Please spare us the ‘Disney princess’ programming

The media needs to show more diversity rather than the rigid gender roles of old

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Photo by Katherine McAdoo on Unsplash

he other day — one on which I was lucky enough to be playing great auntie to one of my awesome great nieces — I watched the Disney movie “Ralph Breaks the Internet” with said great niece. It was my second time seeing it, the first being a few years ago with a male friend (who is now in his late 50s … we both still love “kid’s movies”) and really enjoyed it.

While viewing it the other day, this occurred to me: one, “how awesome it is that this movie shows a male and female as simply good friends, with no romantic undertones” — at least as far as I could tell anyway. In most films you can tell almost right away who is going to eventually hook up and/or end up together as the credits roll. It’s so obvious.

But in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” the two main characters, Ralph and Vanellope start and end as friends (although at a distance due to her pursuing her dreams in another video game more exciting than her own, Sugar Rush). So instead of having romantic tension — or the predictable ole Disney theme of “beautiful princess waits for her prince to come sweep her away from her mundane life and they live happily ever after” — this movie teaches good lessons about friendship.

And seriously, isn’t that a really, really vital part of life, to have friends? Yes, some people may say “But having romance is also a very important part of life” and I cannot disagree. I just think, after decades of living, that people should place a greater priority should be placed on having and nurturing friendships rather than on romantic pursuits. Plus, I wish the movie industry would back off the with romantic story line with which most of us are familiar.

This spoken by a 50-something women for whom having and/or chasing and/or keeping a boyfriend has admittedly been a focus of most of my life. Yes it’s great to find someone to connect with and (hopefully) have a healthy, non-controlling ‘happily ever after’ (“ya, like that’s ever going to happen!!” — Shrek, a delightful example of a more “real world” couplehood in an animated movie). However, it probably should not be so narrow-mindedly focused on to the exclusion of any other life goals (take notes, parents of young people, or any age people for that matter).

As illustrated in movies like “Ralph Breaks the Internet”, it’s been so refreshing in recent years to see that Disney movies are no longer the aforementioned dull Princess-meets-her-Prince story line. Because of our watching movies like these, most of us alive today were programmed to believe that we, too, would find a Prince and life would be grand. Ahh, though as most of us grownups know, life is seldom like the movies … alas.

ack in the day (say, when I was growing up in the 70s) most cartoons and movies had the rigid gender roles of the olden days and I guess that’s because they were showing life as it was at that time …although in the 70s women were starting to enter the workforce more and more, even though in previous generations some also worked outside the home. Remember “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons,” two of my favorite cartoons, both of which had stay-at-home moms while dad went off to work every day.

In the movies from that era, most of the fare was like “Sleeping Beauty” or “Snow White” and “Cinderella,” those shows with the theme of “some day your prince will come.” This message was ingrained in our minds, thus programming us to believe in all that baloney. Since I’ve grown up, the world now consists of a large percentage of single parents, and women are a good proportion of the work force. The so-called “nuclear family” isn’t the norm anymore, nor are we all guaranteed a soul mate is out there just waiting to pop into our lives. So it’s wonderful to see shows that depict the world as it is today and not the ideal of what it was supposedly like in the 70s (or 50s) nor though a fantasy romantic lens in which the soul mate exists (and we might, realistically, never find him/her).

Though animated and real-lie shows (think: sitcoms like “Everyone Loves Raymond,” or a slew of others I could name but am sure most readers know what I’m talking about) have changed little over the last decades; many of what is seen on TV shows still features a married couple … which seems to be pushing the message on viewers that marriage is a preferred state in which to live (there are many who disagree and are happily UN-married). This message is further poured into our minds through the “rom-com” movies we’re all familiar with, that are as predictable as an old Disney movie: girl meets guy, there’s a spark, then maybe a little dust-up on the way, though they end up goggly-eyed and giddily in love by the end of the show (cue to a picture of a woman putting her finger down her throat).

“If life were like the movies, I would never be blue. But here in the real world, it’s not that easy at all. When hearts get broken, It’s real tears that fall …” Alan Jackson

(Speaking of cartoons, they now have devolved into basically half-hour commercials for some towy (think Power Rangers) and include dogs plus other inanimate objects that can talk. Watching these programs, I think the programs are pretty “fluffy” and pointless. But then again because I am of an advanced age and maybe don’t see the point or the life lessons in, say, “Paw Patrol” — unless the lessons are about the importance of friendship, which is the only redeeming feature I can see on “PP” besides the cute dogs).

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

(Note: who remembers the prince and princess in the above picture? Recall how their fairy-tale romance as a royal couple played out? Now that’s a reality check for you, to counter all the fluffy romantic garbage being poured in our heads.)

Messages from these cartoons, sitcoms, rom-coms and other movies are subtly programming people every single day. What I see as so-called “entertainment” out there today makes my stomach turn (I refer to the abundance of “reality shows” most of which I can’t BELIEVE that people actually waste precious time in their lives watching. But apparently they do). What I hear on the media makes me worried about the garbage they are pouring into the heads of our kids as well as ourselves, therefore programming our minds.

Because we currently live in a world where technology has more or less taken over our lives, there are more avenues through which we can be programmed by the media. Make no mistake; we are all being programmed to believe certain things (such as Fox News trying to convince people that President Trump is a “good” Commander-in-Chief … LOL) through the various media that we consume: TV shows, news channels, movies, YouTube, social media sites, etc. A large percentage of the world’s people have their faces stuck to an electronic device for hours every day and it shapes their worldviews and mindsets to a large degree.

This programming — be it political or a fantasy promoted by the Disney movies, or life coaching, etc. — is going on 24/7. These movies are of course, part of that brainwashing, mostly aimed at kids (unless you’re a big kid like me and love animated movies). That said, I have seen (while I’m with my great nieces or over at their houses) things in kids’ shows, as well as films, that make me think, “Really?!?! What decade are we living in, the 50s???”

In particular I’m referring to some animated show my great nieces were watching at my house one day when I had them over. The cartoon had teenagers who apparently were stuck in the “old days” with (what I saw as) sexist stereotypes. I remember a girl saying how “tough” math class is. Another girl worried about her looks, speaking all the insecurities that most of us lived with/had in our teen years. Yet another was concerned about “getting the guy” and talked badly about another girl she saw as “competition” for said guy.

It occurred to me that not ONE of these girls was talking about her AP classes (Advanced Placement, that young people take for college prep) or her career aspirations (as in “I wanna be an astronaut/IT person/CEO of a company/molecular biologist”). The truth is, more graduating senior girls are now going into college and preparing for careers (so, TV producers, take note). Upon listening to this crap on the cartoon I seriously wanted to throw up. I didn’t, because I detest vomiting, but I did have a few words with my great nieces about what they were seeing. Maybe in some small way I can deflect some of the sexist, rigid gender-role specific programming they may be consuming. I hope. I tried to control my son’s consumption of music that referred to women as “bitches” and “hos” — because he didn’t need to hear that shit disrespecting women — and I think I succeeded.

Therefore, this is why I am very happy to see movies like “Ralph Breaks the Internet” which aren’t predicated on that tired Disney boy-meets-girl theme. Like millions of other people, I totally love “Frozen,” a movie which (in my interpretation) shows life a little bit more like it really is (even though yes, there is a love connection there). In “Frozen” Else eventually learns to embrace and live with — rather than hide away — her power. And Anna … well, she eventually finds the guy she fits with, (a “real fixer-upper”, my favorite song of the movie as sung by the trolls, because it is so true: no one is perfect) after an-almost fatal fling with an evil prince. Which in my mind proves that the prince isn’t always the one we should want, am I not right?

Then we have “Mulan” about a female warrior, another show with a strong female lead — of which we need more. Not only is Disney giving us movies who are strong/fighters/victors they’re also presenting characters of color, for which I’m also glad.

I’m sure there’s a number of other movies, animated and not, that show strong women and situations that more resemble life today — that is, showing people taking on so-called unconventional/untraditional roles in life, as well as showing people of different races/backgrounds. Which, happily, shows that the media/movie industry has caught on that the real world has changed and we are not all “damsels in distress”, waiting to be “rescued” and swept away by a dashing male heroic figure. Some women are single moms who are doing very well at single mom-ing and not necessarily waiting around for “Mr Right” to show up at their door because they’re too busy having a life (think: Val in the beloved, late cartoon series, Stone Soup). Hey, perhaps that could be an animated movie lead character some day!!

ll I’m saying is: it would be nice if the media actually reflected the diverse lifestyles and viewpoints of today, the 2000s, rather than depicting boring and predictable themes from “back in the day.” Please, movie producers, stop programming people with “fluff” films with outdated themes and messages. Oh, and while you’re at it, please hire intelligent writers who might create some intelligent fictional shows … like, say, some of the sitcoms of the 90s. It’s just a thought.

Experienced professional writer/freelancer and former newspaper reporter-turned-online writer/blogger. Thinker. “Old soul”, young hippie, empath.

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