Monday, May 24, 2021

Why Boy Meets World is Still Relevant

My wife and I are finishing up a re-watch of Girl Meets World. Every time we watch, we naturally have the desire to re-watch Boy Meets World as well. It’s been over 20 years since the show ended and yet it still remains just as poignant as ever. The technology and the pop culture references might be a bit dated (read: nostalgic) but the stories hold up over time. So let’s talk about those for a second.


Early on in the series, Cory made a bet with Feeny that he could be a better teacher. It was a simple idea meant to teach Cory a lesson, but it got real fast when Eric’s friend was hurt by a racial slur. The incident impacted how Cory went on to teach about Anne Frank. What a way to teach 6th graders about racism and discrimination. As a white male, I can’t say I’ve ever really been discriminated against, but this episode hits me every time. I can’t put into words how real this made things for me. So give “Teacher’s Bet” a watch to see how Cory handled it all.


A couple episodes in the series really hit hard about appropriate boundaries and expectations for interacting with other people (particularly members of the opposite sex). The first happened in “Chick Like Me” when Shawn had a rude awakening to his own faults, when (dressed up as a girl) he felt pressured beyond his comfort when a boy made a pass at him. The second episode happened later on in Cory’s college years during “Everybody Loves Stuart” when a young college professor tried to push boundaries with Topanga, making her feel unsafe. With sexual assault being a devastating issue these days (I swear it's worse and worse as the years pass), it’s important to understand boundaries and to teach it on a teen show back in the late nineties blows me away. (Also, you need to watch Cory throw a punch at Stuart in that episode (played by his real life brother, Fred Savage)

The Family We Choose

I came from a good family with reliable, loving parents. Unfortunately, not everyone does. Shawn was one of those unfortunate cases, leaving him feeling like he didn’t belong anywhere. In “Cult Fiction”, this feeling took Shawn to the arms of a Mr. Mack and his “Centre”. We don’t know exactly what kind of financial, emotional, or physical way Mr. Mack was using Shawn, but it was clear that Turner, Feeny, and the Matthews had reason not to trust him. It was in episodes like this that Shawn was able to get a glimpse into which relationships really mattered to him. Even though he didn’t have a reliable set of parents, he chose to make the Matthews and Mr. Turner into his family. A lesson that would go with him into Girl Meets World when he befriended and mentored Maya.


So I talked about boundaries already, but Boy Meets World also tackled the idea of abuse. In “Dangerous Secret” Shawn found out that his friend Claire was being physically abused by her father. Like many abuse victims, she didn’t want to report her dad at first and just focused on getting her a safe place to sleep each night. But for the other teens, what to do? Call the cops? Put her on a bus? The episode had a happy ending, but it posed many questions that you wouldn’t have expected teenagers to have to consider. Domestic abuse still happens twenty years later, but knowing how to respond is the first step.


The show did a fantastic job portraying various aspects of romantic relationships. As the teens figured out dating, high school, college, and marriage, it was natural for the subject of sex to come up over the years. In “Dangerous Secret” after misunderstanding Shawn’s relationship with Claire, Cory acted almost as though Topanga owed him sex. Big no no. Later on, in “Prom-ises, Prom-ises”, we got the consequence of (possibly) unprotected sex when Amy and Alan discovered they were pregnant again. The reveal of which taught Cory and Topanga some self-restraint and responsibility. The way this show talked about sex was done in a respectful way that I don’t feel like happens anymore. And I didn't even dig into that time when everyone thought Cory slept with Topanga in the computer lab.

Like I said before, I’m looking forward to re-watching Boy Meets World. It’s one of those shows that has aged so well that it’s still worth watching and re-watching twenty years later. Not the case with every show. I guess we’re all meeting the world when we watch it.

"Boy Meets World... Now I get it."

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