18 August 2008

Altering my past

I have always been a huge fan of Disney, The Evil Corporation. My infatuation has cooled somewhat over the years. When I learned to love Disney, 24-hour television stations were virtually unheard of, let alone a station devoted entirely to the mass-produced kiddie fad factory that is the Disney Channel.

A rant in its own right, Disney has grown enormously over the last two decades, from a corporation that creates "family friendly" entertainment, to one that essentially drives junior consumerism to new heights with every new Hayley Mills or Hillary Duff clone it manufactures.

However, this post focuses on how Disney creates and enforces gender stereotypes through their depictions of men and women. I saw this video (embedded below) at Feministing.com and it made me think a lot about the Disney I know and love. The love is still there, but I'm looking at it through a filtered lens.

Disney is not the corporation that created hero worship; the ancient Greeks were lauding the feats of Achilles and Hercules millennia before the invention of moving pictures. Nor did Disney create princess envy; the King Arthur legends incorporated their fair share in Guinevere, as did the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault. But Disney's versions of classic fairy tales (and more recent original stories) permeated the culture in an unprecedented way, tying merchandising into the stories in a way that allows wide-eyed children to glom onto and become the characters.

Is it any wonder that so many of us have body issues, or feel "sub-standard" when faced with animated characterizations?

A few years ago, Bitch, Ph.D. wrote about her young son watching Disney's Peter Pan and how to strike a balance between an entertaining and classic children's story, with what we now understand about the entrenched racism in the story. Disney itself struggles with some of these depictions, trying to figure out how to make its catalogue of movies fully available to a nostalgia-hungry collector-culture without subjecting itself to a boycott and other bad press by mass-marketing something that was seen as "harmless" at the time, but now highlights offensive stereotypes and derogatory views of other cultures and races. Sometimes.

At what point will we realize that the same applies to depictions of gender and what makes a "real man" or a "good woman"? Shouldn't we be sitting down with our children and explaining to them how, at one time people thought women needed to be "rescued" by men, and that we had to work to embody certain values and ideals so men would want to fight for and choose us? But guys, does it make you feel inadequate to think that you have to measure up to a genteel and buff cartoon for a woman to consider wanting to be rescued by you? I realize that this is an inherently heterosexist line of thinking; Disney's lack of homosexual normalizing is another post for another day.

1 comment:

Tracey said...

It's always hard to try to reconcile things you loved in the past but now realize they have lots of problems when it comes to gender, race, etc. I definitely have those feelings about Disney stuff, since I loved it so much as a child and since I'm engaged to an animator who reveres Disney for its groundbreaking contributions to animation.