Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Disney Culture

Growing up, I mainly watched Disney movies when I went to visit family. I only owned one real Disney VHS, The Lion King, partly because my mom didn't see the purpose in owning movies. My brother is four years older than me so by the time I was old enough to remember watching movies, most of them were not Disney but instead ones that he enjoyed watching such as Ninja Turtles, Free Willy, Karate Kid. All of my cousins on the other hand owned tons of Disney movies, something I was always a bit envious of.

In thinking back to the Disney movies, I was particularly fond of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. As discussed in "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us," I too admired these two princesses for their beautiful appearance- blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin. Every girl wanted to be them but only some resembled the ideal princess look. Princess Jasmine was the first princess that I felt like I could relate to because of her dark hair and olive color skin tone. Besides instilling the idea of what "beauty" looked like, these Disney movies along with others (The Little Mermaid is another favorite!), also taught the idea of a woman winning the heart of a prince, falling in love, and living happily ever after. Although we all would love life to be so easy..it is not and these movies have somewhat set high expectations for many. Often I have heard from friends, family members, and have probably said it myself that it is important to find love and live "happily aver after." Yes these are important yet a bit unrealistic. Love is possible, being happy is possible, but life is not always like the stories we see in the Disney movies.

Before starting this class I never would have questioned the concepts and messages in Disney movies. I thought the movies had great stories with messages of kindness, romance, and happiness. In analyzing the movies, I am starting to wonder how the secret messages may have influenced the person I have become. This curiosity was brought up in Christensen's article when a student questioned the impact that media had on her identity. "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" (Christensen p192). This student brought up a good point and the fond memories of Disney are now being questioned and thought about more critically. Disney is the main movie selection that young children see, however all media watched by children can influence morals, ideas, and values.

Brave was the first Disney movie to change the goals of a princess from love to freedom. Unlike the other movies, Princess Merida wants more than anything to be free, go on adventures, use her bow and arrow, and do other things that are often associated with men. It was inspiring to see a princess not fall into the same rut as every other one...marry a prince, have children, always look beautiful, and be perfect. The message throughout the movie was a very positive one that showed viewers that no one is perfect and even royalty can make mistakes (ex. Merida apologizing to her mom at the end of the movie). The movie ended strong with Merida saying, "Fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it" (Brave). Due to women empowerment and the changes that have occurred over the decades, I think we are going to start seeing new Disney and movies for children that portray independent woman who aspire for more out of life than just love. In addition to the positive women role models, I am also hoping that the characters will be more diverse in regards to culture, skin color, socioeconomic status, and gender.

Overall, I am grateful for the role Disney had in my upbringing. Despite having some possible negative effects on self esteem, the movies taught children the idea of having a dream and not giving up on it, that everyone deserves to be loved, and the importance of family and friends. Not to mention, most Disney movies have some catchy and unforgettable songs.  Even though I have reservations about the messages in Disney movies, I will not keep them from my niece or future children. I think it is important for children to be exposed to these movies that have become part of our culture but even more important is for parents/adults to discuss the movies with the children. The discussion that follows can help children understand that life isn't a fairy tale and the movies aren't real. By having these conversations, rather simple or in depth, children will be able to understand that all women are beautiful regardless of size, skin color, or status; that men don't have to be muscular and strong; and that marrying a prince doesn't guarantee a perfect life.

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