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Monday, January 17, 2005

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Last week was hectic. Our short term session got into full swing. For me this means trying to get 21 students to see the manufacturing of Disney cultural narratives instead of seeing the films as light-hearted, family entertainment. While the course is a bit lighter than my usual literature courses--I don't feel the pressure of accomplishing the multiple goals of teaching basic literary interpretation, teaching research skills, imparting a sense of the history of American literature, and trying to instill a critical sensitivity to the world in general--the disney course brings its own set of pressures. Namely, the stress of a full-force realization of just how insidious and ubiquitious are the standard disney codes.

Eq: a recent paper required students to evaluate images of gender in three films, providing examples based on Elizabeth Bell's notion of a three stage representation of femininity. All the students got the rather easy notion that the heroine will be young and nubile, the evil middle-age woman will be jealous of the youth, and the post-menopausal women will be kind, fairy-god mother types. What was notable was the ways in which they recounted the codes. Bell presents the evil queens as sexually powerful women who challenge the patriarchy and, thus, must be destroyed. The kids saw them as frustrated divorcees lashing out at their younger rivals. Bell notes that the grandmothers of the films are immensely powerful, but in a different sense than the traditional male potency. The students saw them as beings no longer attractive to men, so they don't even try to compete.

The thing is, many of them couched their responses as a directed critique of disney's superficiality, yet their language and choice of words indicated a complete acceptance of the determining role of men in defining the women.


At 12:11 PM, Blogger jo(e) said...

One Disney film I really despise is Beauty and the Beast. If you watch the scenes of the Beast in the early part of the movie, he is the abusive husband/boyfriend whose temper is out of control. But, oh, if some beautiful young woman loves him enough, he will change .... This is a pretty dangerous message. The sad thing is that sometimes a woman internalizes this myth and willingly stays in an abusive relationship, thinking the man will change if she just loves him enough. I hate how Disney (and most of Hollywood) romanticizes abusive relationships.

The Little Mermaid is the other Disney film I really hate. She gives up being who she is, a mermaid, and GIVES UP HER VOICE to get some stupid man whom she doesn't even know. Lovely message ....


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