The Power Will Fight Back

How the Disney Channel taught us the wrong way to resist, but Keanu — the movie — corrected the course

About twelve years ago, I was living in upstate New York, working on my masters, and made friends with a couple who had a fifteen-year-old daughter. Chelsea was intelligent, excitable, and always looking for a fight. I remember her passionately telling me about a plan she and a friend hatched to get their choir teacher fired because he wasn’t as good as they wanted him to be. Since I was a passionate, rebellious student and a former choir nerd, she thought I would offer my full-throated support. Instead, I was mostly confused.

This wasn’t the first teacher Chelsea had gone after, but this was her most thought-out and organized plan. Though from my perspective, there was little wrong doing on the teacher’s part besides not having classroom management skills. While I’m sure there are a multitude of reasons Chelsea was always looking to fight the system, my attention turned to the tv shows she watched with her younger siblings. Mainly, the Disney Channel shows.

I grew up watching Boy Meets World and Even Stevens. Shows that mostly centered on the teenagers making dumb mistakes then having to solve them, usually after receiving counsel from a wise adult. Feeny! Chelsea and her siblings watched That’s So Raven and The Suite Life of Zach and Cody which, more often, seemed to focus on the kids out-smarting the dim-witted adults. The main characters broke rules and caused problems, but never suffered consequences because the ends justified the means.

This plot-line, however, is highly problematic. Even when those fighting injustice are correct, consequences always exist. In reality, principals and hotel managers don’t like being embarrassed, especially by teenagers, even if their employees are acting badly. More likely, those in charge would discipline the kids by whatever means they were capable, then later, quietly dismiss the dim-witted employee.

When we fight the power, the power always fights back. We forget that any resistance to authority will initially reinforce the authority’s power. Sure, I’m within my rights to punch someone who is 6'4" and three hundred pounds if this person is trying to take my wallet. But my feeble attempt at resistance will only serve to reinforce the muggers power over me when he beats me to a pulp. Yes, Chelsea could have fought against her mediocre choir director, but her complaints would only serve as a reminder to her principal that students can be whiny and annoying.

There’s a great scene at the end of Keanu where Jordan Peele and Tiffany Haddish’s characters are confessing their feelings for one another. After the kiss, Tiffany points out that Jordan is going to jail. Jordan nods and says, “Makes sense. Broke a lot of laws. Probably.” This is the moment that most movies and tv shows forget. Being a hero still has consequences.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t rebel or fight injustice. We simply need to understand where we are within the power structure we’re trying to resist. The citizens of Durham did an excellent job understanding their position when crowds stood in line to turn themselves in after warrants were issued for a handful of protesters. The initial reaction was probably to hide and, in effect, break more laws, reinforcing the power of the local government. Instead, the citizens used what influence they had — their sheer numbers — to fight against the injustice while not causing themselves undue consequences.

Lashing out is a lot of fun. Letting emotions dictate actions can be cathartic. But it’s rarely helpful. The answer isn’t to stop resisting. The answer is knowing where you stand so you can take the best course of action.

If students feel they are being treated unfairly, they need their parents’ support. Angry parents can make a lot more happen than angry students. If citizens feel their voices aren’t being heard, they need to stay non-violent. Those with authority will demonize the masses any chance they get.

And, if all else fails, you can always go into your backyard and yell at your neighbor. A wise man will come out and give you calming advice. Of this, I am certain. Feeny!