American values and the Disney princessesby Don Lacey on May. 12, 2012, under Arizona Families, Art & Culture, Critical Thinking, Education, Ethics, Gay Marriage, History, Logic, Middle Class, Reason, That's Life!
Here is the next blog entry from Jim Wilson:
Are Disney princess movies bad for our culture??
“Could you ask for a manlier topic?”-Jim Wilson
Maybe next week, I’ll write about hunting with Dick Armey in the mean time we’re talking about Disney because most American kids grow up with Disney movies, at least to some degree. The now legendary children’s film giant has become synonymous with American culture and children’s entertainment in general. I certainly grew up with Disney and, as a result of having younger siblings, have seen most of the films that the Disney Company released prior to my graduation of high school.
From a young age, I watched my younger brother and sister watching various Disney films over and over again. They often memorized them word for word and occasionally brought up quotes from them in regular conversation, often in places where they made no sense. They played with toys inspired by Disney films and characters, and tried in vain to get our father to take us to the enormous theme park that was the center of the Disney Empire. The company has had an enormous influence on generations of Americans, since the release of its first animated feature film in Technicolor: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney has had an enormous impact on our childhoods. For example, how many of our female readers went through some sort of Disney inspired princess phase, or have a sister, daughter, or niece that did? Disney has been the single largest perpetuator of the fairy tale princess meme in American culture since the 1930s. As a result, it is a very popular ideal. The Disney cannon’s princesses started as standalone characters, but in 1999 the company saw the opportunity to combine them together into a franchise which appealed to young girls. This included dolls and other toys as well as a series of direct to video releases. Despite a lack of advertising or focus group research, Disney princess products proved to be hugely popular, with sales rocketing to $3 billion in 2006. Our society may be strapped for cash for health care, education or the national debt, but never for Disney princess products.
Something about the Disney princesses and the practice of instilling the princess fantasy in young girls always seems a bit crass and unhealthy. While most of the princess characters had likable traits, quite a few of them were rather passive. Aurora, for example, the titular sleeping beauty, literally slept through much of her film. Later, Disney princesses became more rebellious and feisty but still seemed to embody a sort of idealized fairy-tale life. Mulan, the cross-dressing warrior, was the exception.
Traditional princesses by definition are not good role models for our daughters. Part of being a princess is having an extravagant life with wealth and luxuries simply handed to them. For a society that so highly values hard work, it seems strange that we would adopt these as our female role models. Additionally, a high percentage of these princesses managed to procure a “happy life ever after” purely by marrying well off and often to royalty. This too, is not a positive message for our daughters who should learn how to be more self reliant and less dependent on male suitors, royal parents, and companions endowed with magical powers.
On the whole, the princess story is a less than subtle glorification of monarchy. We live in a country founded by a revolution against such a monarchy and we generally have no desire to return to that form of governance. In practice, kings and queens were tyrannical authoritarian dictators. It may be preferable to instill more anti-authoritarian values in our children. In countries that have constitutional monarchies there are always people who view the royalty as drains on society. The Disney princess often has her “happily ever after” bestowed upon her as a result of birthright, good fortune, or unusual shoe size. In the end her well being is tied to marrying well and never as a result of cleverness, hard work, or determination to achieve. I want to see children’s entertainment that glorifies the American values with stories that show that a “happily ever after” should be earned.
The Disney princess stories are excessively extravagant and materialistic. The princesses have fancy clothing and jewelry, as well as other forms of material wealth. This is somehow tied to their value as role models and women. It is little wonder that we spend millions of dollars on extravagant weddings and proms. Young girls spend much of their childhoods fantasizing about these events. There is too much shallow materialism in our society and it would be nice to see someone who scorns pomp and extravagance and “keeps it real.”
These films depict unrealistic human relationships. Most of the aspirant princesses who watch Disney movies, will want to fall in love at first sight or live happily ever after with a well-sculpted guy who lives in a palace. More likely, they will have a handful of crumby boyfriends and eventually marry one who is about the same level of attractiveness as they are. Eventually, they may get divorced, and fall in love with someone else, maybe someone of the same sex. In a related note, any bets on when we will see the first lesbian Disney princess? The first black one was introduced in 2009.
However, these films are fantasies and serve as escapes from reality. They fill an important need but they are a deep seated part of our culture and should be examined closely. They are also a part of a rather crass commercial effort. Everyone wants to treat their daughter as their own little princess. It’s all good as long as it isn’t taken too far. I certainly will treat any woman in my life like royalty to the best of my abilities. Still, our daughters need role models that are scientists, artists, engineers, film-makers, doctors and martial arts instructors. I would have added musicians, but I have seen the Disney channel’s awful attempts at exploring this premise.
In the end, I have mixed feelings about Disney movies. I love the beautiful, well crafted, painstaking, hand-drawn animation in the early movies but I think it would be nice to see children’s entertainment that is more honest, more thought provoking, and more in keeping with some of the positive aspects of American values.