DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE
CTV Airdate: 12/1/02
The-N Airdate: 12/23/02
HAZEL PLOT SUMMARY: Hazel calls out Fareeza for wearing a hijab at school, calling her “terrorist chic” and giving her a fake fashion police ticket. Fareeza crumples up the ticket and walks away; even Paige is offended by Hazel’s sudden hatred toward Fareeza. Grade 9 International Day is coming up, and Hazel doesn’t want to participate. It’s also learned that even though they’re best friends, she’s never allowed Paige over to her house.
Paige doesn’t understand why Hazel’s against International Day because she believes Hazel is Jamaican. Hazel decides to participate by bringing the class jerk chicken, even though she really isn’t Jamaican. The jerk chicken is a hit, and while at her display in the gym she and Fareeza quickly exchange harsh glances. During their lunch break Fareeza approaches Hazel and says she knows Hazel isn’t really Jamaican. She believes Hazel is Somalian because of her last name, Aden. Hazel becomes furious and tells Fareeza to mind her own business. Everyone returns from lunch to find that Fareeza’s Iraqian display has been destroyed, with the word “terrorist” spray painted on it.
The school day is put on hold until they can find the culprit, and even the police have become involved because it’s being treated as a hate crime. Hazel is called into Raditch’s office because he wants to meet with her and Fareeza. From what he’s heard about Hazel’s actions toward Fareeza he thinks Hazel might’ve done it. She denies doing so, and during the meeting Raditch learns the true culprits were a couple of boys in grade 10. As Fareeza is recreating her display in the foyer Hazel approaches her admits that she is Somalian. Hazel reveals that she was bullied at her last school for being a Muslim, and Fareeza points out to Hazel that the bullying she’s dished out is no different than the bullying she received.
In class the next day Hazel does a presentation, revealing to them that she’s from Somalia and is Muslim. She says she hid that from everyone because she was ashamed, but now she’s ready to be proud of her heritage.
I spent the longest time hating this plot. In finally reviewing this episode, in order to find reasons why it’s good it I first needed to find out why I hated it so much. I guess the answer comes down to a combination of watching and thinking about this episode in hindsight. I watched it years after it originally aired. It’s the first and last main plot Hazel ever received. Without this episode you would never know she’s Muslim. After Don’t Believe The Hype, Hazel continues to just exist in the Degrassi universe as a mediocre secondary character.
Hazel’s extreme bullying toward Fareeza doesn’t make much sense. It doesn’t fit into what we know about her up to this point, her being suddenly being vicious to the point where even Paige feels uncomfortable. I suppose you could go with a self-hate theory, but outside of it needing to tie Hazel into being one of the potential suspects who damaged Fareeza’s display it still feels off. In order to feel the true power of this storyline it needs to be kept in mind the time frame in which it aired, a little over a year after 9/11. What makes complete sense is how she felt embarrassed to be a Muslim; it’s subtle, yet powerful. If adults during that time were being harassed, God knows what those teens who were openly Muslim were going through. We’re not getting an award-winning performance from Andrea Lewis, but her best moments are when she’s saying nothing at all. The fear and shame plastered on her face says everything.
There’s a thirty second montage halfway through the episode where various characters voice their opinions about the situation. Some label it a hate crime. Others think it’s just a plea for attention. This mimics one of the more brilliant scenes from Degrassi High, when the classes had open discussions about Claude’s suicide right after it happened.
Another interesting point is how bullying on television tends to focus on the victim, yet in this episode everything is seen from the perspective of the bully, someone who was shamed into feeling ashamed of who she is. The story may be flawed, but it carries a message comparable to a prior episode, Mirror In The Bathroom. The only difference here is that throwing religion into the mix tends to amplify the emotions of those involved. Maybe Hazel’s actions throughout the episode make sense after all.
JT PLOT SUMMARY: Liberty’s frustrated with her sewing project, and is blown away when she sees JT’s pillow is perfect. Because sewing is considered girly he tells everyone that his pillow is really Liberty’s, and she receives a good grade instead of him. She wants him to help her with her next project, sewing a skirt, but he refuses. However, Liberty blackmails him into doing it by threatening to tell everyone the truth about his amazing sewing skills.
Though he’s ashamed of his talent, Liberty thinks he shouldn’t hide it from everyone. As Liberty shows off the skirt in class she’s overwhelmed with guilt and confesses to everyone that JT made it, leaving JT embarrassed as Sean and Toby make fun of him. They continue to poke fun after class until Emma, Manny and a couple of other girls approach JT…they were so impressed with the skirt he made for Liberty that they’re willing to pay him to make skirts for them.
The setting is nowhere near as intense as Hazel’s plot, but it’s still the same idea of someone hiding something about themselves from their friends and the public. What’s unique is that JT is fine with getting a bad grade in exchange for keeping his talent for sewing a secret. He’s not super popular, but he does have a reputation as a class clown. He’s bent on protecting his rep as being a “guy’s guy,” as the stigma remains that guys doing “girly” things like sewing is considered “gay.”
I’m in my late 20’s. I know how to sew…by hand. I somewhat remember how to use a sewing machine. I took a home economics course in high school, and we had to sew a pillow (it was decent, but nowhere near the best). No one would care today if I told them I knew how to do that. Degrassi is considered a girly teen show by the general public; I receive casual ribbings once in a blue moon from friends, but no one I know actually cares that I watch it, and I don’t care what they think either way. But in those teen years it’s different. We’re programmed to care about what everyone around us thinks. JT takes pride in his finished sewing products, but not enough to claim them. It takes Liberty’s guilt breaking her to prove to JT that some of the things we’re afraid of sharing with the world aren’t as big of a deal as we’d like to think they are.
I have to agree that the thing that really holds the plot together is the fact that it was aired after 9/11. When I saw the scene of Fareeza’s display haven been ruined, I was blown away by the emotional impact of that particular moment. Then of course the scene after when the Degrassi students talk about it reminded me of the show’s educational roots. The only thing that bothered me about this plot was how unnecessary it was for Hazel to make racial comments to Fareeza since she was bullied by some racists at her old school. Other than that, I think that this episode carried a simplistic message about Muslims in schools.
P.S. So Kary I guess Don’t Believe the Hype is not on your worst episodes list anymore. What episode will you replace it with? True Colours? Nowhere to Run? Death of a Disco Dancer? Uptown Girl? haha
Thanks for the review, Kary! If you didn’t have one in mind for next time maybe you could do one of the Season 6 Semma episodes (True Colours, etc.) or a Season 7 college episode… Wanted to see if another one of those groups of episodes you didn’t like holds to this day.