The Problem with Disney’s Princesses

17 Jul

Fantasy Vs Real Life

This is a story I wrote for the Teen Magazine of my Newspaper

Snow White after marriage: Indolent husband, lots of kids and house drudgery. The part they didn’t tell you about ‘Happily Ever After!’

Few of you teens out there would be unaware of the various controversies surrounding Disney Cartoons. Poor kids.  In my day, (Ahem, Ahem, as an 80s kid), I could enjoy my cartoons without guilt. Some radical ‘educationists’ had started in on Enid Blyton and fantasy stories for kids as EVIL when I was still a child, but Disney had not yet felt the brunt of it. They began to feel the heat only in the mid nineties.

As someone who grew up on Enid Blyton, Fairytales and Disney cartoons, I have always treated criticisms directed at this quarter with a healthy dose of skepticism.  They are what saved me from a mundane and often difficult childhood. As a child, they gave me many hours of entertainment and pleasure and for that, I will always value them.

So while a female – and a female from a very repressive patriarchal society and as such a budding feminist, I tend to be annoyed at feminist criticism of ‘Disney Princesses.’

The modern Jasmine; Women play an important role in the Arab Spring

Some of the criticisms are valid actually but then as a child who had not yet experienced repression, due to being female (that happened only when I hit adolescence), I don’t think I was in any way brainwashed into thinking I was a ‘helpless female’ and my troubles would only be solved by a ‘handsome prince’ galloping up, by watching those cartoons.

Some of the much vaunted negative effects on kids are highly exaggerated. Give them a break – Children love fantasy but they are also more resilient and intelligent than some of these ‘educationists’ give them credit for.

When I came across the various criticisms against Enid Blyton as a preteen, I was utterly contemptuous of the arguments – and defiantly kept on reading her books. In a world of adults who thought they knew all about what was best for me and my needs but didn’t, Enid Blyton was one of the rare adults who did understand.

And now, as an adult, I can tell you, I was not in any way adversely affected by reading those books.  Enid Blyton probably had more of a role in bringing me up than my own parents did. I certainly learned a lot from her in terms of morals and behavior. Kudos to her for doing it so skillfully and creatively without being preachy – like Aesop and his fables!

So No, though I loved the Disney Princesses, I never fantasized about being a princess myself or wearing bulbous ball gowns and crown-like tiaras. I have never waited for Prince Charming to come along and rescue me. Nor have I thought that my role in life was to stoically be a ‘damsel in distress’ and wait till he came along. So much for a damaged childhood thanks to untenable fantasies.

But…

What I did fall for was the ‘Happily Ever After!’

I didn’t necessarily want a prince or a castle but I did think I would grow up to hit a phase of no more troubles – my ‘Happily ever after’; that’s my beef with Disney. That’s the only fantasy I fell for. Though I wasn’t exactly Cinderella with the evil stepmother and stepsisters ( although, come to think of it, my mom and sis could probably give them a run for their money… …Oh All Right, they are not that bad), I always did dream of an idyllic world where there would be no more troubles. Since childhood was so full of strife – exams every three months, humourless teachers, ununderstanding adults, stupid homework,  drudging housework – I really believed I would be all right once I hit adulthood.

‘Beauties’ don’t remain beauties forever – though they can delay the process a bit with expensive and painful cosmetic help. Another dose of reality we didn’t know, growing up!

Sigh!

I want my money back Disney. I got up at 4.30 am to write this story because I put it off till the last minute and the editor will have my head if I don’t give it within the deadline.  So much for ‘no more homework.’  And I still have to make my own bed, wash my own clothes and dust, clean and wipe my room every so often. Cinderella’s drudgery stopped at a point; why hasn’t mine?

More importantly, why am I still living with the EVIL… er… I mean overbearing mother and sister? I never wanted a castle but I did think I would at least have my own pad by now. Preferably with domestic help. Is that so much to ask? You didn’t warn me about cost-of-living problems. Oh, that’s why you brought in the ‘Princes’ eh? Only Royals can have an independent life style in today’s economy.

Pacohotnas is a single cat lady. That’s probably my reality as well, something I have no problem with. Give me cats over princes anyday!

Criticisms and petty gripes aside, I valued the fantasy stories of my childhood. They provided a charmed gateway from the extreme mundanity of real life. As a city kid, growing up in rented, packed apartment houses (don’t draw on the wall, don’t play with clay; you’ll dirty the floor, don’t make any noise), I envied my parent’s tales of growing up in a rural village.

I didn’t have pets to bond with, I didn’t climb fruit trees (particularly the neighbour’s, because stealing his sour mangoes made it tastier than plucking the ripe mangoes in one’s own garden, according to my father), I didn’t swim in rivers, I didn’t run free across fields with friends…

All I had to make up for it was books and cartoons. In the absence of carefree exercise for the body, they provided wonderful exercise for the mind. It was a much needed gateway to make up for the pressure of a highly curtailed childhood.

As such I have always sympathized with Disney. In its various efforts to placate those taking issue, it keeps treading on other toes. Disney cartoons show perfect worlds and that’s bad? Fine, factor in some grief. Except… do kids really need to deal with that at such a young age? Leave them their fantasies will you! They will have to deal with real life soon enough.

I was traumatized by the death of Bambi’s mother. I just found out while researching for this story, that it was scripted as a result of Disney’s paying heed to people who said children should not be fooled into thinking it’s a perfect world out there.

Ugh.. I knew animals were being cruelly killed even as a child… I just didn’t deal with it on an emotional level until I saw Bambi. Why did I have to anyway?

Unsurprisingly Disney then drew fire from adults who think like me; Leave the kids alone to as happy a childhood as possible. We have got a terrible world for them to inherit, let them have some peace at least in childhood.

Not so Little Riding Hood – too much junk food has made her overweight.

That said, pictures speak a thousand words. Notice the pictures here? They are the work of creative photographer, Dina Goldstein. Though generally on the pro-Disney side of the fence, I have to admit to admiring these photos.

While being irritated by many of the criticisms against Disney’s traditional cartoons, even I have to bow before this powerful work of creativity. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect world,’ or ‘happily ever after.’

Ariel is the star attraction at an aquarium. For all the money she brings in, couldn’t they at least clean her tank?

Maybe that’s too harsh a realization for childhood, but now that you are on the threshold of adulthood, you better realize it.

Photo Credit: Dina Goldstein

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