Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Shift in Princess Culture?

What is your relationship to Disney and animated children’s culture? What role did these texts play in your life as a child, if any? In that of any children you share time with? How do your memories challenge or reflect Christensen’s claims? How does Brave meet or challenge your memories of princess culture?

I grew up watching Disney movies, owning an entire shelf full of VHS movies I would watch on repeat. I had all of the songs memorized, I knew every character and story line, and the stories of me throwing fits in the Disney store because I wanted something are probably not exaggerated. However, I also never thought of this as an abnormal childhood experience for someone my age. The thought of a Disney movie still makes me light up, and I'll watch one every time it comes on TV (now that my VHS movies are long since gone), I still know the words to almost all the songs, and admittedly I dressed up as Princess Jasmine only a few short years ago.. I am sure that growing up amidst the princess culture has influenced my life today in more than one way.

I certainly believe and agree with Christensen's claims of stereotypes and the "secret education" of cartoons and children's movies. One of the quotes that resonated most with me was one from Christensen's student, Justine: "It can be overwhelming and discouraging to find out my whole self-image has been formed mostly by others or underneath my worries about what I look like are years of being exposed to TV images of girls and their set roles given to them by TV and the media.. The idea of not being completely responsible for how I feel about things today is scary." Princess culture goes beyond Disney and Saturday cartoons, it's in magazines, commercials, advertisements, movies, TV shows, any outlet imaginable. I am not certain when the phrase 'princess culture' was coined, but something I would imagine to be true is it was much more recent than the first Disney princess movie in 1937. This culture revolves the thoughts and ideas associated with women (along with socioeconomic status, race, body image, and many other issues that are very real in these movies and cartoons) but for the longest time, were not questioned. Women were actually expected to sit at home looking pretty, waiting for a prince. And while the idea that there is more to a woman now than who she marries, we have a lot of catching up to do to ingrain that idea into our society that is full of adult-sized princesses.

I had never seen Brave before this assignment, and unfortunately I think it proved Christensen's point in all too real of a way. Right from the beginning of the movie, while the Queen is chastising the King for giving their young daughter a bow because "she's a lady!" you could tell this movie was supposed to be breaking the norms. I found myself trying to dissect every character and determine how well they fit or broke the traditional roles. There were certainly some differences.. Our main character was certainly created to break the perfect, pretty princess stereotype. With her unruly red hair, archery skills and desire for adventure she is supposed to be a "new age" princess. She wants to compete for her own hand in order to avoid a betrothal, while every other princess seems centered around finding their prince. While the lord's sons are introduced as potential love interests, she doesn't actually have a love interest in the movie. The central relationship in the movie is the one between a mother and daughter, which is a heartwarming take. And while I am in no way saying Brave fits the traditional model in all other ways, there were still many disconcerting characterizations.

The Queen is certainly old school, preaching princess culture strong, and fits the bill. She is slender, fair skinned, modest, intelligent, obedient, uptight, prim and proper, nurturing. I might be wrong, but the only other female character I recall seeing in the movie besides our Queen and Princess is the maid/cook/hand lady.. who can really be sure. She doesn't have a strong characterization besides being lower class, short, plump, unattractive, and her primary purpose in the movie is to scream at the sight of bears. There are many, many men featured in the movie, however none of the fit the "Prince Charming" model. While I am sure this is done intentionally, even the King himself is sort of goofy, it also made me wonder if one of the love interests was depicted as more promising if it would have had a greater impact. The three love interests she was supposedly given were not shown in the kindest of lights.

I found Brave to be a very interesting movie, and it was certainly meant as a shift in ideology of Disney princesses, however I saw it as just that.. a shift. It's not there. There are still many issues and many stereotypes within this movie, and it's not really until the climax of the movie that everyone is left with a sense of "okay" in the breaking of the social norm. The part of watching Brave that Justine would agree with me is hard to admit, is the fact I didn't enjoy it as much as I felt like I should have. While I certainly relate to the unruly curly hair, I found a hard time identifying with the characters. Honestly, after watching the entire movie, I'm still not sure of any of their names. It's difficult to critique myself and identify why I had these feelings: Did I not like that there wasn't a love component? Did I not identify with the Scottish nationality? Did I not like the fact our princess wasn't perfect? And if any of those are true, why do I even have these ideas? I am aware of the unreasonable beauty standards females face, but that doesn't mean I am immune to insecurities and worries about my own looks. I have admirable professional and educational goals, but I have always viewed relationships as more important. Not because I needed a man to be happy, but because the love and time shared with family,children, friends, and even a significant other are more valuable to me than my career and education. My favorite princess was never Cinderella because she's blonde, and I'm not, and I just didn't like characters that didn't look like me very much. There is a lot to be said about where my ideologies come from, and why I am the person I am today. 

To end with another quote from Christensen's student Justine, "True death equals a generation living by rules and attitudes they never questioned and producing more children who do the same." Is it not to say there is always something wrong with the beliefs, but questioning them is vital to understand why we believe them in the first place.In the case of attitudes and rules that aren't constructive to our modern society, questioning is the first step towards change.

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