Dear Mrs. Obama,
Wow, what a cool appearance on I-Carly (debuted January 16, “iMeet the First Lady.” How exciting to use such a popular platform to spread the message about how important it is to support military families. It was a brilliant marketing idea (I understand it was yours) to reach the 5.5 million people who watched the episode, making it the week’s top telecast with all kid and tween demos. The show served as a great Public Service Announcement to support military families.
On the other hand, I’m sorry you couldn’t have put in a plug for anti-racism and healthy relationships—in particular non-violent resolution to conflict. Without denigrating what you did and the positive message you spread, I’m wondering if you’ve watched the show lately. While we (me, my husband and our 10 year old son) have watched the show for at least a couple of years, (and we didn’t want to miss seeing you) 2012 is the year we say goodbye.
Why? First, we can’t swallow the promotion of violence as the first resolution to conflict, particularly for young people beginning to explore love relationships. It was the “iCan’t Take It” episode in September, at the outset of Season 5, that did it. Freddie and Sam are getting closer, Carly hates being in the middle, Gibby gets revenge by telling Mrs. Benson, Freddie’s mom, and all hell breaks loose. But for every conflict, Sam reacts violently. She gets mad at Freddie, she kicks him. She gets mad at Gibby, she pulls out a 3” section of hair and scalp. Gibby threatens Mrs. Benson. And it’s all supposed to be funny.
But it’s not. You know why? Because teen-dating violence is real, and it’s not funny. According to the Bureau of Justice teen dating violence statistics , about one in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship. The show is following tweens morphing into teens, puppy love, learning about relationships. According to iCarly—lying, beating, punching and kicking is the way to go. To which I say no.
And I did, until all of the promo for iStill Pshycho, the much hyped follow-up to last year’s iPsycho, where Carly, Sam and Freddie are taken hostage by an over-zealous fan. We hadn’t watched since September, Sam and Freddie are no longer a couple; so, let’s try it again, right?
Except that, aside from the fact that untreated mental illness is not funny (think Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords), the violence has escalated. IPsycho features torture, sword fights, and possibly worse, passive inaction at the suffering of others. Freddie is attacked while Sam and Carly idly watch eating cake. “It was really good cake,” they explain. Gibby makes it to the top of the chimney to get help for the others imprisoned inside, only to get stuck. The neighborhood kids, seeing his plight, instead pelt him with tennis balls.
But the subplot is what really got me…over the top racism. T-Bo, the manager of the Groovy Smoothie shop and only African American character on the show (On the good side, I suppose, it looks like his character is being integrated more centrally into the show) is now renting a room from Mrs. Benson, Freddie’s over-protective mom. But, it looks like to stay there, he is being forced to act “white.” To act “Proper” is the term used in the plot summary. But to act “proper,” he changes from his bright clothes into a suit and neatly secures his waist long dreadlocks before heading ‘home.’ He speaks in a formal voice, and has to learn to play Mahjong (Note—my 10 year old son says this last point undermines my argument that he’s forced to act white, as Mahjong is a 2,000 year old Chinese game.) Why does he do this, the kids ask him? “If my mom sees how he really is,” answers Freddie, “she’d never let him in my house.”
“Let’s all pretend T-Bo doesn’t have feelings,” he responds.
In the end, after riding a motorcycle through the door and saving Spencer (Carly’s older brother) and the kids from an eternity in hell, he’s allowed to be himself and stay at Mrs. Benson’s, but when he goes in to join the group hug—they recoil in disgust, not wanting to be touched by him.
So, Mrs. Obama, I understand that Sasha and Malia are fans of the show. My question to you is, are these the lessons you are planning to teach them? For me and my ten year old son, the answer is no.
Perhaps the real answer is watching together to talk about the issues. “How could that have been resolved differently?” “What would/could you have done in that situation?”
What are you and your kids doing together, and what are you talking about at the dinner table?