Posts Tagged ‘tween things’

Boy Band Watch: Big Time Rush

Big Time RushSo here’s the thing. I love boy bands. This shouldn’t come as an enormous surprise, given there’s a whole category to the right somewhere called “this must be pop.” (Which, aside from being about pop, is also an *NSYNC lyric.) So last year when my awesome BFF Jess suggested we should keep some sort of official look out for up-and-coming boy bands, naturally I was all over that. And thus, the Official Tweenage Wasteland Official Boy Band Watch was born!

Aaaand also not a surprise, if you’ve poked around here before (or spoken to me pretty much at all in the last few months), I adore the Nickelodeon show Big Time Rush, which is, of course, about a boy band named Big Time Rush, who have recently put out an album titled (just to be different)… “BTR.” And naturally, Jess and I had to rate it.

So here it is! OTWOBBW: Big Time Rush. (Bonus, we spruced up Tweenage’s layout a bit, so now the text isn’t squished into such a small column. Check it out!)

Sunday Reviews: Big Time Rush in Concert; Magic Under Glass

Today I bring you two reviews. The only unifying thematic element? Neither one is for things aimed at my actual age demographic. I’m sure, if you’ve ever read a single blog entry here before, you are really, really surprised to hear that.

Big Time Rush in ConcertI realized immediately the first time I saw Big Time Rush on TV that I was going to love them. Because I looooove boybands. Today they played a free concert in downtown Manhattan, and of course I went. It was free! And besides, I’ve never actually seen a boyband in concert before; when the last wave was popular, I was still a jaded, cynical high school student.1

So how were they? … Well, for a band, they’re an awfully good TV show. Actually, they were much better than I expected, but in fairness I didn’t have very high hopes. If nothing else, I’ll be walking around humming “Hey, hey, listen to your heart now,” for the next four or five days.

Magic Under GlassAnd then there’s more reading. (This would be #30 on the year.) Remember how a couple of posts ago I linked to Cindy Pon’s awesome book give away, featuring seven novels with protagonists who are characters of color? Guess what? I won!2

Magic Under Glass was the first of the novels I tackled. I first learned about it last year during its own cover controversy, and was really glad to have a copy with the lovely new cover. Overall, it was enjoyable, but I wish there had been more to it. You can check out the full review over at Active Voice.

  1. I wasn’t, actually, but I was a smart brunet with glasses and the only role model I had on TV was Daria. I didn’t know what else to be, and didn’t realize my love of pop music until college, when said boyband craze had already died down. My youth: so tragic.
  2. And she’s doing another amazing give away now! Hooray!

Tweenage Review: Victorious


So Nickelodeon’s trying to mimic Disney; the network partnered with Sony to put out albums for some of its up-and-coming stars, using wacky TV shows as launching pads. (Or so Wikipedia tells me.) The first was Miranda Cosgrove of iCarly, a pretty decent tween show; the second was the boy band Big Time Rush of Big Time Rush, who I immediately loved; and the third… the third is Victoria Justice of the brand-new-last-week show Victorious.

The show was incredibly, offensively bad. Sidekicks who make sexual assault jokes, a protagonist with no personality, an antagonist who only cares about the boy in her life, on top of generic, mediocre writing. Wow, I really, really did not like it at all.

Tweenage Review: Big Time Rush

Big Time Rush

I almost never actually link to the stuff I write on Tweenage Wasteland, huh? That’s mostly because it tends to consist of stupid pictures of Zac Efron accompanied by very little actual writing, but heck, sometimes I bother with more. Like yesterday: I accidentally stumbled across a new-ish Nickelodeon show, Big Time Rush, and was baffled for about five seconds until I realized it’s just The Monkees wearing tighter jeans. Seriously. And since boy bands and wacky hijinks are among my favorite things, I was entranced despite some sexist fail. Here’s hoping the show improves.

Other fun at Tweenage of late: Jess on fashion at the Kids Choice Awards, and (a couple months ago now), Jess, Rachel and I watched Disney’s Starstuck, and man, it wasn’t good at all.

In Which I Don’t Love Irony, but Do Love Corbin Bleu. Like, a Lot.

In Which I Don't Love Irony, but Do Love Corbin Bleu. Like, a Lot.

I’ve had an idea for a post percolating for awhile about how I don’t really like irony. That’s a pretty sweeping statement, hm. Let me get more specific: what bothers me about irony is that I think it contributes to a cultural feeling that genuinely liking things — specifically, happy things — isn’t cool.1 Liking things that are artistic, or weird, or only little-known (but never popular, god no) is fine, but the only way to like something silly or fun for the sake of being fun, is to like it ironically. Which means, you know, you like it, but you don’t really like it, because that’s Uncool, and you’re way too Cool to ever just like something for fun. To me, there’s just something sad about the idea that products created just to be enjoyable aren’t worth really liking; I think it devalues joy, and I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that.

Luckily, I realized many years ago that I will never be Cool. I had angst about that for, oh, four or five minutes, then came to terms with my nerdiness and did my best to stop worrying about what other people would think of me based on the things I enjoy. And it’s very freeing! It means that when I like something, even if it is silly or ridiculous or aimed at people roughly 13 years younger than I am,2 I am free to enjoy and squee and fangirl shamelessly.

This, however, is not that post. That was merely prologue, brought up so you will all know I am not exaggerating my glee when I can share this news: Today, I sort-of-kind-of met Corbin Bleu, and oh my god I love him so much!!!11!!one

Uh, yeah, I had two friends taking pictures and we looked at different cameras. WHATEVER, IT WAS A MAGICAL MOMENT.

Let me back up: a few years ago, I watched and kind of enjoyed High School Musical. A year after that, the creatively-named sequel, High School Musical 2, aired on Disney. And I loved it. Love. Present tense. And after that, High School Musical 3: Senior Year was an actual theatrical release3 and yeah, I saw it in the theaters three times. These movies are ridiculous. I can’t give you plot summaries, because the “plots” are nonsensical. But the cast is adorable, the songs are fun, and the dances are wonderful.4 These movies are 100% joy, and my love for them is 100% genuine. I keep the music from all three on my iPod just in case I need an instant shot of joy during my day, and they never fail to pick me up.

Obviously, Corbin Bleu is one of the afore-mentioned adorable cast members. And while I’ve said before that I’ll basically see anything with any of these kids in it, no matter how bad, Corbin is my favorite. Except that should be italicized and have way more vowels stuck in, and ideally be read in a sing-songy voice: faaaaaaavorite. He’s ridiculously talented, and in interviews, he always comes across as genuinely sweet. (And let’s face it, he’s cuter than a box of kittens.) And… look, I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs, but I think you get the point.

I’ve watched a lot of things just because Corbin is in them. Most of them are not very good.5 So a couple months ago, when it was announced that he’d be starring in In the Heights on Broadway — something that is actually good, not just gleeful, and which might actually show off his strengths as a performer — I made a noise so squeaky it’s possible only dogs could hear me, and then convinced my sister and two of my BFFies to come with me. (This consisted of saying, “Hey, want to go see In the Heights with me?” It was not a hard sell.)

At which point Jess — my co-blogger — pointed out, you know, hanging out at the stage door to meet actors is basically a thing that it’s okay to do with Broadway shows. And then I fainted and had to be revived via smelling salts.6

I wish there was something more to the story than that, like, oh, a sudden gaze into one another’s eyes, instant true love,7 and a marriage proposal. But in actuality, it was a brief but lovely moment; he was very nice (to me and my sistren, the girls in their early teens who also started shrieking when he came outside), even more adorable up close, and YOU GUYS, I LOVE HIM A LOT.

Oh, and the show was good, too. I don’t want to understate that. I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough about such things to really critique it, but it certainly seemed to me to be very well done. Loved the music, loved the use of the setting, loved the interwoven stories. (Though my favorite moment was the joke about the 1/9 train, and how the 9 no longer exists — or more specifically, the audience reaction. Which is to say, only a handful of people laughed, a nice way of picking out who was not a tourist in the crowd.)

But let’s face it: above and beyond all that, I love this guy:

Credit: Joseph Marzullo/

So thank you, sir, for existing, and making my not-at-all-inner fangirl very, very happy. ♥

  1. I feel like this was a very Gen X thing that has really stuck around, but haven’t done any research to back that up.
  2. Holy crap, 13-year-olds are half my age, when did that happen?
  3. I think the only series that’s ever started as made-for-TV and made the jump to theatrical, not the other way around.
  4. Discounting Zac Efron, who is charming as all get out, but really, really not a dancer.
  5. Case in point: a show so bad even the CW wouldn’t keep it on the air.
  6. Okay, not gonna lie, I actually had to be talked into this. When I meet someone I’m that emotionally invested in, I tend to freak out. Not that it’s happened often, but for example, when I met the bassist from my favorite band in 12th grade, I actually forgot my own name when he offered to sign my ticket. You know the cliché girl who bursts into tears when she meets her favorite teen idol, as illustrated daily on TRL for a decade? SO ME.
  7. On his part, clearly, since that’s obviously already true on mine.

Hannah Montana, Part II

Hannah Montana, Part II

Hey, finally, the promised part two in my Hannah Montana series. (Part one, covering race issues in the show, is here.) This part is about the show’s issues with gender and sexuality. To illustrate my points I’ve picked out two episodes as the worst offenders to discuss. Though they represent the worst I’ve seen on the show, their messages are also pretty indicative of the show overall.

The first, “Me and Rico Down by the School Yard,” is the season two premier. It’s the first day of school, and Miley and her friends are starting high school. Miley starts getting creepy text messages that morning, from someone who claims to know her secret and have photographic proof of it. She eventually finds out that it’s Rico, who has been skipped up into ninth grade, and he threatens to send the picture on his phone to everyone in school, unless she does everything he says.

What does Rico want from Miley? For her to pretend to be his girlfriend. He addresses her only by demeaning nicknames, mostly, “Toots,” and “Dollface.” When Miley demands to know where the phone is, he tells her, “You’re free to pat me down.” At lunch that day, he informs her, “Go get Daddy a moist towelette — and make it hot, like my Latin blood.” And so on, and so forth.

Finally, Miley’s friends Lily and Oliver discover the phone is in Rico’s locker. They agree to steal it, while Miley stalls Rico. He tries to go to his locker, so she tries to convince him she really likes him to stop him. He suggests, “Perhaps you could prove your love with a kiss.” Miley’s friends save her from having to kiss him in the nick of time, only to realize the phone is fake and Rico had the real one all the time. He demands the kiss again — but this time Miley tells him no, because she doesn’t want to have this hanging over her forever. She’s ready to deal with her secret being exposed.

Plan A having failed, Rico goes for Plan B: he gives a very touching speech about how hard it is to be the youngest, smallest person in his class — and how he thought if he had a girlfriend like Miley he’d fit in better. She feels bad and agrees to give him a cheek kiss, but at last second he turns his head to “steal” a kiss on the lips, then cackles and runs off.

So let’s look at some of these elements in detail.

First off, the language Rico uses when talking to Miley. It’s very dismissive. “Toots,” and “dollface,” make it clear that Rico is male and speaking to someone female; they aren’t nicknames that are used in any other situations. “Toots” is something in particular used to put a woman in her place; at least for me, phrases like, “Listen here, toots,” are what springs to mind. It’s downright creepy to see them used by someone pre-pubescent, and they certainly sum up Rico’s disdain of Miley as anything but a sexual object.

So, by extension, it isn’t much of a surprise that what Rico wants Miley for is her implied sexuality. First off, he’s literally using her as an object; he makes it clear that having an attractive girlfriend will increase his social standing. Though he says he likes her “passion and brains,” he does it while making it clear that he only likes them because he finds them sexy — in fact, the full quote is, “Passion and brains. I repeat”¦rowwwr.” What’s important to him isn’t that she possesses either of those qualities independently, but that she possesses them in such a way that he is turned on. It is sexualizing and incredibly degrading.

So Miley finally stands up to him. Not to say, you know, “Sexual harassment is wrong, and I don’t have to take it,” but at least she acknowledges that there is no way for her to win in the situation, and she’s not going to bow to Rico’s incredibly upsetting whims. So Rico’s fall back tactic is one too often used in this culture — he makes her feel bad about standing up for herself, paints himself as the victim, and quite literally uses her pity to get what he wants.

Then — and I am sputtering with rage as I type this — he “steals” what he wants, going further than she is willing to. It’s easy to laugh it off as just a kiss and him being just a kid, but the thing is, in other contexts where a man “steals” something sexual from a woman because she isn’t willing to consent, that’s rape. So you’d think that Rico would get some kind of comeuppance for this scheme, let alone for sexually harassing and, essentially, raping Miley? You’d be wrong — the whole thing is played for laughs. He kisses her, cackles, and runs off. The last we see is Miley chasing him and slipping on a banana peel while he escapes.

Because, clearly, stopping at nothing to get what you want, with overtones of rape, well, that makes for some darned hilarious television! And it’s especially funny when it’s played for laughs to an intended audience of kids — because god knows we want them to grow up thinking that’s normal and not objectionable! Except, wait, no, that’s terrible on all levels and, frankly, I’m not sure I’d let my own kids watch the show, if I had any.

Turning away from that, let’s talk gender essentialism. My second episode goes like this: Miley’s best friend, Lily, is an adorable skater girl who makes some loud, wacky fashion choices. How much of a tomboy she is varies with the episode in question, but she’s always at least mildly sporty when compared to Miley. Then comes the episode “You Are So Sue-Able To Me,” in which there’s a school dance. Everyone has a date except for Lily — even the class nerd, gasp! — and Miley tells her wisely that if she doesn’t stop “being one of the guys” and start dressing, acting, and speaking more femininely, she’ll never get a date. But it isn’t phrased like that: the phrase they throw around casually is that Lily “isn’t a girl.” And because she isn’t a girl, no boys will like her, and Miley makes it pretty clear that if no boys like her, she’s a failure.

But no worries, of course, because Miley is a guru on all things girly, and when Lily sees the boy she likes flirting with another girl, Miley promises to take her “from skate chick to date chick.” It works; after merely letting down her hair and batting her eye lashes at him, the boy in question asks her out! But that’s not good enough, Miley says, because, “You’ve got him nibbling on the cheese, but you’ve got to snap the trap,” to make sure he doesn’t ever flirt with another girl. So they go for a total makeover.

When next we see Lily, she’s traded in her usual wacky outfits for a hot pink dress. Of course, this means that literally none of her male friends recognize her (“Hey, new girl, where did you come from — Hotsylvania?” Ew.) At least until she does something masculine — she punches one in the arm. Meanwhile, Miley counsels her to speak “lower and slower” and when the boy she likes freaks out upon seeing her, she promises, “It’s all for you.” She also pretends to be helpless and weak so the boys will carry her books for her.

Except, as it turns out, that’s not what the boy wanted at all! He stands her up for the dance, and in wacky hijinx fashion, they drag him onto a TV show where a fake judge settles teenage disputes, and dumps buckets of gross food on the guilty party. Miley takes over prosecuting the guy while Lily cries fakely, at least until the kid confesses that, “I asked out this cook skater girl and the next day she was all girly and frilly and weird!” He says Miley changed her into “something from a teen fashion magazine,” when she was already what he wanted; Miley answers, “He doesn’t know what he wants, he needs to be told what he wants — he’s a boy!” Of course, she’s the one who ends up doused in pizza sauce and anchovies, while the couple gazes happily into one another’s eyes.

So let’s break this down. “Sue-Able” lacks the downright disturbing qualities of “Me and Rico” but is not without its own problematic messages. First and loudest among them is that there are very definite roles that girls play, and that boys play, and that it’s nearly traitorous to cross gender lines. Miley even agrees with her arch-nemesis that Lily is an embarrassment because she’s not feminine enough; Lily is, for all intents and purposes, shamed and peer pressured until she agrees to conform to the standards of the girls around her.

It isn’t just that girls need to wear expensive clothes, spend time on their appearance, and act dainty. The episode is also none-too-kind to the boys involved, in that the boys are all, well”¦idiots. Idiots who can’t look past the physical, at that. Lily, wearing her bright pink dress, is still highly recognizable, but we’re to accept the boys are so entranced by a girl who dresses in a way that is traditionally feminine (and thus marks her as being interested in boys in a way Lily’s usual clothes don’t) that they don’t even recognize her without a physical reminder (being punched) to snap them back to reality. And Miley, whose gender-essentialist views inform the whole narrative, certainly doesn’t think they’re worth anything; her comments in the courtroom prove that. So basically: girls are pretty, boys are dumb, and those are your only two choices in life. If you fail to fit your gender role, you’re shunned by all your peers.

But what of the end? Of course, it’s an expected part of the narrative that Lily doesn’t end up being forced into the role Miley tries to shoehorn her into. That’s a good thing, as far as it goes. But the thing is, the moral isn’t that Lily was fine as she was — the moral was that Lily was fine as she was because the boy liked her that way. If he hadn’t stood her up, we’d understand that she was justified in changing herself to better perform femininity. But at the end, we’re reassured that Lily can be herself all she wants”…because the dude approves. That means she still wins at Miley’s gender game, and, of course, that her appearance and attractiveness remain much more important than her actual personality.

So, as I said, these two episodes are particularly bad offenders. They’re also only the extremes of the show’s stanard: Rico is always disturbing and the show consistently presents boys as being willing to resort to anything, even — honestly, especially — trickery to get what they want, be it a date or a kiss or what have you. (Miley’s brother, while never as blatantly horrible about it, is frequently shown lying to or manipulating girls he wants to go out with.) Miley’s self-image is very much tied up in being feminine and having boys like her.

Here’s a show anecdote to go out on, from the B-plot of a recent episode: Miley’s father comes home angry after a date. After much prying, Miley learns that he’s angry because his date, coming off a bad divorce, wanted to pay and was very clear about the fact that she is determined to maintain her independence. Miley is, of course, horrified — not at her father’s reaction, but at the woman for daring to spurn his old-fashioned, well-meaning ideas of how men and women relate. While Lily points out that her father can be a bit of a caveman when it comes to traditions, Miley is the POV character, and thus it’s Miley (and her father) we’re meant to sympathize with. Because in the world of Hannah Montana, breaking out of gender roles is just not acceptable.

Stay tuned for the (eventual) third (and probably final) part where I discuss Miley Cyrus as a real person and role model, and the music she and the character present.

Hannah Montana, Part I

Hannah Montana, Part I

I have a love/hate relationship with Disney’s Hannah Montana. For those who haven’t run across it (though it’s becoming ever-more ubiquitous as its popularity grows), it’s a TV show/music franchise about a girl named Miley Stewart (played by Miley Cyrus) who has a normal life with her father, Robby Ray (Billy Ray Cyrus) and her brother, Jackson (Jason Earles). But Miley has a secret: she’s actually the most famous pop star in the country, Hannah Montana. She keeps that a secret by way of a blond wig, and keeps the lives separate so that she can still go to high school like a normal person. So she deals with friends, with bullies, and with boys just like everyone else, even though she’s famous! The show itself is mildly charming, though often completely nonsensical; the music of Miley/Hannah is pure bubblegum pop, which I happen to love. (The music is actually sung by the real Miley, who performs concerts be-wigged as Hannah, but has recently released her first “real” album as herself, the B-side of a Hannah album. It’s kind of confusing, but the upshot is that she does some writing, much of it is written for her, and all of it is her surprisingly excellent singing voice.)

I do have real fondness for the show. It’s a lot of fun, it fulfils a lot of childhood fantasies that I’ve lived out as Mary Sues in my head a hundred times, and I really, really love pop music. It’s a cut above most of Disney’s mediocre programming on a lot of levels. On the other hand, though, while on its surface it’s nothing but wacky hijinks, the show has some seriously deep flaws when it comes to race and gender. I don’t think there’s a mustache-twirling villain trying to indoctrinate tween viewers with stereotypes, but the show is rampant with them, and the fact that it probably isn’t intentional is almost more problematic. It means the show is regurgitating the disturbing stereotypes from the writers’ and producers’ subconsciouses, and transmitting them to a new generation. So while I enjoy this show, I am decidedly not pleased with it at the same time.

Race is probably the biggest problem on the show. As I get started talking about this, though, I want to offer up a general note; I grew up very much as a clueless white girl, and while I’m doing my best to become less clueless about race issues, I still often back away from them out of fear of screwing up. I’m trying not to do that any more, but the fear of saying the wrong thing is still there, so if I do screw up, feel free to wield a cluebat as necessary.

Okay. So. There are only a handful of characters of color in the otherwise totally white cast. This is, sadly, not too surprising, given that a lot of shows have that problem. But things are worse when you actually look at the roles the non-white characters play.

The most minor of them is Cooper, Jackson’s best friend in the first season. Though occasionally a jerk, Cooper was no more or less so than the rest of the cast; he was just a bit player who showed up sometimes when Jackson needed a friend to converse with. The problem? Between seasons, the character abruptly disappeared, and the role of Jackson’s best friend was filled by a new guy — a blond, white character. I don’t think Cooper appeared in more than one or two episodes this season, and never with more than one or two lines, and his friendship with Jackson is all but forgotten about while Jackson has hijinks with Thor instead. (Thor, for the record, is a terrible character in his own right, but that’s a different essay.) So there’s that.

Next we come to Amber and Ashley, African- and Asian-American respectively. These two are Miley’s classmates and nemeses; they’re rich, spoiled, snobby, and stupid. They are the closest thing the show has to villains, and they’re often the only characters of color to appear in an episode. Gosh.

Next there’s Rico. There are actually a lot of problems with his character, which I’ll get to in a later essay, but they certainly tie into his race. Rico is Latino, and despite the fact that he’s the youngest regular character — he’s eleven, everyone else is in the 14-16 age range — he’s also extremely oversexed. (I believe at one point he refers to himself as, “a sexy Latin lover.”) And on top of that, he’s another antagonist. Virtually all he does on the show is sexually harass Miley and find ways to taunt and torment Jackson.

So far, that gives us one character of color who was replaced with a white guy, and three who are nothing but antagonists. But, you may be wondering, is there any recurring, non-antagonist character of color? Why, yes! Her name is Roxy, and she’s Miley/Hannah’s bodyguard. And…oy. Where to start? For one thing, in one of her appearances she mixes up what amounts to a voodoo potion she calls “the funk” for her white employer. Which definitely raised my eyebrows.

But that’s nothing compared to the episode which seems to have been designed to let Roxy chase after a teenager, screaming, “Come back here, you cracker!” But it’s wacky and hilarious! Because she’s chasing off a bully! A bully who happens to be nicknamed the Cracker because she’s constantly cracking her knuckles and can crack nuts open with her bare hands. So when Roxy comes to Miley’s rescue, when Miley fears being beaten up, she aggressively chases after the bully, calling her by the nickname in question.

I…I just…whaaaaa? That isn’t something that happens by accident. It’s not an, “Oops, we didn’t realize there were possibly problematic racial undertones to this!” punchline. It’s something that was carefully set up for. I really just can’t imagine what the writers were thinking or trying to accomplish.

So Cooper, Amber, and Ashley, I can assume were probably not intentionally written in a problematic way. They may even have been backfired attempts to up the diversity in the cast. But oversexing the only Latino character? Having the black woman yell potentially offensive, certainly charged terms? And playing it off as comedy?

And how’s this for another one-off gag the show offers: At the end of a recent episode, to bring the physical comedy, two white characters get tangled in an African-American woman’s braided hair in the middle of a fight.

Disney, what the fuck?

(Next time, or whenever I get around to it, the show’s issues with gender and sexuality.)