Sunday, June 21, 2009

Disney's Dads Aren't So Bad

Disney's Dads Aren't So Bad

The last thing I expected to do on Father's Day was write a stirring defense of Billy Ray Cyrus, but that's where inspiration has taken me. Everyone deserves defense from a cheap shot, and Brent Hoffman at Iowa Republican writes:
Where have all the fathers gone? If you happen upon one of the “family-friendly” shows on the Disney Channel, you might notice the father is “missing in action” from most plotlines. When present, the father is portrayed as uninvolved, embarrassing or a bumbling fool whose entrance is greeted with a roll of the eyes. It often seems as if “Father knows Best” has been replaced by a single mother and her dysfunctional boyfriend.

I find myself watching a whole lot more Disney than I ever expected to these days, even when I'd rather be watching Keith and Rachel. I've gotten so I can recognize individual Hannah Montana episodes in the first two minutes. But that's OK; sometimes being a dad means watching what the kids want with the kids (thanks but no thanks on that V chip, Tipper).

So I have more than a passing familiarity with the Disney Empire's leading shows: "Hannah Montana," "The Wizards of Waverly Place" and the two incarnations of Zack and Cody's "Suite Life" (either in a hotel or on a boat), and dads don't come off all bad.

Only Zack and Cody have the single mom and bumbling pseudo-father figure decried by the right. Indeed, Republicans should love "Wizards of Waverly Place." Sure, there's the obvious influence of Satan (not to mention Potter) in the magic theme. But the show not only centers around a nuclear family, they even run a small business together. In every episode, the kids get into some sort of jam as they learn magic, and it's often dad David DeLuise (who just lost his own dad, Dom DeLuise) who bails them out. In fact, a central premise of the series is a major sacrifice Dad made: giving up his magical powers to marry his non-wizard wife.

Billy Ray Cyrus -- who ever thought HE'D get a second act? -- is of course both TV dad and real life dad to tween star Miley Cyrus. Of course I have no idea how he rates as a real dad, but the fictional version does a pretty good job as a widower raising two teens alone. That's a TV tradition dating back to Andy Griffith (well, Aunt Bea helped a lot) and "My Three Sons."

The premise of the series, a "normal" teen with a secret life as a pop star, is a bit of a stretch. But if you suspend the disbelief, "Ricky Ray" does a good job balancing his daughter's career and school, managing finances, letting his children test their responsibilities and reining them in when they deserve it. He's closely involved in the fictional Miley/Hannah's career as manager and songwriter, yet doesn't neglect his other kid for the "star" (despite the son's occasional protestations--which are portrayed as unjustified on the son's part). The kids are clearly his number one priority; in only one episode that I know of is he seen even dating.

In fact, there's only one thing my kids watch on TV that portrays fathers in a bad light:

Notice, of course, that he NEVER says "LUKE I am your father. Probably the most misquoted line in movie history.

Me and the boys made up our own lyrics to sing to the tune of the Imperial March: "Darth Vader's bad/and he's Luke Skywalker's dad." (Second verse? "Jabba the Hut has a big big big fat butt.") At least they don't have to wait three years between movies like I did. We had trouble with the time line; my "old Star Wars' is their "new Star Wars." We finally agreed on the mutually acceptable nomenclature "Anakin Star Wars" and "Luke Star Wars."

Oh, and one of Billy Ray's more recent albums includes the song "I Want My Mullet Back." Really.

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