Disney Channel shows subsist on exploiting the cunning and mischievous nature of kids and teens. Parents bumble around as non-factors. Students attend school only when convenient. The characters comfortably mix with the upper-middle-class. This effectively allows the protagonists to venture out into their community, make mistakes, and learn valuable lessons. Alex Russo, though, appears as an exception.

WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE (2007-2012) pushed that tradition to new heights with a rebellious, snarky female main character who respects no one but herself. The show features three wizard siblings. The siblings train to potentially become the “family wizard.” Justin Russo is the oldest and most intelligent of the three, Max is the youngest and dumbest, and the trouble-making Alex Russo (Selena Gomez) is deceitful, but the delightful protagonist.

What’s Wrong with Alex Russo Anyway?

Her laziness and disregard for authority made parents of viewers leery of her character. Alex Russo consistently lies to her parents and fails her classes. She focuses more on getting guys to like her and using magic to do chores. Harper Finkle is her best friend, but she frequently insults her outlandish outfits and manipulates her. Sometimes Alex Russo grazes the border of being politically incorrect. When she wires a buzzer poorly in “Smarty Pants,” she accidentally electrocutes the girl who pressed it later. After everyone turns to glare at her, she quickly says, “Don’t look at me, I’m a girl. I was just making posters!” and snatches paper out of a random guy’s hands.

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The school citizenship award practically falls into her lap in “Alex’s Logo.” Justin forces her to donate a portion of the money she earned selling t-shirts on school grounds. This makes her a “major financial contributor to the school.” Justin, as the student body president who’s required to present the award to Alex Russo at the ceremony, is half-seething when he does.

Does Alex Russo Send the Wrong Message?

Disney seems to be sending the wrong message by rewarding Alex Russo for her lack of ambition and manipulative ways. She ultimately wins the family wizard competition after what felt like four seasons of her lying around munching on food and making fun of Justin for working hard.

In “Smarty Pants,” she helps her team win the Quiz Bowl by stealing and wearing a pair of “smarty pants.” The pants give her knowledge of everything by wearing them. Justin had vigorously studied for the competition, but Alex Russo walks onto the stage donning the pants and crushes his team. The only consequence she faces is that her legs temporarily turn into poorly-rendered skeletal bones after she removes her pants in front of the audience (to help Harper, not Justin), but this public incident is promptly forgotten.

Alex Russo

My Heart Goes Out to Justin Russo

Poor, sensible Justin portrays the moral compass and voice of reason who always gets tossed to the side. As Alex Russo’s foil, he’s the only character who tries to put his sister in her place and stop her from breaking the rules. Mainly because her antics come at his expense, but also because he can see that no one else will try to tame her. His mini-tantrums and wild expressions of frustration and anger, which come when Alex Russo giggles about once again ruining his life, make me laugh. We know he’s right. Alex Russo shouldn’t get away with cheating on an assignment. She shouldn’t get away with destroying his prized possessions. Justice always seems to slip away from him.

Am I watching a reverse Tom and Jerry episode? All he wants is to get the recognition he deserves. Somehow Alex Russo always prevents or nearly prevents this. In the end, Alex Russo wins the family wizard competition, but Justin finally gets acknowledgment for his achievement and intellect. Then, she receives an award for the position of headmaster at WizTech, a wizarding school.

C’mon, What Am I Supposed to Take Away from Alex Russo?

So what can kids extrapolate from this smiling, self-obsessed, manipulative main character? I was a bulls-eye in the show’s target demographics — born in 2000 with thumbs evolved for texting, old enough to have read the Harry Potter books. I am happy to present the highly scientific conclusion that there are no side effects from watching this series. Never have I skipped school or snuck out of the house. Never have I told a major lie to my parents. I never shrunk myself so that my werewolf boyfriend could swallow me. Especially not to save my pursuer whom my werewolf boyfriend ate. No, I lived vicariously through Alex because I wanted to taste rebellion without consequences and magic without Voldemorts. I didn’t actually want to be like her in real life.

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Kids are smart. They can tell that her outrageous behavior and snide remarks exist solely for laughs. They shouldn’t be emulated in real life. (The show taking place in a secular fantasy world of green screens and bad CGI help with that). Alex acts like she can do whatever she wants, but she’s always kept in line by adults, Justin, and Harper.

Is Alex Russo That Bad of a Person?

Yet, despite her egregious character flaws, I still learned from Alex Russo. She’s really not so bad. For the most part, she tries to do the right thing (Common Sense Media gave the show a 3/5 stars under “role models,” which isn’t too shabby). In an attempt to help Harper become a better waiter, she put a spell on her in “New Employee.” She uses a time-turning spell to help Justin get his first kiss right. But in the end, magic can’t fix everything, she has to.

Her daring and scheming nature is what allows her to take the most heroic actions. When her friend Stevie asks her to join a wizard rebellion to ensure that no sibling has to give up their powers, Alex Russo agrees. She does so at Harper and Justin’s dismay (“The Good, The Bad, The Alex”). Later she gains Stevie’s trust and tricks her into transferring her powers back to Stevie’s brother, who had won their family competition. Then she magically turns Stevie in a rock substance to stop her from following through on her evil plan, revealing that Alex Russo was on the good side all along.

Alex Russo: The Evidence

It was Alex who proposed traveling into space to destroy an asteroid hurtling toward Earth (“Wizards Vs. Asteroid”) and time-travelling to 1957 to prevent her family from eviction (“Rock Around the Clock”), while Justin spouted off arguments against her ideas. Both missions were successful.

Alex Russo

Telling the stories of WIZARDS from Alex’s perspective forces us to see that Justin’s way isn’t always the best way. There’s more than one way to solve a problem — you don’t have to be morally uptight all the time. Justin tends to rigidly follow rules and authority and avoids conflict. Since their parents possess stereotypically ineffective cluelessness, Justin tries to control Alex. He tries to punish her when she breaks the rules. No matter how rational he is, he generally comes off as ineffectively annoying. He always tries to prevent Alex from living her life. People who color inside the lines and jump over cracks in the sidewalk aren’t always the catalysts of change.

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Alex Russo: The Bottom Line

Alex goes after what she wants, knowing full well she won’t be successful each time. Her effrontery and lack of shame spur her to do good with the confidence she’ll be able to handle whatever comes. After her family escapes the government, which is holding wizards captive, she takes action and reveals the existence of wizards to reporters to try to get people on their side (“Alex Tells the World”). Even though it all turns out to be a test of her ability to keep magic a secret, Alex showed her courage to do what she felt right.

When her more evil plans backfire, she realizes her mistakes and learns. In WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE: THE MOVIE, Alex angrily screams she wished her parents never met. Then she accidentally makes this come true. She has to work with her brothers to find a magical stone that will reverse the ordeal. Before she obtains the stone, Justin loses memory of her and as a vortex almost sucks him in. She starts to cry.

Do-Overs, Really?

At the end, she’s able to rewind time back to the moment when she was arguing with her mother. Instead of yelling at her, Alex lovingly apologizes. She happily takes her punishment instead, realizing how much she loves and needs her family.

Alex Russo may have been a questionable role model for tweens and older kids, but a perennially flawed character like her can teach us the most about ourselves. Her faults and their effects on other characters lay out clearly so that viewers can take away moral messages without having them forced down their throats. And her boldness and self-confidence encourage kids to stand up for what they believe in.

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