Disney was the very first company I ever boycotted. I think I was 10 when the idea came to me.
Realizing Disney had never once in all those years produced a story that featured a female hero (heroine, whatever), I decided to avoid spending money on anything from which they might draw a profit. They featured females, all right, so long as said females were comatose or destitute, and in need of rescue by a man. Eventually, The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas came along, and I think a very young cousin did eventually rope me into seeing The Little Mermaid, but honestly, by that point I was so soured on the whole idea of Disney that I don’t remember the movie at all. People assured me that those two were different.
Color me underwhelmed.
I had gained more reasons for boycotting Disney over the years. One was that I felt their marketing was designed to pit kids against parents, with the kids guilting the parents into buying them everything. After all, you can’t just have the Disney stuff you want. Disney pretty much invented the whole “Collect All 6,512 Pieces” craze, partnering themselves with other mega-gloma-corporate entities, assaulting us all with a consumerism that rivaled that of Christmas.
Disney presented a very narrow view of the world. There are two genders, girls and boys. Girls strive to be lovely, inside and out. Boys strive to be strong, inside and out. Girls like dresses and parties. Boys like sports and fighting. Girls fantasize about their weddings, and finding true love. Boys fantasize about slaying dragons and rescuing people.
Did Disney invent this world view? I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer, since it all started before my time and history is written by the people in charge of the present. Was the world always so narrow minded? I don’t get the impression it was, when I read about the Romantics, or about cultures throughout history in which women have been trained for battle as well as cooking. Humanity has always had a tendency to define gender roles, to be sure; but at many points, we seem to have recognized that a society is stronger if it takes advantage of whatever an individual has to give, whether it fits a predefined construct for them or not.
The twentieth century was not one of those points, and Disney played a role in that by laying the stereotypes on thick – always the same relentless message, like some nightmarish scene out of 1984. The chant just keeps on, monotonous, drumming the ideas into society’s skull. There’s a reason repetitious chants are used in brainwashing prisoners of war. And as a kid, I was very angry and very vocal about what I perceived as wrong with these messages: I didn’t realize it then, but I was counter-chanting my own message, trying to keep myself from falling under the spell.
Kids look for messages from society on who they’re supposed to be. People get very excited about the message a shoot-em-up movie sends, but what about Snow White, where the lead female’s stepmother keeps trying to murder her out of jealousy over her beauty? Just what kind of a message do people think that sends?
Well, once Disney got done wrapping it in Technicolor and choreographsed musical numbers, all most people seem to remember is the message someday my prince will come. But I think we’re internalizing a lot more of the message than that.