And now, Scary-Crayon reviews...
that's SO RACIST
by: Wes

Since getting the TV tuner last Christmas, I've been on the lookout for stupid and weird shows to review for the site -- and believe me, there's some insane stuff out there. Interestingly enough, most of these shows are geared towards young children. While Adult Swim viewing like "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" and "12 oz. Mouse" are admittedly odd and often pretty dumb, they simply do not compare to the likes of the Tickle U programming that airs on Cartoon Network during the day. And then there's the live action crap on the Disney Channel.

Does anyone remember when Disney Channel was mostly cartoons, with fun shows based on established Disney characters? We didn't have cable back in those days, but I always enjoyed watching "Goof Troop" and "The Little Mermaid" in the hotel rooms on family vacations. "Darkwing Duck", anyone? "Gargoyles"? These were good shows. In recent years, "Recess", "Lilo & Stitch", and the fantastic "Kim Possible" continued the tradition of fun animated fare -- and that's only fitting, right? I mean, when I thought of Disney as a kid, the first thing that came to my mind was not moronic live action sitcoms for pre-teen audiences. But while KP still airs often enough on the channel despite being cancelled (*grumblegrumble*), the bulk of Disney Channel programming these days is live action crap. Granted, I don't mind the occasional "Boy Meets World" rerun, but these original Disney Channel shows are fucking terrible. And the worst of them? "That's So Raven".

that's so ravenShe sees the future.

I am being deadly serious when I say that this show has one of the worst premises that I have ever encountered. It's your typical "close-knit group of moronic teens hang out together and get into wacky misadventures during their high school career" show, except for one thing: Raven Baxter, played by Raven, is privy to random glimpses into the future. Unlike Cordelia's visions on "Angel", however, Raven's do not enable her to save lives and thwart coming apocalypses with the help of her nerdy ex-Watcher pal and a vampire with a soul. Instead, they're only useful for enabling her to meet cute boys and help her idiot friends out of stupid situations that they would never have gotten into in the first place if they hadn't been so unrealistically retarded.

Still, in spite of these glaring faults, I'll admit that I came to sort of like the show while recording episodes for review. Granted, I don't like it in the way that I like good shows, and I'm fairly sure I would've been utterly unable to watch it as a child, but in my old age it falls into the same category as Barney and the Tickle U shows. It's weird, it's stupid, it's obviously aimed at kids who have no idea what the hell they're watching and probably don't care -- and while Raven makes no attempt to teach kids about numbers or values (outside of the very simplistic "stick with your friends" message, anyway), it struck me as being a good-natured and largely inoffensive show. Yes, "That's So Raven" is exceedingly stupid, but it's hard to hate something so harmless.

My opinion of the show changed last Friday night/Saturday morning. It was 3:15 AM, and since I generally sleep in, I was setting up my cartoon recordings for the following morning using my software's TV guide. While doing so, I noticed that "That's So Raven" was on at the time -- and having finished scheduling my weekly recordings of "Winx Club" (article forthcoming!) and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", I figured that I might as well watch the end of the Raven episode before I headed to bed. Unlike the usual aimless stupidity that pervades the show, however, this episode actually attempted to convey a point. Unfortunately, that point happened to be racist.

Carol McKechnie should be ashamed of herself.That's 3J as Scott Joplin.

Now, I've aired my grievances with Black History Month on the site before. I do not understand how Americans (and, apparently, the British, and God knows how many others) can designate one month of the year to honor the historical accomplishments of people with clear and undeniable emphasis on the color of their skin and view that as a mark of progress. Note that I am not saying that the achievements of these people are not important or that they should not be included in historical studies, but I am saying that these accomplishments should be recognized in light of their particular contexts as opposed to being categorized with respect to the skin color of the people involved. If these people were so important, why do we only study their accomplishments during February? Why is it apparently impossible to recognize their work without explicit reference to the color of their skin? Doesn't grouping them with respect to this particular attribute adhere to the very definition of racism? Doesn't it amount to a kind of historical segregation? What's worse is that while I have submitted these and similar questions to a number of people over the years, not only has nobody ever given me a serious reply -- nobody has even deemed the questions worth answering. Instead, these people have largely responded to my inquiries with insults, calling me "childish" and "ignorant" and rolling their eyes and turning away in disgust.

When I switched to the Disney Channel that night, I saw a throng of historical figures with only their skin color in common introduce themselves to Raven's younger brother while Frederick Douglass cited their unique claims to fame -- among them, Bessie Coleman and Scott Joplin (respectively, an aviator and a ragtime composer). Now, given that this is "That's So Raven", the scene was more or less played for inane laughs, with the actors who play Raven's father, mother, and friend cast in the roles of these historical figures, but young Corey's response further highlighted the seriousness of the difficulty: "Wow, I never knew that our people have done so much!" His people. Now, we've established that the audience is primarily composed of kids who have no idea what they're watching. If they were able to actually evaluate the events on screen, they would either fall out laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it or angrily change the channel, but in no way would they regard the series with the genuine affection needed to justify paying Raven $35K per episode or ensure that it stayed on past the pilot. So when you start telling such unassuming children that it is not only acceptable but good to think in terms of "our" people and, by extension, "their" people, you are encouraging them to categorize people -- and those people's connection to themselves -- with respect to the color of their skin. And that's not fucking cool at all.

Yeah, way to go, Raven.I'm a moron and I dropped my lucky spyin' hat.

But in addition to Corey's struggles with his Black History Month report, there was apparently another conflict in the episode. As noted, I came in towards the end of the show (and I didn't even start recording until several minutes later, which explains why the previous screencaps are were taken from the end credits), but apparently Raven had applied for a job at a local clothing store and had been rejected -- because of the color of her skin, no less. So naturally, rather than dealing with the subject in a remotely serious manner, Raven and her wacky pals attempt to rectify the situation by going undercover and getting the store manager to confess to her racist hiring practices on camera. Pretending to be one of the higher-ups of the company, Raven waltzes into the store and, after berating the manager for not having a Black History Month sale, asks why there are no black people working in the store. When the manager replies that she did have a recent applicant "of the African-American persuasion," the costumed Raven at once shows her approval, and does the same thing later when their friend Eddie (best known for his role as 3J on "Family Matters") shows up and asks for a job. They finally trap the manager when she admits to Chelsea that she has no intention of hiring Eddie ("I don't hire black people," she says, making certain to sound as nasty and dastardly as she can), but not before Chelsea knocks off the hat containing the hidden camera and has to get her to repeat it while looking directly into the bloody thing.

"Eeeye don't hiiiire blaaaack peeeople.""We got this bitch fired!"

Where to begin? First of all, there's the apparent fact that Raven would never have known why she didn't get the job had she not had a vision of the manager admitting her racist hiring preferences, which largely undermines the relevance of these proceedings to any real-world events. Not only it is not always easy to tell when one is being discriminated against in this manner, but even when one can be reasonably certain that this is the case, responding in the manner depicted in this show is positively ludicrous. Let's look at that, by the way. The fact that Raven's ruse is actually successful in intimidating the manager is nonsense, as it implies that retail managers are so stupid that just about anyone could walk into the store and start effectively dictating policy changes. While Team Raven's undercover actions ended up getting the manager fired for being racist, she should have been fired for being too stupid to even attempt to find out whether Raven was actually legit.

We haven't even gotten to the really racist stuff yet. Note that Raven's character reproaches the manager for a) not having a Black History Month sale and b) not having any black employees. With respect to the former, I can't see why in bleeding hell that's a worthwhile concern. Even if we did grant that Black History Month is an important and positive celebration -- which I don't -- I don't at all see how selling clothes at discounted prices is supposed to respect and value the cultural heritage of any ethnic group. Yet the fact that Raven pitches this idea to children simply encourages them to continue to blindly accept the practice without any consideration whatsoever of what it means or why anyone should celebrate it. With respect to the second concern, Raven's obvious enthusiasm for the manager's feigned willingness to hire minorities clearly indicates that not only does she -- and, by extension, the show's writers, actors, and the Disney Channel at large -- approve of this blanket preferential treatment, but that everyone should. Now, I've worked retail. I know that a lot more goes into getting hired at these establishments than simply showing up and filling out an application. For one, there is a lengthy and stupid ethics test that one has to take, to say nothing of the basic math exam and, in some cases, multiple interviews. Yet this episode implies that being "black" is sufficient basis for hiring a candidate. And never mind that, as far as we know, the manager and Raven's friend Chelsea (who just started working there that day) are the only employees in the store. If a place doesn't have any minority workers, racism must be the cause, right? Whereas I generally think that the "reverse racism" arguments are bull, I'd argue that these kinds of practices and thinking actually constitute and support racism towards minorities. By insisting that minorities not be subject to the same hiring protocols as others, employers only grant the assertions that minorities are always getting free handouts -- which many use to justify their own racist beliefs -- a certain amount of legitimacy.

Hot girl, stupid character.Dumb. And kinda gross.

Although I do find Anneliese van der Pol, the actress who plays Chelsea, to be pretty gosh darned attractive, let's be realistic -- this is a show with a character who once insisted upon being called "biscuithead" as a term of endearment. In another episode, she was seriously offended when Raven's dad served up jerk chicken (she objected to insulting the chicken by calling it names), and in another... well, you see the above right picture. This may sound slightly hypocritical in an article on a website called Scary-Crayon, but this show has no business whatsoever trying to communicate a serious message -- and as we've seen, its inherently silly nature renders it utterly ineffective and actually quite dangerous in its attempts to do so. This episode not only used the very real problem of racial discrimination as an excuse for Raven to don another one of her stupid costumes and make genuinely racist comments herself, but further encouraged the already depressing tendency of people to categorize themselves with respect to skin color and believe that others are more or less like themselves on the basis of that single attribute. But while Corey and Raven go on about the things that "their people" have done, it's important to note that their stupid plot to unearth the discrimination at this store would never have worked without Chelsea. Other episodes reveal that Raven and Chelsea have known each other since kindergarten -- which not only establishes the length and significance of their relationship, but pretty much means that she's been around all of Corey's life. Outside of ridiculous dream sequences, they never met Frederick Douglass or Bessie Coleman or Scott Joplin, but they grew up with Chelsea. Chelsea is their people. And while the characters more or less appear to recognize that, in too many real life relationships the values espoused in this episode would necessitate that she forever remain classified and devalued in her capacity as "the white friend."

I'm servin' up black history!The fat kid would pick the inventor of ice cream.

At the end of the episode, everyone celebrates over some soul food, prompting Chelsea to respond, "I did not know black history was so delicious!" again underscoring one of the foremost problems with the episode -- and Black History Month in general. It's worth noting that unlike some shows featuring minority casts, "That's So Raven" makes no attempt to play up the cultural heritage or background of its characters. They do not speak in ebonics or routinely launch into monologues concerning their blackness. Hell, given that almost every other show featuring minority actors feels the need to paint them as blatant stereotypes (see the shows on UPN, BET, and even the Disney Channel's own "The Proud Family"), that's one of the things that I liked about the stupid show. Apparently, however, one need only the requisite epidermal tint for one's achievements to be considered acceptable fodder for Black History Month. This is finally underscored in Raven's belief that her brother wrote about her for his report (instead, he wrote about Sambo Jackson, the inventor of modern ice cream), although she's done nothing noteworthy enough to warrant that focus. So clearly, according to "That's So Raven", one's individual accomplishments are less important than one's skin color. And you know what? That's so racist.

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