Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Our Media Myths

Myths and propaganda are everywhere in our daily lives. It is important to acknowledge that some of these myths have been ingrained into us as consumers of American society. 

Disney has been a big producer of American cultural propaganda. Growing up, I was a big Disney consumer. My sisters and I grew up watching every Disney movie and singing along. I have continued this tradition as I have gotten older, viewing every new Disney movie as it is released into theaters. These texts shaped a lot of my views as a child. My cousins and I spent many afternoons re-watching Disney movies together and playing dress up. In play, I was always a beautiful princess. For a period of time I even insisted that my parents, sisters, and dance friends refer to me as Jasmine from Aladdin.

This confession aside, I also studied some of the Disney movies with a critical lens during my undergraduate courses. My thesis umbrella was popular culture so I spent the majority of my senior year analyzing atypical texts. Acknowledging the hidden myths embedded in these Disney experiences is frightening. Ariel Dorfman says it best when she describes these hidden meanings as a "secret education" that teaches the expectations of society. Although reviewing these films from a critical lens can be humorous as adults, it is scary how subtle these messages are. 

Here is a TED talk that shows the dangers of these myths that we reproduce over and over.

I found Brave to be an excellent push against the norms of princess culture. The biggest part of this push was resistance of marriage and tradition. Unlike most Disney princesses whose goal is to get married, Merida has no interest in getting married. In fact, she has no male love interest throughout the movie. 

Although her father fits the strong, protective male role and her mother fits the thin, ladylike female role, Merida fights against her female duties. She learns to use a bow and arrow better than any of her suitors, she keeps her hair wild and free, she does not use a crown or tiara, she snorts, and she eats freely. Her father even seems to support her male traits. He gave her her first bow, he tells her she can eat however she wants, and he even jokes with her while her suitors compete for her hand in marriage. Despite her mother's push for manners, she eventually finds usefulness in the "male" survival traits her daughter has accumulated.

In this same respect, her father does not seem to be the head of the household. Although he is the protector, Merida's mother arranged for the clans to meet. She also is a better orator so she often has to take over for him as he stumbles through his speeches. She makes the main decisions including ending the tradition of betrothal.

With these great strides towards a gender-ly neutral narrative, there are still some underlying negative views expressed in Brave. For example, the overweight baker is often fooled and taken advantage of throughout the movie. Macho traits are bragged about and seen as badges of worth. And even more importantly, when clans were competing their were constant femininity comments that suggested homosexuality in a negative light. These slight issues still play a major role in a movie's message. 

1 comment:

  1. Kara - I love your connection to Adichie's talk! It's the first TED talk I ever saw and forever remains my favorite. I also immediately thought of it while reading the excerpt from Tatum's book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria that Christensen included in her essay. Tatum said, "The secondhand information we receive has often been distorted, shaped by cultural stereotypes, and left incomplete." I think this quote perfectly captures Adichie's message about the "danger of a single story."