What’s the matter with Disney?

23 July 2022

5:07 PM

23 July 2022

5:07 PM

If there’s one thing that gives a bad name to gender stereotyping it’s the Disney princess: a combination of hideous synthetic fabric and a noisomely winsome concept. And yet the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques at Disney Parks are popular with families as a place where their offspring can get dressed and styled as their favourite Disney characters, i.e. princesses or, in the case of a smaller number, knights.

Now, the Streaming the Magic blog – which posts on Disney Parks – reports that:

Disney will continue their efforts at being more inclusive with all guests & cast members by renaming the Boutique cast members to ‘Fairy Godmother’s Apprentices’ rather than ‘Fairy Godmothers in training’. This way cast members that might not identify as female can still be part of the process to dress up & style the children without having to refer to themselves as a female Disney character.

Disney Parks’s website itself now refers to ‘Godmother’s Apprentices’. I’d say the whole exercise is an exercise in cold-blooded cynical commercialism, whether it’s provided by a Fairy Godmother’s Apprentice or Fairy Godmothers in Training. The princess stereotype is a caricature of the feminine which sits oddly with the company’s new attempt at inclusivity. It’s an exploitation of a children’s natural love of dressing up (which should cost next to nothing) and it’s a very weird image to project onto girls so young. See below:

‘Watch Fairy Godmothers-in-training give your little angel a head-to-toe makeover that’s storybook stunning. Children can choose from one of 3 hairstyles, then add makeup, nail color and accessories—even a Disney Princess costume—to complete the look. It’s a fairy-tale moment worthy of the ultimate ‘happily ever after!’

Alas, the happily ever after is unlikely to include the parents or minders of the children concerned, who’ll be relieved of anything from $69.95 to $450 plus tax at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, depending on whether they’re getting a Crown Package, a Deluxe Castle Package or a Princess Signature Dress Collection.

The original lyrics in Cinderella, 1948, put it thus:

Sala-gadoola-menchicka-boo-la bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
It’ll do magic believe it or not

And it does do magic: turning Fairy Godmothers in Training into non-gendered apprentices who will shake down parents for every penny they’ve got.

It’s all of a piece with Disney’s activism on the sexuality front. The CEO Bob Chapek had a run-in with the Florida governor Ron DeSantis earlier this year. He took exception to the Parental Rights in Education Act, informally known as ‘Don’t Say Gay’, which bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity from nursery until they’re 8. It’s also banned instruction about these issues ‘in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate’.

Critics say this is too vague; supporters, that it prevents children being taught about these things too early. Whatever. Ron DeSantis duly stripped Disney – the biggest employer in Central Florida, thanks to Disney World in Orlando – of its self-governing status.

The social activism of the company doesn’t stop at lobbying. There was something of a kerfuffle when the journalist Christopher Rufo reported that Latoya Raveneau, an executive producer with Disney animation, had declared at an employee meeting earlier this year that she:

‘didn’t have to be afraid to like, let’s have these two characters kiss in the background. I was just wherever I could, just basically adding queerness. If you see anything queer in the show, no one would stop me, and no one was trying to stop me.’

He also revealed that the company’s corporate president, Karey Burke says, ‘as the mother of two queer children’, she supports having ‘many, many, many LGBTQIA characters in our stories’. She also said her son told her that ‘Gen Z is 30 to 40 per cent queerer’ than other generations and that Disney ‘better get with it’’ The New York Post reported that she wants 50 per cent of Disney characters to be LGBTQIA or other minorities.

Ah well. How very very far all this is from the outlook of Walt Disney himself. The great man was a devoted Congregationalist, though nothing like as strict as his father, who took a dim view of alcohol or frivolity or entertainment on Sundays.

So, when Disneyland was opened, it was dedicated by a Congregationalist clergyman. Walt observed:

‘Whatever success I have had in bringing clean, informative entertainment to people of all ages, I attribute in great part to my Congregational upbringing and my lifelong habit of prayer. To me….all prayer, by the humble or highly placed, has one thing in common: supplication for strength and inspiration to carry on the best human impulses which should bind us together for a better world.’

Clean, informative entertainment, eh? That sound you hear from Forest Lawn, California is Walt, turning in his grave.

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