Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's a Disney World

Like most young girls in the United States, I grew up watching Disney movies. I think I probably dressed up like a Disney princess for Halloween one year, I may have been Cinderella. I honestly don't remember which character I was. Although I liked Disney, I never felt like I was a hardcore fan. I had friends who were (and still are) huge fans. They own and watch all of the movies repeatedly, have the soundtracks memorized, and travel to Disney World at least once a year. I actually find it really interesting that a number of grown adults are still just as enthralled with Disney as they were when they were children.

I will admit, Disney does have something magical. There are certain elements of their films that really are enticing. There's also something really magical about Disney World. Similar to certain addictive chemicals found in fast food, Disney has got some kind of fairy dust that draws you in. I think the one element that gets me is the music. I'm not talking about song lyrics, but rather the enchanting scores that make you feel comfortable and hopeful. Does this mean that I eat up Disney movies like I eat a bag of chips? No. But it does mean that I feel conflicting emotions when it comes to "dealing" with Disney. On the one hand, I know it's bad for me, but on the other hand it doesn't get under my skin and make me want to stage a revolt. Disney should be as offensive as a lot of the horrendous media out there, say the promotion of the Confederate Flag, but for some reason I don't feel the same as I do about Disney as I feel about that flag and all it represents, but maybe I should. I watched Disney movies as a kid, and I don't feel like I got sucked into Princess Culture. But, I also had many other outside factors that impacted my life in a profound way. My mother went to college and worked full time when I was growing up. My grandmother worked in politics. So maybe these personal experiences and lessons outweighed what Disney wanted me to hear and learn? Or maybe, on a frightening note, Disney did affect me and I just don't realize it?...Also, I wonder if I'd feel differently if I were a person of color, or if I came from a less privileged family.

Having explored some of my feelings towards Disney, I have to ask the question- would I allow my own children to watch Disney movies? Maybe. Do I think some children are more impressionable than others? Yes. Do I want to support a racist, sexist agenda? No. However, I know a number of people who intentionally tried to prevent their children from watching Disney and acting as princesses, and you know what happened? They ended up wanting to be Princesses anyway. I know one family that was so anti-Disney... until they had three daughters. Those three daughters saw Frozen about a year after it was released. My friends tried to do everything they could in order to prevent the girls from seeing Frozen, but ultimately, because of so much outside influence they got to a point where it was just too difficult to say no. All of their friends had seen it. It was everywhere, from restaurant memorabilia to department store clothing. So mom and dad watched it first, discussed the film with their daughters and finally allowed them to watch it.

So this becomes a question of resistance. Do many people feel like Disney isn't the best type of media for their children? Yes. But, are many people willing to stand their ground as film after film is released? No. Parents try to do what's best for their children, but often aren't willing to fight for something they feel kind of negatively about. But what if parents who feel that the lessons portrayed in Disney films are inappropriate chose to allow their children to watch these films, but also helped their children critique them? Similar to Linda Christensen's way of teaching students to think critically about Disney movies. Similar to the way that my friends first previewed Frozen and then discussed it with their children.

Maybe we can't stop the mass obsession with Disney, but what if we can teach children to think critically about what they watch? What if we can start to shift the tide? I agree with Christensen's call to action. Rather than censoring films and telling her students not to watch them, she asks them to look for themes and patterns.Christensen does this with older students, but I think this is something that could start at an earlier age.

I think that when I have my own children I will most likely allow them to watch Disney movies. But what I'll encourage them to do as they watch will be to ask questions. One lesson that comes from Christensen's work is the need to ask questions. If we teach our children (both our own children and our students) to ask questions and really think about what they're watching, we will all be better for it.

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