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Degrading Degrassi

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On Sunday morning, Nov. 22, Nickelodeon's cable channel TeenNick was running a series of promos during a rerun of its junior-high sitcom "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide." Which of these ads isn't quite like the others?

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1. A promo for a themed "Attack of the Little Sisters Thanksgiving Weekend," with reruns of child-friendly shows such as "Full House" and "Drake and Josh."

2. An ad for dolls and talk-show microphones associated with the "iCarly" show on Nickelodeon.

3. A vulgar, smash-mouth, in-your-face promo savaging anyone who finds fault with the homosexual lifestyle.

Surprisingly, promo No. 3 was sandwiched between the other two ads, taking the children watching TeenNick from grade-school jokes and toys to adult sex chatter and back again.

That teen drama is called "Degrassi: The Next Generation." Its attack on "intolerance" is clear in the contentious promo. A teen actress declares their new show's theme, staring into the camera: "Accept the truth...or keep living the lie." A conflicted, football-playing teen boy named Riley is having homosexual yearnings, and he wants a cure. "I'll talk to a doctor, whatever it takes." His girlfriend declares, "You can't cure homosexuality." He replies desperately, "Yes, you can. It's like a disease." Then he yells at her: "Too bad you can't cure Bitch!" The ad closed with the sentence "It's about to get real."

In fact, "Degrassi: The Next Generation," the second phase of a long-running Canadian teen soap opera, has been getting "real" for years, deliberately pushing its gay agenda to youngsters. They've been praised by the libertine left over the last few years for gay love stories, gay kisses and an episode last year with a gay character considering male prostitution.

Until recently, it was a fairly obscure show on that Nickelodeon spin-off channel called "The N." But in late September, it was rebranded and heavily promoted as "TeenNick." There may be many hours of child-friendly entertainment on the channel, but promotions clearly suggest that the coolest, most "mature" sampling of the new brand is "Degrassi."

The Nov. 22 episode about "living the lie" was a culmination of weeks of the Riley character exploding in rage and punching people bloody in denial of the obvious, the biological "fact" that he is gay. He's a poster boy for hate: "I feel sorry for these freaks," he sneers. It's a didactic paint-by-numbers exercise in Afterschool Special propaganda.

After punching a gay lifeguard on school grounds, he is ordered to the principal's office, where he is met by the student leader of the "LGBT Alliance," who sternly instructs him, "We have sensitivity training for homophobia." He's not interested.

The girl who is trying to date him and help him stop "living the lie" scowls at him: "Is it better to be a gay-basher than a gay person, is that it?" He replies: "Maybe it is." Later, he insists he can be cured: "There's a website and office." She says, "Wow, you really hate yourself, don't you?" Then comes the B-word exchange in the hallway. She says she'll never speak to him again.

The actual scene with the ex-gay therapist is quite brief, and insulting. He insists that Riley requires "extensive behavioral modification" at a cost of $100 an hour, for at least 20 sessions, and Riley storms off, calling it an expensive "scam."

From there, the character becomes intoxicated at the pool hall after failing to attract the ladies. In the bathroom, Riley finally breaks down crying to the gay lifeguard he'd punched, and he admits (sighs of relief all over the corporate suites at Nickelodeon), "I'm not normal. ... I don't want everybody to know." The lifeguard insists he could come out of the closet whenever he felt ready, but he needed to accept his orientation, since that "self-hating violent crap, how's that working for you?"

The plotline was so tidy -- with traditional religious values completely avoided -- that the only thing it lacked was a public-service announcement with a website and toll-free number for fighting teenage homophobia.

The actor playing Riley, Argiris Karras, told the gay website AfterElton.com that he hoped his character someday "will stand up and be proud of who he is and hopefully find a man to comfort him and be there for him. Like anyone, all Riley needs is love. I think his friends and teammates will still be there for him and respect him just as much."

So much for the "Nickelodeon" brand.

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