Monday, February 22, 2010

Defending the Disney Princesses

It was the late ‘90s, and a lot of my friends were big fans of the TV show Ally McBeal. It didn’t seem like my cup of tea, but I finally decided to give it a shot. When I turned it on, I kid you not; this is the scene I encountered:

Renée Radick: Snow White. Cinderella. All about gettin' a guy. Being saved by the guy. Today it's the Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas. All about gettin' a guy.
Ally McBeal: So basically we're screwed up because of...
Renée Radick: Disney.

Anybody want to lay odds on how many more episodes of that I watched?

Blaming the Disney Princesses for the low self-esteem of young girls or the screwed-up love lives of women seems to be the P.C. crowd’s favorite topic of late, sort of like this century’s version of Tipper Gore’s war on music lyrics. According to Barbara Ehrenreich from The Nation, Disney teaches young girls that besides nabbing a prince, the Princesses’ “only career ladder leads from baby-faced adolescence to a position as an evil enchantress, stepmother, or witch.” With so many people jumping on this bandwagon, I think it’s time we took a step back and said, “Um, really?”

To quote Walt himself: “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained”. You see, the Disney movies were created to entertain, not to teach children how to climb the corporate ladder. I think that looking to Aurora for career advice makes about as much sense as trying to learn table manners from Groucho Marx. That’s just not why you are watching.

I also think it’s important to consider when these movies were made. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937. Women had only had the vote for 17 years. This was even two years before Gone with the Wind was released. That’s a classic movie too, but I would no more look to GWTW for lessons in race relations than I would to Snow White for an education in female empowerment. Movies are a reflection of the society at the time in which they are made. There’s a reason Brokeback Mountain wasn’t made until 2005.

Further, one needs to keep in mind that many of these films were based on classic fairy tales with story lines already familiar to many of the viewers. I mean, although there are variations in the way the Cinderella story is told in different cultures, I think somebody’s going to notice if Cinderella dumps Prince Charming at the altar to join the French Navy.

As a girl who grew up watching the Disney films, I can tell you that I took a lot of lessons from them (besides avoiding spindles, of course). I learned that it is the responsibility of good to fight so that evil can be defeated. I learned that kindness and compassion are important virtues, and that honesty and loyalty bring more rewards than selfishness and scheming.

Finally, people criticize Disney for making their Princesses too pretty. All that I can say is that we as carbon-based life forms are programmed to prefer looking at attractive things. That’s not Disney’s fault. If you don’t believe me, watch a few nature shows. There’s a reason lions have cool manes and birds flaunt their beautiful plumage, and I promise you that it has nothing to do with Princess envy. Did I want to look like Cinderella when I was little? Sure. Of course, I also wanted to fly like Peter Pan, and I knew that wasn’t very likely, either. Are you really telling me that when you watch movies with dancing teapots, singing fish, and talking mice the thing that you find unbelievable is the size of Jasmine’s waist?

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