Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Disney. Not Just Child's Play.

Disney has greatly shaped my childhood.  I think many people could say the same, especially after reading Linda Christensen's "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us," and Lila Johnson's, "Looking Pretty, Waiting for the Prince."  However, I can confidently say that  Disney probably shaped my childhood more than it did yours.  Starting at one-year-old, I have vacationed with my family in Disney World nearly every year.  Every year.  In fact, I was just there this past April.  When I tell people this tradition they judge me and my family for choosing to travel to the same place for some twenty plus years.  I immediately attempt to counter their judgements by telling them that I am not a closed-minded typical American; I have traveled the world, lived in other countries, and continue to do so.  And so has my family.  But the shock does not wear off nor do the judgments halt.

Aside from our annual family vacations to "the happiest place on earth," I grew up on Disney media.  I watched "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid" over and over and over again.  I took comfort in viewing movies that I had already seen and enjoyed.  I liked knowing what was going to happen and as any shrink would tell me, I still do.  I knew that everything was going to be ok in the end.  More than ok in fact, every character would be beautiful and happy.  I was so in love with these movies that I often pretended to be Belle or Ariel.  I favored Disney toys and took shelter in the arms of it's fairytale machine.  My love for Disney is likely more deeply rooted than I will ever realize.  It is irrational.

My memories of Disney do reflect Christensen's claims.  I can make connections between Disney and my thoughts and actions.  For example, as a teenager I can remember being completely absorbed with the notion of having a boyfriend.  I viewed my self-worth as being directly dependent on having a boyfriend.  I would beat myself up psychologically about why I didn't have a boyfriend.  It used to torment me.  I was so worried that the absence of a boyfriend as a teenager meant that I would never get married.  This was a huge concern for me.  It kept me up at night, sent me home crying from school dances, and even caused some body image issues.  Why did I feel that way?  My very ambitious and confident mother never sent me the message that man=happiness.  Nor did my father.  It came from somewhere else and I think that Disney did play a role in that.  Disney and the rest of social media including commercials, movies, magazines, and so on.  Disney is the machine, but it is not singular in this process.

Viewing "Brave" reminded me a lot of "Frozen."  When I first watched "Frozen" I remember being shocked by the plot twists.  Anna was not going to fall in love with the prince and live happily ever after?  Elsa's advice to Anna about not marrying someone she just met seemed so modern, updated, feminist, real; so not Disney.  That part of the film really struck a cord with me.  It reminded me of all the advice my older sister gave to me growing up.  But, I rarely listened to her because she was my older sister.  Now, here was an animated character dishing out the same type of advice and I ate it right up.  Brave does the same thing.  The lead characters are female and they save themselves.  "Frozen" and "Brave" are game changers in the world of children's media.  They are not completely absent of stereotypes or falsities, but they are a step in the right direction.  I feel that both films experienced so much success because society is beginning to demand a more truthful product from the world of children's media.  These fictional stereotypes are beginning to surface and with the help of people like Lila Johnson and Linda Christensen, awareness is spreading.  

While Disney is not the only factor that has shaped my being, it has played a huge role.  How fascinating and also unnerving it is to realize that fiction, children's fiction no less, shapes our reality.  

3 comments:

  1. Jayna,

    I loved this blog post and how truthful it is. You really connected your upbringing that was so ingrained in Disney culture with the articles. Had you ever thought about the influence prior to taking this class?

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  2. Great post. I definitely have some similar experiences to you. I agree about Frozen and Brave being game changers. I wish they had come out when I was younger so that perhaps those messages could have put into the mix of my early influences.

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  3. Jayna,
    You have solid ideas in this blog post that I can connect with, as I too grew up with Disney. Both the movies "Brave" and "Frozen" change my perceptions of Disney as they seem to catch up with the modern day society.

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