Tuning In: Victorious not quite a triumph

I was recently tipped off by my friend Kristen, who runs the girls' studies blog Act Your Age, about Zoey 101 and iCarly creator Dan Schneider's new Nickelodeon program, VictoriousHoping to tap the tween pop market following Disney's success with Hannah MontanaHigh School Musical, and launching pop stars like Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, and Demi Lovato, the series also recalls the 2004 Hilary Duff vehicle Raise Your Voice, a movie which focuses on a young girl who comes of age at a competitive performing arts program.

Victorious stars Victoria Justice as Tori Vega, a girl who gets the chance to attend Hollywood Arts High School after filling in for her older sister, Trina (Daniella Monet), at one of the school's recitals. Not only does she save her sister, who is a student at the magnate, but she dazzles the audience with her voice. While the show was met with generally negative reviews from critics who note its broad comedic style, it has tested well with Nickelodeon viewers following its premiere after the Kids' Choice Awards late last month and is predicted to be a draw for the network. For those who have not seen the show, you can view episodes here.

I'll admit that I'm not impressed with the show so far. In addition to the broadness of the show's writing and characterization, I'm particularly concerned with how Tori is depicted as a performer. Tori is above all a singer, and one who seems to be preoccupied with pop stardom over learning an instrument, becoming adept at composition, collaborating with others, and developing her musicianship. The show endorses this by not showing her in any music classes, opting instead to focus on her acting workshops. Tori is also represented as inept with the French horn in the episode "Stage Fighting."

While I don't want to suggest that pop stars are unskilled automatons or that singers aren't musicians, I take issue with representing girls as only being interested in the voice, especially as, in the narrative, Tori's singing seems to be her ticket to fame rather than a gateway to personal expression. Thus, the show seems to encourage the idea that girl singers are incapable of mastering an instrument and don't need to learn to play one anyway.

Furthermore, the only engagement Tori is shown to have with technology is through texting messages on the show's social media site, theSlap.com, thus controlling episodic narration. While this does suggest girls' engagement with technology in ways similar to iCarly and Gossip Girl, it also endorses the idea that girls are only interested in technology as tools for networking and star formation.

As a singer and burgeoning guitarist who volunteers with Girls Rock Camp Austin, I take issue with characterizing girls' relationship to music production in this way. It perpetuates the cultural assumption that only boys play instruments and are thus "true" musicians. This is illustrated by the inclusion of Tori's friend André Harris (Leon Thomas), a talented musician who plays several instruments (that he is also black suggests further stereotyping of African Americans' "inherent" musicality). I don't think girls picking up an instrument, whether it be a guitar, clarinet, or a set of turntables, inherently leads to empowerment. But I do think it opens up possibilities for self-expression, building confidence, and destabilizing gender binaries around musicianship and technology. Thus, girls' engagement with their voices, instruments, and various recording devices needs to be encouraged in both mediated representations and arts programs.

While the show doesn't focus much on Tori's interest in music, it does consider her co-hort. Amongst her classmates are André, awkward artsy girl Cat Valentine (Ariana Grande), and ventriloquist Robbie Shapiro (Matt Bennett). Shapiro's shyness and Jewish heritage is uncomfortably off-set by a racially ambiguous puppet named Rex Powers who usually mocks others with a decidedly urban patois that recalls Gob's Franklin in Arrested Development, without the critique of white racism and stereotyping.

Tori is also rivals with Jade West (Elizabeth Gilles), an insecure diva who is conveniently dating hottie Beck Oliver (Avan Jogia), who of course takes a liking to regular girl Tori. So the supporting characters are positioned against the protagonist's heightened normalcy. As Vega is part Latina (and Justice is of Puerto Rican descent), this does suggest girls of color and multiple racial and ethnic identities like Lovato, Selena Gomez, and High School Musical's Vanessa Hudgens can be role models. However, making Vega so normal renders her boring and one-dimensional.

For me, Victorious has a long way to go before I'll consider it a triumph. Plugging in may be a start, but the show has more work to do.

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Comments

7 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Victorious is terrible, contains recycled put-down jokes

My grip with this show is the fact that it does not come close to depicting the way anybody really acts.
Would a guy really carry around a ventriloquist dummy? I mean, name one person you know who does this.
These show (and the Nickelodeon and Disney shows in general) constantly show the girls getting into situations . where they're singing and dancing and performing. Name any teenage girl you know who does THAT on a regular basis. iCarly creator Dan Schneider said it himself: all these shows fill teenage girls' heads with the notion that they are five seconds away from being discovered and becoming famous--which, he is acknowledging, is obviously not reality. But then again, this IS a TV show aimed at tween and teen girls, who are not yet intelligent enough to understand that what they are watching is dreck.
Also, why is it that every one of these tween shows contains one really bitter character who is full of hatred and anger? On iCarly, it's Sam. On Victorious, it is the even worse, horrid Elizabeth Gillies character. Situations constantly come up where she bitterly rips someone apart (like in the ridiculous "Karaoke Dokie" episode--where, of course, another girl makes a play for Gillies boyfriend and instantly they get into a bitter rivalry). Oh, how great it would be if girls came on this strong in real life? I would go back to age 15 in a millisecond. But, really, why would any group of friends include someone who must insult others in order to feel good about herself. She is never nice to any of these friends. Oh, and by the way, this group of people is always together, no one ever just goes home and watches TV, and how they do they always manage to drive all over town to get into these situations? No one, presumably, has a driver's license. We haven't met any of their parents.
The characters themselves have names which are outrageous--Tori Vega, Trina Vega, Cat Valentine? Who in reality is named anything as outrageous Cat Valentine? What is that?
Finally, "Cat" seems to have a propensity for wearing really short, revealing clothes--including the actress herself--Ariana Grande--when she poses for picture on the proverbial red carpet. Would you let your teen daughter leave the house dressed the way she does half the time? And the Elizabeth Gillies character seems to always be wearing really tight pants.
This is another one of those shows where, not only the humor recycled and makes the characters sound like idiots in their interactions, but where the situations have been done to death on other shows and exploit the silliness factor to an extreme. Every day is another adult melodrama superimposed onto this vacuous group, where the characters must face some moral or ethical dilemma, absent any parents' guidance--accompanied by the usual malapropisms and corny jokes.
This tops even iCarly for its lack of realism. iCarly, with its unlikley physical humor, stunts and props, and its expectation tht the audience suspend any disbelief, takes lowbrow comedy to new depths.

As a fan of the show I agree

As a fan of the show I agree that it can be unrealistic but thats what I like about it. You don't have to take it too seriously. And although its a kids show, me and my friends along with other teens love the show very much. In fact it is my favorite show. The whole cast is a very talented group of kids, but they need to show it more. Over all it does have a possitive message for kids and teens.

I'm 18, which I'll admit is a

I'm 18, which I'll admit is a bit old to still watch Nickelodeon, but I love this show. I'll agree, Tori is boring, and a lot of her supposed "talent" seems more like informed ability than anything. Not that Victoria Justice is untalented, just kind of unremarkable compared to others on the show. But it's the supporting cast that really shines. Matt Bennett and Avan Jogia are adorable. Leon Thomas is a talented singer as well as one of the funnier characters on the show. Daniella Monet is hilarious, and Ariana Grande and Liz Gillies are amazing singers, not just good like Victoria. Seriously, go watch either of them on Youtube. Their singing is what got me into the show in the first place.

And, of course it's unrealistic. It's supposed to be! I personally would never want to watch a show that was anything like my life. The people I watch on TV should be more fun and interesting, and even a little outrageous. That's what TV is for. I agree that some of the humor is a little "broad". It is, after all, aimed at preteens. That said, a lot of the jokes are quite subtle, and they manage to get a lot of crap past the radar.

As for the characters, I would love to be friends with someone like Jade. I don't think she's horrid, by TV standards, anyway, and the character is witty, snarky, and occasionally even sympathetic. She's obviously insecure and has abandonment issues, and honestly, I like that, for once, the "mean girl" character isn't some cookie-cutter blonde Regina George type. And despite being dark and perpetually angry, she still has the hot boyfriend.

And was that first reply really commenting on the tightness of Liz's pants? Really? She dresses pretty conservatively, I think. For the most part, they all do. Much more so than most girls I knew in high school.

And I fail to find anything outrageous about the names. Tori and Trina Vega are fairly normal, I think. I know a lot of Victorias, a few Katrinas, and several people with the surname Vega. Also, Valentine is not an uncommon last name, and Cat can be short for a number of fairly typical first names. Catherine, Catrina, Catalina, etc. Considering how odd Cat's family seems to be, I'm surprised her name isn't Moondance or something.

exactly how i feel.

exactly how i feel.

I really love this TV show,

I really love this TV show, it's full of life and bright colors. It's not really the best show I've ever seen but I guess It's nice to see those teens so cheerful and dancing all the time. The show can immediately improve one's mood and make one's day way better:)

The problem in that show is

The problem in that show is that it's all about Tori, how she save everyone, how she's so awesome, how she's loved by anybody... and THAT make it boring because Grande and Gillies are AMAZING singers !! When you heard them sing, Victoria Justice seems too classical. Anyway, the show is good but Tori is so f***ing boring...

The problem in that show is

The problem in that show is that it's all about Tori, how she save everyone, how she's so awesome, how she's loved by anybody... and THAT make it boring because Grande and Gillies are AMAZING singers !! When you heard them sing, Victoria Justice seems too classical. Anyway, the show is good but Tori is so f***ing boring...