I Turned 40, The Disney Channel Turned 40 and Everything Is Terrible

Turning 40 wasn’t the emotional disaster I feared it might be. When I reached the elder-millennial milestone just a few weeks back, I found myself…surprisingly chipper. Rather than feeling old, I felt grateful. Rather than questioning my life choices thus far, I took stock of all the things I’ve done right. Rather than panic, I bought myself a martini and sat with my thoughts (sitting is one of my favorite activities now that I’m in my forties).

And several weeks after ringing in the big 4-0, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one celebrating this occasion. The Disney Channel is also turning 40—as it turns out, the network began broadcasting on April 18, 1983, mere weeks after I made my own debut.

Upon learning this information, I initially felt a nostalgic sense of pride to be sharing a milestone with a key piece of my own childhood. But that nostalgic feeling quickly began to give way to something else…a nagging feeling…a sense that something wasn’t quite right…the start of the existential crisis I proudly thought I had avoided.

As it was for many, The Disney Channel was a staple in my house growing up. I distinctly remember turning the dial on the TV to watch my favorite Disney shows from the comfort of our family room’s shag carpet (even as a child I was drawn to sitting…maybe something to bring up in therapy…).

The standouts for me? There was 1989’s Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers, featuring a crime-fighting pair of chipmunks. (Perhaps this was the first sign I’d be obsessed with true-crime shows 30+ years later.) And then, of course, the Disney Channel’s airing of DuckTales, which first appeared on the service in 1987. Donald Duck’s famous nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie went to stay with their granduncle, the rich and famous Scrooge McDuck. What ensued were 100 episodes of solving mysteries, thwarting villains after Scrooge’s money and referencing famous historical works like those of Shakespeare and Greek mythology. (My own introduction to Shakespeare, who I would go on to study in college, occurred in a DuckTales episode titled, “Much Ado About Scrooge,” and involved the works of playwright Drakespeare.) I loved these shows—and I loved the Disney Channel. Finally, a network devoted solely to content that appealed to me.

And so, upon discovering that T.D.C. would be turning 40 this year, I turned to Google to deep-dive into what I assumed would be a nostalgia-fest. But strangely and surprisingly, every “Best Disney Channel Shows” roundup was a list of shows I’d never heard of—or at best, I had heard of in passing after I was already in my twenties and beyond.

Indeed, Buzzfeed and Collider made no mention of Rescue Rangers or DuckTales (or Drakespeare) but were all about Wizards of Waverly Place, Phil of the Future (never heard of) and Hannah Montana and Lizzie McGuire (two titles I knew of but was way too old to have watched). For each of these, I had either been in college—or older—when they came out. What were these shows and why were they making up the entirety of these “Best of” lists? Seriously, nothing from O.G. Disney Channel content? Buzzfeed did include the 2017 reboot of DuckTales in its roundup, calling it “much better than the original,” something I knew was Kim-possible (a pun I’m only able to make because I spotted Kim Possible on the list, not because I know what it is). What, what, what was going on?

And this is where my existential crisis originated. Prior to this moment, 40 didn’t feel old. It just felt like a number, one I was prepared to embrace and enjoy. But suddenly, this content produced by the also-40-year-old Disney Channel did make me feel old. My nostalgic feelings for the kid-centric network were replaced by a keen awareness that I was too old for its biggest hits—hits that featured Zendaya, Hilary Duff, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus when they were mere children. Some of today’s biggest names in entertainment had gotten their start at a time when I was already too old to enjoy their content. It was something I guess I’d always known but never fully considered. The whole thought of it was a gut punch I wasn’t ready for.

This discovery also made me feel disconnected from younger millennials and Gen Zers even more than I previously did. Sure, I’ve always been aware that I don’t share their affinity for TikTok challenges. But TikTok was theirs from the get-go. The Disney Channel was mine, or so I thought. And the next generation enjoying what you enjoyed is wonderful, until you realize this shared experience isn't shared at all—they didn't experience the original DuckTales and you didn't experience Lizzie McGuire. We’re basically talking about the difference between Friends and Leave it to Beaver.

Now, April 18 has arrived and here I am feeling quite a bit older than I did on my actual birthday. This is disappointing (and hopefully only temporary). But my disappointment actually runs deeper, as it involves my relationship with nostalgia itself. See, nostalgia is a beautiful thing until you put a number on it. Those numbers being 1987—when I was four and first enjoying The Disney Channel. Those numbers being 2004—when I was a senior in college and Lizzie McGuire was airing its last episode. Those numbers being 2017—when I was embracing the start of my mid-30s (another number) as a “much better” version of DuckTales was hitting the airwaves. Instead of being a blissful trip down memory lane, my nostalgia now felt (and feels) intrinsically linked to my own age (and my own mortality?!). That’s dark, you guys!

I know all of this makes me sound like a, well, Scrooge McDuck. Hopefully—and in all likelihood—the memory of my Disney Channel Google search will fade with time and I’ll be able to reminisce once again without thinking about how my back hurts. But I likely won’t be able to go on bragging about how “40 is just a number” and “everything gets better with age” without the name “Hannah Montana” floating into my consciousness. Thanks a lot, Disney Channel. And happy birthday.

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VP, News and Entertainment; 'And Just Like That' Podcast Host; Up-And-Coming Bowler

Philip spearheads PureWow's news and entertainment team. He has 10+ years experience working in entertainment coverage and viral media, previously serving as a writer/editor...