The bludgeoning flip side of Disney's message to kids is: if you don't fit into the heterosexual paradigm, you're not normal and not special.
Brett Berk: I recently read a research study examining the role and prevalence of heterosexual romantic love in Disney's top-grossing G-rated movies from 1990-2005. (Here's a synopsis of the article.) And I have to say, I find this an intriguing area of inquiry. The researchers carefully examine twenty-plus popular children's films (all grossed over $100 million), and find that heterosexual desire and longing are not only very frequently portrayed -- giving lie to the idea that these kids' flicks are devoid of sexual content -- but are presented in a way that is exceptional and transcendent, with the power to break spells, stop war, change laws, or even save Christmas.
Big deal, right? Straight people fall in love and it affects them -- and by extension, the world -- all the time. Well, not exactly. One of the points is that by privileging these male/female bonds as imbued with transformative power, the movies not only normalize heterosexuality, but enforce in children a notion of its magical capabilities. It's not just normal; it's special. And the bludgeoning flip side of this message is: if you don't fit into this paradigm, you're not normal and not special. Little gay and lesbian kids hear this message (trust me, I was one) and take it to heart. Now I'm not in any way advocating for the avoidance of depicting love in kids' media, but I do think it's fair to examine what we're saying on the topic. (And I don't think things have changed much since 2005. Think about the love storylines in "Cars" or "Wall•E.")
Beyond this, it was found that the films all avoid dealing with homosexual love in any similarly overt way. I'm guessing that many people wouldn't take issue with this, imagining that this is a topic beyond the comprehension of young kids. But I'd like to point out that HOMOSEXUALITY is no more or less complex a topic than HETEROSEXUALITY, and if we're conspicuously feeding young kids mega-doses of overblown messages on straight loving, why isn't there room for some like "education" on the queer side?
Disney's just now bringing out their first African-American princess, so far be it from me to dictate when they should introduce their first gay or lesbian princess. But the sooner we stop treating homosexuality as an "adult" issue, the sooner we'll be capable of finding ways to discuss it rationally with and depict it to our kids.
|Brett Berk, M.S. Ed. has worked with young children and their families for over 20 years--as a classroom teacher, preschool director, and research consultant--and is the author of "The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting."|