Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mulan: Building one up, only to tear another down?

During our hour lunch break, I thought  getting a jump start on tonight's blog post would be an excellent idea. It seemed simple enough: read a chapter from Rethinking Popular Culture and Media and write in a way that will help teach the chapter to those who had not read it. I am sure I am not alone in this, but it was extremely difficult to choose a chapter and I spent the entire break skimming chapters. I certainly can see myself finishing this book in my spare time this summer, something that has happened few times with texts assigned in class.

While there were so many excellent chapters to read and write about, I ultimately decided to choose Mulan's Mixed Feelings by Chyng-Feng Sun. A selfish part of me wanted to continue discussing princess culture, and I thought this chapter made some extremely important points about it. We have discussed many dominant ideologies that princess culture promotes such as heterosexual relationships, the idea of beauty, the relationship between females and males. There are stereotypes, generalizations and issues that appear over and over in these films. One facet of princess culture is the notion that girls are meant to 'sit pretty, waiting for a prince.' Many people argue that Mulan challenges this characterization, with Mulan being a "heroine that is emotionally and physically strong and does not wait for Prince Charming to save her" (page 106). Mulan is also positively represented in her looks, not depicting her in the same way Chinese people were in children's classics, and although she is portrayed as an attractive female, she is not seductive or voluptuous. However Sun makes the important point that "in order to put Mulan on a pedestal, Disney stomps on the people and the culture around her."

When Mulan came out in 1998, I believe many people were thrilled to see a strong female character as a Disney princess, one who has bigger aspirations than marrying a prince. However, it is important to understand that our dominant ideology, and the secret education that we learn it from, is multifaceted. While Mulan is a strong heroine, she is part of a society where she must pretend to be a hero in order to achieve her role. At the very surface this movie it shows girls that they can't be the heroine of the story unless they can somehow trick everyone into thinking they are a man. But even deeper than that, it leaves a very distinct impression about the Chinese culture that isn't a positive one. 

Mulan was actually a traditional Chinese legend that was rewritten for the Disney context, which many people were not pleased with. In the legend Mulan was portrayed as a woman with a job, goals, and place within her society. When her father is drafted to war Mulan chooses to go in his place. She returns 12 years later and the emperor promotes her to a high official position, but Mulan would rather go home to her family. Her military excellence earns her the deep respect and friendship from her colleagues, who accompany her to her home and only then discover that that she is a woman.

Automatically, that is a huge difference than the movie version. Perhaps Disney wanted Mulan to reject the wishes of her family and an arranged marriage to show a subtle change in princess culture, but once again where they put Mulan on a pedestal, they bring the others down. The discovery of Mulan as a woman during the war is also a major change, one that meant Mulan should have been executed for impersonating a man in the military. Because she had saved her Captain's live, he spears hers, and leaves her alone and worthless just because of her gender. Again, at the surface this says a lot about sexism, but there is also the representation of the Chinese as only an "oppressed, cruel, and sexist society" (108).

Viewing and critiquing these films from a Western standpoint, it's not a surprise many people are unaware of the original legend and the disservice Disney did to it. There are many facets of our dominant ideologies that are ingrained in children's film, but one that is perhaps questioned far less is the subtle way other cultures are negatively shown.

No comments:

Post a Comment