In Sarah Banet-Weiser’s book, she states that “[o]ne of the most powerful symbols of the current media age has been the use of children as both metaphors and literal figures to signify a variety of moral agendas involving the future, the past, hopes, fears, anxieties, and national identity,” (pg. 70). The Disney Channel is a prime example of the featuring of children to influence and impact other children through similar experiences, interests, and identity. The channel’s target audience is children aged 6 to 14, the crucial time of a child’s life where they question self-identity and competence, as identified by psychologist Erik Erikson. Disney provides entertainment with their TV shows but also creates bonds between viewer and star, viewer and viewer, and viewer and family with short, focused segments.
The first example is the multicultural food and health segment, “Pass the Plate”. “Pass the Plate” was a series that “[aimed] to inspire kids and ‘tweens by focusing on the preparation and nutritional benefits of one food item,” (Larkey, Business Wire). The series took viewers worldwide by teaming up with Disney Channel stars from other countries to learn how each food was enjoyed and prepared in other parts of the world. This created bonds between viewers and their families as they were able to try new, healthy dishes together with the recipes provided. Viewers were also exposed to new cultures and/or able to reconnect with their own with stars from India, China, Mexico, United Kingdom, Japan and many more sharing a part of their culture, consequently connecting viewers across the world as well.
“Sports Dreams” and “Show Your Stuff” were also short segments that connected viewers with other viewers. “Sport Dreams” shared stories of various sports that fellow, similar-aged children played. These featured athletes talked about how they started their sport, their failures and their achievements. This segment not only connected viewers with fellow viewers but also promoted an active lifestyle through sports. It was also a way to inspire kids to try a sport, to keep trying or even expose them to a new sport they never heard of. Some stories were of kids breaking gender norms by playing a sport that was played predominantly by the opposite sex while others were of pushing past physical limitations with sports.
“Show Your Stuff”, on the other hand, covered interesting hobbies and collections of like-aged viewers. This segment included everything from socks to postcards to snow globes. Viewers were able to connect with other viewers through similar interests and gain confidence in their collections as no collection was ‘weird’ or ‘strange’ but ‘new’ and ‘interesting’.
Disney Channel made sure to remind viewers that these stars were also kids and teens just like them through the “Express Yourself” series. On this series, the stars of the Disney Channel shows shared their personal experiences and stories about everyday topics like parents, sports, embarrassing moments and also raised awareness of major news events such as the 9/11 attacks and catastrophic natural disasters such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake. By talking about common topics, viewers were able to relate and connect with their favorite stars and be assured that famous people have also walked into the wrong bathroom or farted or have done embarrassing things in front of their crush. This segment created a bond between viewer and star and made the stars ‘human’ and relatable.
Through various series that covered a vast amount of topics, Disney Channel acted as the glue between viewer and self, family and star.