The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Phineas and Ferb is definitely the amount of creativity that the main characters, and also the show’s writers had.
The show had a quite big following, and it is understandable. It features 2 boys and their friends, who make the most of every day, and that’s inspiring, something to strive for. It was also very formulaic, which meant that it was easy to understand in general, and the writers could add layers to the comedy by subverting these formulas. Not only that, they did this really well most of the time. They used the fact that the show was animated really well, including the cartoonish violence that happened in each episode. But there’s also another factor that possibly helped the show gain popularity: it had numerous characters with different traits to relate to. When it comes to ethnicity, it also featured Baljeet from India, and Stacy who has Japanese roots. There were both boys and girls as main characters. Were those representations good, however?
Baljeet, who is a friend of the title characters, is of Indian descent, I am not sure if it’s mentioned where he was born. Baljeet is a very stereotypical nerd. He’s depicted as someone, who lives for grades, math and science, which is a common depiction for Asian characters in general. As an Indian-American person mentioned in an article, these stereotypes
had a profound effect on said person as a child, and they
became more insecure about the image of [their] culture. The article also mentions the fact that his character was mostly used as a punchline, and I wholeheartedly agree. The show wouldn’t have been much different without his character. Often times, he just asks Phineas and Ferb for help, like in the
Unfair Science Fair (despite knowing a lot himself). Another trait of his is the fact that he can’t stand up for himself. He has a “bully”, Buford, and he is being abused by him. The show plays this off for jokes, while in real life, this would be quite traumatizing. Even if the show is a parody of such tropes - this never quite gets addressed.
There is one episode where Baljeet could have got his revenge on Buford,
Primal Perry. In this episode, Baljeet gets split into 2 with every decision he has to make, and by the end of the episode, there’s around 20 Baljeets. These Baljeets run down Buford, and then Phineas says,
Let's be rational about this!. They never call out Buford. A “both sides” argument, really. The fact that the Baljeets run against Buford so instantly, and so unstoppably, makes one wonder if he has mental issues because of all the bullying. However, despite all this, just before they could get to Buford, the invention that helped Baljeet split, gets destroyed, thus restoring the status quo! Yay!
In another episode,
Bully Bromance Breakup, Baljeet has it with Buford, because in the shop, he chooses plastic instead of paper. Not because of all the other things he’s done. Baljeet then goes on his own, he climbs a whole mountain by himself. And on the top, he feels like he’s missing something.. he’s missing Buford. He feels like he needs the bully, who is abusing him.
Stacy seems like a normal teenager, who isn’t much of an Asian stereotype. She has Japanese roots, part of her family lives in Tokyo. While she isn’t very stereotypical, her mom is. Her mom works as a dentist, and she demands that Stacy and her sister have good grades, and learn well. She wants Stacy to be a lawyer or a doctor.
The 2 main girl characters of the show are most certainly Candace and Isabella.
Candace is a character with lots of screen time, she’s the sister of the title characters. Her goal throughout the series is to bust her brothers to her mom. Another important goal for her is to get together with her crush, Jeremy. As an article I’ve read highlights, Candace is overly reliant on boys in her life. It’s either Phineas and Ferb, or Jeremy. She’s a very emotinal teenage girl, who would fit all teenage girl stereotypes. She worries about her crush, she worries about her brothers, and she’s reliant on all this. Whenever we see her, she’s caring for those obsessions, and her character doesn’t get that much of a growth throughout the series. Now, I feel that the Candace Against The Universe movie did do some much needed character development for her. At the end of the movie,
Content Warning: spoilers
she did take on the aliens, and she was the hero at the end of the day. At this point, it felt like she came to terms with her brothers, and their behaviour, and she became more individual. However, this development is kind of undermined by the fact that the movie takes place in the middle of summer, yet we see no change in her personality in later episodes.
Apart from the one instance mentioned above, she never really gets things right. In the
Mission Marvel episode, she tries to help the gang, because she’s a fan of the superheroes. However, she ruins the invention, and this brings in further trouble for the group of superheroes. When she does this again, Phineas gets angry at her, and she’s banned from their shed. Then the girls (Isabella and Candace) go and become sad that it’s always about the boys. The issue with this is that it’s about the boys, because the show wrote girls as stereotypical characters, who could never get something right. Messages like this won’t help normalization of strong female leads, it will be regarded as more of a PR move. Anyway, at the end of the episode, they (Candace and Isabella) get in the space station of Phineas and Ferb, and try to get the powers back to the heroes. Candace presses the WRONG BUTTON again, but they accidentally land in the battle field, and that’s how they help. Not by being logical thinking girls, no. They got lucky..
Isabella is the neighbour girl, who is (much like Candace) driven a lot by her love interest. In fact, the main reason she supposedly does anything in the show, is because of Phineas. A running gag actually includes her phasing out and speaking her mind to Phineas, then correcting herself, as if nothing happened. Unlike Candace, she is capable of being a leader, as she is the head of her fireside girl troop. However, her leading skills are mostly shown when Phineas needs something done. She is also depicted as “cute”.
As for boys, I only want to take a specific look at Phineas. He’s the character who’s almost always in focus, he’s the “leader”. He doesn’t show many emotions, and this is why, even though he does have some feelings for Isabella, they don’t get together throughout the series.
Content Warning: spoilers
Except for 10 years later, in the one episode that happens in the future (`Act Your Age`).
In general, the show also features a lot of stereotypes regarding boys. Buford being an aggressive, “masculine” bully is just one of these. But as mentioned above, the show also depicts boys as people that don’t really talk about their feelings, and aren’t supposed to be emotional. There are 2 example episodes for this.
The plot of the episode
Mandace is that Candace gets hit with a ray that makes her appear like a pizza delivery guy. She uses this to walk over to Jeremy, and try to figure out what boys talk about. Throughout the episode, Jeremy and his friends don’t really talk about any feelings. They talk about fantasy football, and other sports-related subjects.
And the other episode is
Act Your Age. In the beginning of the episode, the guys talk about the fact that Isabella and Phineas never got together. And Phineas thinks that he’s so in the “friendzone”. The concept of friendzone itself can be considered misogynistic, however, I don’t know enough on this subject. What happened after this was, that Phineas got told that Isabella had had a crush on him the whole time. He asked back, why didn’t the guys tell him that. The answer was,
We are guys, we do not talk about feelings.
While Phineas and Ferb was certainly a show with creativity, and it’s a lot of fun to watch, the show also reinforces certain stereotypes that are hurtful and damaging to our society. For more on these subjects, do check out this breakdown that I’ve found while doing research for this post.
hajduc is out, peace!