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Disney: Straight and Narrow?

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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.

Snow White

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.

next: The Grandchildless Bitch
24 comments so far | Post a comment now
aerialla July 13, 2009, 5:52 PM

I am a huge Disney fan and I find this subject completely off base. They are called Fairy Tales, not real life. People also need to remember that Walt Disney founded Disney on Conservative beliefs. Walt was a huge Republican who believe in good old fashioned Family Values. If you don’t like that message then go watch Shrek. Now there’s a Liberal cartoon if I’ve ever seen one. All the Liberal’s want to boo hoo about Disney. So Boycott. I’m positive there are enough of us out here to keep them making movies for the next 100+ years. This of course is not talking about the big Gay Pride Weekend that Disney does every year at the parks. Leave fantasy to the children and those who want a break from reality every once in a while. There is enough reality in the world without subjecting small children to adult philosophies.

tobin July 14, 2009, 9:10 PM

how freaky is the fat & dwarf comment?
is it just me or does that translate to something hateful?

Brian February 3, 2010, 10:47 PM

I certainly would have absolutely no problem if Disney were to implement a gay/lesbian prince or princess, or even a gay/lesbian character within their films. However, I also understand the world of marketing and sales. Do I think Disney NEEDS to? Absolutely not. There is a vast majority of heterosexual people, and very little desire (sometimes downright opposition) for a movie to carry such a theme.

It is up to people to start writing and promoting these stories, either focussing on LGBT issues or working them into the book less prominently, and get them circulated in literature. Most Disney films are based off kids books anyway.

I think LGBT concious people need to learn when to attack mainstream ideas and institutions (ie: when specific freedoms and equal rights issues are involved), and when to simply step up their game and create their own events. Crying wolf just because a wonderful movie was written that doesn’t encompass your point of view is not the way to spread equal and harmonious presentations for everyone. I for one think a black Disney princess was a long time coming.

Margie June 20, 2010, 9:11 PM

I think Disney is already broadening the queer inclusion horizon. Mulan is a lesbian archetype, despite the fact that she ends up with a guy - look at the Reflection lyrics (they helped me a LOT when I was growing up). Also, Timon and Pumba are totally gay dads to Simba - and this is especially evident in the Lion King part III. A story doesn’t have to show an actual overt gay relationship to have a queer resonance- many Disney heroes are special BECAUSE they are different. It’s not as overt as I hope it could be in the future, but it is a start…

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