Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hey Disney! Why So Secretive? (The SCWAAMP Reality Of The Secret Education)

Talking Points #5 - Connections (Based on Christensen's "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us")

Let me start off by saying that I was super excited to read this article because it deals with the media and pop culture, two of my favorite things! I decided that for this week I would do a connections piece because I'm currently doing a research paper for my English 202 class on the same topic of Disney and the favorited ideologies found within each of the animated films. So I will be using Disney's animated features as the focal point as I use Christensen's piece and other great texts as navigational devices to show how SCWAAMP appears in these films.  I will refer back to many previous class readings we did but the major piece I'm connecting will be SCWAAMP.  This will be a rather long blog because I will try and hit every ideology of SCWAAMP but the information that follows will be so entertaining and interesting that will leave you in awe on how many things you didn't know about your beloved childhood movies. 


Typical Prince and Princess!
(Cinderella and Prince Charming)
Christensen did a very good job pointing out how women and other non-white races may be oppressed in
Disney Films but she forgot about one important group in that list, The LGBT community.  Where is the LGBT community in Disney Films? Gerri August would definitely disagree with Disney on this issue. By actively not acknowledging the existence of LGBT individuals, you're erasing them and this is absolutely detrimental to their psychological growth development. Gay and lesbians characters aren't explicitly promoted by Disney, so if you search for gay individuals in these films your less likely to find them.  However, it would be easier to focus on the absence of LGBT characters and how heterosexuality is being instilled as the dominant ideology by Disney. A typical Disney Movie follows this basic formula: a man(prince) and a woman(princess) fall in love and live happily ever after.  When children watch these movies "in the warmth of their mother's or father's laps" it "becomes accepted knowledge."  Unfortunately, they are presented that the only kind of love acceptable is heterosexual love.  So, if a gay or lesbian or even transgender child are watching these movies they are being erased, they aren't able to connect to any character in the movie. What if this child is watching these movies with their two dads or two moms? How is this going to make them feel? Their family life will seem unimportant.

However there is one critic out there that argues Disney's Beauty and The Beast is a story in which all the three main characters are gay (Belle, Gaston, and Beast). The article is entitled "Yep Gaston's Gay: Disney and The Beauty of a Beastly Love" by Peter Steeves. He goes on to say that Gaston and Beast are gay but that Gaston has seen how society treats gay individuals so he's forced to hide it while Beast is locked away in his castle for about twenty years and isn't to privy to the straight privilege that exists in society. Steeves also goes on to say that Belle is a lesbian because she had the opportunity to marry almost every guy in town and consistently turned them down. He mentions that the only reason the Beast falls for Belle is because the curse calls for a woman to break the curse. It's something to think about that's for sure. However, I'll still be waiting to see a gay hero as the leading part in a Disney animated feature.


Frollo threatening Esmerelda
Christianity is the dominant ideology of religion in America and is one of the hardest to find in Disney Films.  This is another ideology that Christensen doesn't really hone in on as much because you really have to study the films carefully to find it.  There is only one Disney Film that comes directly to mind when thinking about Christianity playing a critical role in the plot and that movie is The Hunchback of Notre Dame which was released in 1996 during the Eisner Era.  The entire plot centers around the so called "outcasts" of Paris that is including the main protagonist Quasimodo and his gypsy friend Esmerelda.  The villain, Judge Claude Frollo is an evil man set to assassinate the entire gypsy population because he believes that they embody black magic.  In his mind they are anti-christians. What is this teaching, that every individual who practices a different religion, should be targeted? In a way, Frollo himself is a paradox to the plot.  He is a self dubbed "righteous" man but his actions contradict that statement.  If anyone is anti-christian in the film it would be him.  We see him in the beginning of the film kill Quasi's mother, who was also a gypsy.  He then is indebted with taking care of Quasi which he didn't want.  He's hellbent on killing the entire gypsy population of the present day and he is tempted by the seductiveness of Esmerelda.  He is sort of in lust with her.  

Notre Dame Cathedral
There is some form of justice at the end of the film when Frollo is defeated by the hero and all the "outcasts"can freely but is it enough to counter act the entire isolation of an entire group?  However, there is a positive connotation of Christianity in this film as well. The Notre Dame Cathedral is probably the focal point in the movie. Everything revovles around that church, Quasi is locked away there, the epic final battle takes place there, and it's sanctuary for the gypsies and outcasts.  The church is the only thing that can protect the gypsies from Frollo's wrath.  Sort of like St. Ann's Church in New York where Kozol met Cliffe. St. Ann's is located right in the center of a dangerous New York neighborhood that acts like sanctuary for the youth.  It's an escape and a positive environment for Cliffe and his peers. Getting back to The Hunchback, Frollo was the one negative force in this film that portrayed Christianity in a negative light. He was very strict to the word of God enforcing his values throughout society which isn't acceptable. However, he is defeated and that signals to children that his actions were bad and there are consequences for that.  Notre Dame a staple of Christianity served as a protection offering children the lesson that it will protect you at your worst times?  Is Christianity the only religion that can save you?

This picture made me chuckle a little bit lol


Tiana, Disney's first African American Princess
"A black Cinderella? Give me a break." Christensen is giving an account of one of her student's thoughts on the lack of black heroines in Disney films.  This student who's name is Kenya goes on to say the following as well, "Women who aren't white begin to feel left out and ugly because they never get to play the princesses. This is another major problem that has been reinforced in Disney's Animated Classics for years now. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was Disney's first animated classic and was released in 1937. Since that time there have been more than fifty Disney animated films produced and only one showcasing an African American as the lead.  The Princess and the Frog was released in 2009 with it's first black Princess named Tiana. I believe it was long overdue; 72 years since Disney's first princess. It's essential to incorporate everyone because when you marginalize certain groups it really does have a significant impact. It was fair that black children couldn't relate to the heroines/princesses. It's not just black kids, it's for every non-white child out there that feels excluded.

An interesting point to be noted is that villains like Maleficent and Ursula are not white. They are sinister and evil, out to destroy the Princesses in the film and Disney decides to make them of a different color. Why can't they be white like their counterparts in the film? One of Christensen's students pointed this out. "Look, Ursula the sea witch is ugly and smart. Hey she's kind of dark looking." Is Disney going to literal with the villains being dark and sinister? Is this implying that only people of color have to be villains. They should be only to be heroes too. We were first introduced to white privilege with Johnson and he mentions that it takes place whether you decide to acknowledge it or not. If you are not white, then there's a chance you've been discriminated against at some point in your life. Like the comparison he gave to a white homeless man to a black homeless man, society is going to give the black homeless man a harder than the white one.  I wonder if the same thought process subconsciously occurs when people compare Tiana from The Princess and The Frog to the other princesses. 


"My waist didn't dip into an hourglass; in fact, according to the novels I read my thick ankles doomed me to be cast as the peasant woman reaping hay while the heroine swept by with her handsome man in hot pursuit." Christensen has a lot to say about ablebodiedness in this text.  Disney heroines/princesses are expected to fit the Americanized idea of beauty. They need to be unrealistically slender and they need to exude some sort of charm. Only pretty skinny girls get to be princesses! This is the message that is being sent and I think it's disgusting because beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. To insinuate that only pretty girls get a happy ever after is very destructive to the psychology of little girls watching these films.  They start to constantly compare themselves to these characters and start becoming self conscious of their bodies. "When women do appear, they look like Jessica Rabbit or Playboy Centerfolds" (Christensen 130).

Who ever said big girls don't do it better than skinny girls
girls was obviously misinformed. Ursula you WORK IT!

One thing I noticed in Disney's The Little Mermaid, is that Ariel was disabled for most of the film. Many of you probably already know the story of Ariel making a deal with the Sea Witch Ursula that would make her human for three days. However, in order to make this happen Ariel needed to surrender her voice to Ursula. So for the majority of the films Ariel was a mute and it significantly made it harder for her. She was a mermaid turned human who also lost the capabilities to speak. How was she ever to land her man now that she couldn't speak?  Prince Eric and his subjects would also misconstrue what she intended to say. You could tell that it was obvious that they were treating her like a girl with a disability. This reminds me of Delpit's The Silenced Dialogue. Literally, Ariel couldn't speak and she was new that environment. Ariel wasn't apart of the culture of power because she wasn't being heard throughout the film. She wasn't heard even before she lost her voice. Her own father barely listened to what she wanted inevitably making her sell her soul to Ursula.  Much like the African American teachers who would raise questions to the white teachers but were never heard is almost identical to this situation. Christensen would say that Ariel's literal Silenced Dialogue had affect with her chance to land her man of her dreams. Remember only the perfect girl with no flaws got the Prince. For example, when Ursula used Ariel's voice and disguised herself as a human, Prince Eric was getting ready to leave Ariel. Really, you go for someone just because their voice sounds pretty!?

I would say that Ariel is not in the code of power!


Christensen gives us an example of how Americanness is favored in society via a Popeye episode. "Ali
Baba and the 40 Thieves," that depicts all Arabs with the same face, same turban, same body--and they are all thieves swinging enormous swords" (130).  This misrepresentation of the Arab community is not good because the children watching this are going to assume all Arabs are thieves and that is racism at it's finest.  The hero of the cartoon is a white american man who helps stop the Arabs who are dubbed the "bad guys", implying the superiority of Americanness.  After all this cartoon was created and produced in America, so to see american as the the dominant ideology is not surprising.   

One Disney Classic that comes to mind, while thinking of society favoring Americanness is Lady and The Tramp. It's very subtle but I feel like there is some merit behind my philosophy.  From my perspective, the two Siamese Cats are a symbol that oppresses the oriental community.  Before, I state my reasons for my claim, I must provide you with some background information that will hopefully enlighten you about the claim I'm to make.  In 1882, this country constituted The Chinese Exclusion Act that lasted until December 17th, 1943.  This act prevented any Chinese or Oriental person from gaining citizenship into the country. When these said people tried to come to America to chase the American Dream they were sent and imprisoned at a place called Angel Island, which was like a cross between Ellis Island and Guantonomo Bay. This was the first time in American History that one Ethnic group was refused entry into the country.  Walt Disney was born in 1901 and lived in the country while the Exclusion Act was in effect.  Lady and The Tramp was released in 1955 but began production a few years before. 

Going back to the Siamese Cats in The Lady and the Tramp, they are presented as two menacing and evil characters.  They are the pets of Aunt Sarah who also a very mean character in the film. These two Oriental cats are literally confined to Aunt Sarah's carrying basket and are only seen when she leaves. Once they are out of the basket they release their hell on poor Lady who in the end gets blamed for all their wrong doings. When the Chinese were sent to Angel Island they were literally imprisoned in cell for numerous years and put to work for a country they weren't citizens, but prisoners for. So that basket that those cats are in are like the cell confining them.  Look what happened when they escaped, they caused trouble for the pure bread American girl, Lady.  Maybe I'm reading too much into it but I think it's subtly defaming the Oriental community. 

Americanness has been presented in many of the class readings so far, but the one that sticks out the most is Aria. Where Rodriguez was forced to give up his culture to fully become American. He was told to give up his Spanish roots and learn strictly English. When he didn't know English he felt confined sort of like he was placed in that basket with those two cats. He was isolated from the American Culture for not being American enough.  So much for the melting pot, huh?


"I don't want students to believe that change can be bought at the mall, nor do I want them thinking that the pinnacle of a woman's life is an "I do" that supposedly leads them to a "happily ever after." Christensen actively takes a stance on how maleness is a prominent ideology in society. When topics arise in the classroom of making the princess black or of a different ethnicity, Christensen doesn't believe that will fully eliminate other problems. She then uses the cartoon Popeye again to show how women are the submissive stereotype in most cartoons and that the man is the one that saves the day. 

The book that I read entitled Good Girls &Wicked Witches: Women in Disney's Feature Animation by Amy M. Davis illuminates women's role in Disney even more. This book is a very enjoyable read and provides you with a lot to think about. To begin let's talk about the heroines/princesses of the Disney Films. Davis states that these princesses including Snow White and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) attain their happy endings by doing absolutely nothing. Passivity is key to happiness in women. She then argues that the female Disney Villains are the hard working, go-getters, that work hard to try attain their own happy ending but fail miserably all the time. This definitely says something about how women were perceived in this time period. It's implying that women should be passive and that happiness will eventually come to you no matter how long you wait. This is definitely hindering to all female because it's teaching them to not be independent individuals. To show hard working women getting defeated is detrimental because it's reinforcing the fact that women need a man to rely on, which I think is total B.S. To be honest I've always liked the villains much more than the so-called "heroes." At least a villain will try to get shit done and they look fabulous doing it!


It was also brought up how the women in the Disney Film is always willing to give her life up for the man. Almost every Princess leaves her life behind to start a new one with her man.  Why do women have to give up their lives in order to appease their suitors. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel gives up everything her whole life under the sea just to be with a man. She had to grow accustomed to a whole new way of life just so that she could be with him. This shouldn't be a message that young girls are receiving. 

Ariel willing to give up her life!

Finally, the role of the man in the film! As mentioned earlier, Aurora literally did nothing but sleep and she still got her man. She was asleep practically half the movie and all her wishes come true without her having to work for it. Prince Phillip in the Sleeping Beauty is given all the praise by defeating Maleficent. Look at the prince in Snow White who only made like fifty second cameo throughout and received all the praise. He was praised for saving Snow White by bringing her back to life. The dwarfs also get credited for defeating the witch. No matter how long a man is in these films they always end up looking the hero at the end and they receive all the credit. However, in later Disney Films this started to shift as women were given roles that showed them as the heroes.

Property Ownership:

Snow White's Castle
This one is kind of obvious in Disney Films.  Property ownership plays a significant part in most of Disney's animated classics. If you look at the features that contain Princess and Princes such as Snow White, Cinderella, Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast you see that property ownership plays a significant part. The same message is being put forth in all of these films, that you need to find a man that's filthy rich, that has a high social class, and that owns a lavish mansion, in order to live happier ever after. If the heroines are not already heir to their own family fortunes, they end up attaining some type of fortune by the end of film, most typically when they meet their "prince charming." Is money really that important? I don't like this message that Disney is implying through children's movies because the idea of meeting the man of your dreams and whisking away to his mansion in a fairy tale land, is pretty convoluted. Money isn't synonymous with happiness. 

Castle in Beauty and The Beast

Do you think that movies really have a huge impact on children? Do children really absorb these subtle messages and the ideologies of society they represent? Is there anything that parents can do or say to their children while watching these beloved classics or should the movies just not be watched anymore? I personally feel that Disney needs to take bigger "risks" and and try to relate to everyone to avoid marginalization. 


  1. Alex,

    As always, an amazing post! I love that you broke down this article by connecting it to S.C.W.A.A.M.P. because it deals with the privileged people of America. What better what to prove their privilege that using the dominant pop culture interest of Disney Movies?! Perfect! You definitely know your movies & you show very well the amount if research you put forth in your blog. Kudos.

    I love that you hyperlinked to your other blog post! Way to market yourself while driving the point home! Brilliant!

    You've really illuminated the Christian point for me with Hunchback. You are right, that film is filled with religious zealousness as well as rejecting the outcasts of every other religion. Because Frollo prides himself on being a good Christian but doesn't act as such (good Christians accept all people, no?), he does represent Christian's in a negative light, just like you said. Nice Eisner note too.

    Good point about The Princess and the Frog too. There hasn't been any black characters, never mind a lead since. As far as the villains go though, I think Disney protects themselves by making the faces green and purple instead of brown or olive. But you are right, they are of a darker complexion.

    One thing to note about Ariel losing her voice is that it shows she must give something up to please her man, a.k.a. legs. It also shows that Eric likes her only for her beauty because he doesn't know her at all. He can't have conversations with her and she doesn't show that she is kind hearted. He does however, fall in love with her in three days time. What kind of lesson is that sending?

    Unbelievablably accurate reference to Lady and the Tramp. I love that you brought history into it. I just learned about how badly we treated Asian immigrants last week when I read Early Ninetieth Century history. They mention the The Chinese Exclusion Act as well as the fact that did a lot of the railroad work, laying the rails and many were crushed because of it. They also were sent into the gold mines to be used as a canary. They helped build America and yet weren't even allowed to call themselves one until 1943. I think you are spot on with the cats being confined to the basket, like they were on Angel Island. The fact that they call mischief is also a racist message.

    Hardworking villains loss, passive princesses get everything. Interesting observation! Woman giving up their lives for the men is probably a throw back to how it was in olden days but it's still not the message I want to portray to my children!

    Really great job Alex! You were correct, I did enjoy it!

  2. Alex
    this is an amazing post. Relating Disney to S.C.A.A.W.P. was full of such rich connections. I never would have thought about LGBT and the characters in the princesses movies. None of them are homosexual which is strange looking at it form this point of view with the exception of Belle and the Beast.Despite the comments made about Belle being gay might not be true. Belle might have tried to rebel against marriage, to be a leader instead of a follower. I also can agree with you about women having to do absolutely nothing to attain fame, riches and a man. These movies do truly demoralize women which is wrong. However we begin to see more power of women when the movie, Mulan where Mulan wants to fight in war however women are not able to. Yet she still continues on with her plan to disguise herself as a man. In one way the princesses could be seen in a good light because the more i read between the line on your blog the more i am motivated to do everything that the princesses were never perceived to do in their stories.

  3. I posted about Disney being in my English 202 class too. I really like how you made SWAAMP a part of your post. It was really cool.

  4. You were 100% correct when you said I would enjoy reading your post! :)
    You touched on some great topics for each of the characteristics of SCWAAMP. Reading Christensen's article and then your post really put the "magical world of Disney" into perspective. There are so many things wrong with these animations. You would think that Disney, being as large and famous as it is, would be caught up with the times. I cannot believe it took them 72 years to produce a cartoon with a princess of color! Children's minds are very impressionable. So you would also think that Disney and other companies would want to impress GOOD morals onto children.

  5. Hey Alex,
    First off, fantastic job using SCWAAMP. Everything mentioned is not only relevant but also brought up some things that I never even thought of. The part where you mentioned the way the oriental community given the historical context and the timing of it is eye-opening. I don't believe you are looking too deep into it because it's too relatable to the history there not to be what they were aiming for. Like I said really good job the effort really shows.