is this kind of garbage still on TV? I changed the channel and vowed I would watch again when I could watch from the beginning, and get a fuller picture of what this TV show was about.

So I tuned in yesterday, May 14, (albeit 5 minutes late). According to my cable TV guide, it said the episode, "All the Knight Moves" was a rerun that originally aired on May 5. No matter. I just wanted to see a full episode. I wanted to see that I wasn't misjudging the whole thing from the few minutes that I saw. Boy, was my first impression right!

I knew the basic premise of the show, that Jessie (actress Debby Ryan) is the nanny to four kids adopted from all over the world by a rich family (Think: Brangelina). I suppose I can't fairly judge other episodes, but in this particular episode, I didn't actually see her do any nanny work. Sure, she is around when the kids are, but she barely offers them any supervision or guidance. In this episode, her biggest role is persuading Zuri, the youngest, to enter a chess competition so that she could win Jessie a trip to Paris. When Zuri buckles under the pressure and has a nightmare about it, Jessie, dressed as the "Queen" chess piece is telling her, "You have to practice [chess] so the Queen can meet cute French guys." Wow. Is that supposed to be funny? Meanwhile, Jessie gets Ravi (the boy with the really fake Indian accent) a gig emceeing the competition, but pokes fun at his "nerdiness" the entire time. What a great nanny! In the end, when Zuri throws the competition so her opponent, the appropriately named "Creme Brulee" can visit his family, all I'm thinking is, "What about leaning in??? I thought this show was supposed to have pseudo-feminist overtones!" (See the next two paragraphs). Creme Brulee then credits Jessie for raising Zuri to have a good heart, and Zuri fixes everything by calling their super-rich parents and asking for the use of the family jet to go to Paris. And everyone lives happily ever after.

Now I know what you might be thinking. This is a television show, Maureen. And a sitcom at that. Fiction. Why get all twisted up in knots? The fact of the matter is, this television show is marketed to kids, kids who parents may not be (are probably not) around to explain to them the problematic parts of the show. I think to understand why the show is problematic, one needs also to look at the original premise of the show.

According to Wikipedia, 18 year old Jessie defies her father by leaving her tiny Texas town to make it big in the Big Apple. Somehow, instead of stardom, she gets the nanny gig instead, where she is entrusted with the lives of four kids, all while looking fabulous, making wise cracks, and barely lifting a finger. I guess the "defying her father" part fits in with other Disney Princess movies: The Little Mermaid, Brave, Tangled, to name a few. And I suppose that it what is supposed to make you root for Jessie. It's supposed to make you think that Jessie is a strong woman, maybe even a feminist. "Look at her! She defied her parents to come to New York City, and look at her now!"

Indeed. Look at her now. She portrays the work of nanny, a very important and very difficult job, as something an 18 year old can fall into without qualifications. She is constantly manipulating or making fun of her charges, especially the one with the funny accent. JESSIE fans can correct me if I'm wrong, but Jessie, despite her young age, isn't shown trying to improve herself by going to college, or learning some other skills pertinent to her job (CPR, anyone?)

I'm super-disappointed, Disney. I will never watch this television show again.

*Edit 5/23/2012* The Huffington Post posted an article about how Disney had to pull an episode of JESSIE after negative audience feedback regarding the way the television show portrayed children with gluten allergies. It just keeps getting better and better, Disney!

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