When I was a kid I was not allowed to have sugared cereal. (That didn't mean I couldn't secretly pile C&H on my Grape-Nuts, mind you.) One day my mom brought home Quaker Corn Bran cereal. Ugh, I said, reaching for the sugar bowl. But guess what? Quaker Corn Bran was loaded with sugar already. It was basically Quaker Corn Syrup Bran. My mom had no friggin' clue. This was my dirty little secret! I asked for it every week at the store and she happily obliged. I'm convinced Quaker was aiming at families like mine — create a product that sounds healthy to trick parents but really isn't. Heh heh.
Why am I bringing up this stupid anecdote? Because I'm convinced that the ABC Family channel (technically abc family, lowercase) is the Corn Bran of television. Founded by Pat Robertson in the 1970s, it has passed through a few hands and now rests with Disney. It of course seems to bill itself as family fare, stuff you can let your kids watch that won't rot their brains or make them gay, right?
Until recently I had only tuned in to watch Gilmore Girls reruns and avoided all other programming like the plague, despite the fact that Pretty Little Liars runs on it, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth have a new show on the network called Mystery Girls, which I assumed was Murder, She Wrote with "Do I look fat in this?" jokes. Turns out it's just a generic sitcom about two twits (fool me once...). Tori Spelling, never much of a thespian, appears to be the Benjamin Button of acting. Her performance reminded me of a sixth grade production of Chekhov, complete with over-the-top swoons and apron-wringing despair; she is regressing into an even worse actress than she was on her 90210 days. But what really shocked me about the show was the not-so-family-friendly content. In 10 minutes there was a joke about a transgender person, birth control pills, sex tapes, and faking an orgasm. I thought this was the network you could safely plunk your Christian children down in front of and then go covet your neighbor's wife or something. Has Pat Robertson been watching this filth? I had to investigate.
It turns out the channel really has zero interest in upholding conservative values. In fact, it seems to be one of the only channels in basic cable that is deliberately transgressing the goody-two-shoes boundaries set by evangelicals. ABC Family's target audience is young women, gays, and teens, and it appears to be hitting its mark quite well. There's plenty of Cosmo-type sex talk to appeal to curious prepubescents and it's also taken strides to showcase disability, especially through the show Switched At Birth, which features deaf characters. The network has received accolades from GLAAD for its programming, and even Mystery Girls has a twink in the cast. Robertson has got to be freaking out.
A few years ago execs tried to ditch the word "Family" from the network's name entirely, hoping to change it to XYZ (the opposite of ABC, get it?) to try and appeal to cutting edge hipsters who like their Full House, bitches. However, one of the stipulations that Robertson gave when he sold the channel was that it must always, in perpetuity, have the word "family" in its title. He also ordered that the 700 Club be aired at least once a day. It must be especially egregious to see his show bookended between such smut. Heh heh. A nice, fat bowl of Quaker Corn Bran for him.
Despite all this prurience, there are probably thousands of Southern Baptist parents who have no clue what their kids are watching on this network. While they are listening to a podcast of Limbaugh on their elliptical trainer, their impressionable child is considering gender reassignment or maybe even voting Democrat. I love it.
To really rub it in, Disney has started using the slogan, "A New Kind Of Family," a deliberate nod no doubt to their rampant acceptance of homosexuality. Tut tut. "Obviously, ABC Family has lost their minds," says the uber-conservative watchdog group One Million Moms.