Thoughts on children’s media, sexual objectification, and racial stereotypes
So when we last talked, I was just about to go see Disney Live at Dodge Theater. Daija enjoyed it, until it was time to go… she was definitely tired and started melting down. I wasn’t real impressed with the venue (the seating wasn’t stadium style enough, which makes it hard for little people to see), and I didn’t think the show was much better. I mean it was cute, but it was no Disney on Ice. I also noticed something that bothered me… Cinderella (fairy tale origin is Chinese… how did she turn blonde?), Snow White (fairy tale origin is German), and Belle (fairy tale origin is French) were all dressed in the traditional apparel they’re usually portrayed in, but with very modest necklines… not a hint of cleavage. So when Jasmine (fairy tale origin purported to be Arabic or Persian) came out in the low rider genie pants and push up bra… well… given other things on my mind lately it was just glaring that only the brown skinned Princess was dressed like a tramp… essentially portrayed as an object of sexual gratification. In the original fairy tale as well as the Americanized version, Aladdin marries a princess, not a concubine… and this story originates from a period of time in culture that still today does not permit women to parade around half nude. If anything, with the locale supposedly in the middle to far east, one would logically expect a woman of elevated social status to wear clothing of the era… like Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, Mulan, and Snow White wear clothing that is in keeping with what women of their station traditionally wore during the time period of the story.
Note that although it is considered an Arabic tale either because of its source, or because it was included in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, the characters in the story are neither Arabs nor Persians, but rather are from the far east. The Far Eastern country in the story is an Islamic country, where most people are Muslims. There is a Jewish community, regarded by others with a prejudice. There is no mention whatever of Buddhists or Confucians. Everybody in this Far Eastern Country bears an Arabic name and its King seems much more like an Arab ruler than like an actual Chinese emperor. The Country of the tale was a mythic far-off place, definitely eastwards.
Last weekend, I watched Walt Disney Pictures: The Wild, which was much cuter than Madagascar (2005) (which I really didn’t care for). But I noticed a similarity between The Wild and Madagascar that I found bothersome when I first saw Madagascar, which was before I resurrected my dormant interest in such racial issues and was consciously thinking about where and how some children are picking up the message that it’s better to be white.
In both movies, a group of (American) animals escape from New York City and inadvertently sail off to Africa. In Africa, the Animal Americans are met by hostile or off-balance native Animal Africans, with fanatical and/or cannibalistic religious beliefs. Additionally, the Animal American at the top of the food chain in Madagascar begins to lose his civility in this environment and begins to regress into baser Animal African behavior. The movies both end with the Animal Americans, along with some Animal Africans they have rescued, sailing off just as quickly as they can, to return to their lives of captivity in a zoo in America.
It really made me wonder what the kids are getting from this subconsciously. I wonder, especially with Halle, whether these story lines are becoming part of her internal perspective on Africans. Yes, she understands that not everything on TV is real… but at the same time, everything she sees is being catalogues in that little brain. While none of the movies that she’s watched have pointedly said, “it’s better to be white”, she’s picked up that message from seeing repeatedly in media that the standard of beauty is white… despite all the books and dolls we have that depict other races. So she’s seeing these animals with human characteristics who appear to believe that would rather live in cages on display in America than to live in Africa. How is that going to impact her perspective of Africa and Africans, and how will she internalize messages like this with her heritage? I know that some African Americans don’t really identify with being ‘african’ american because the significance of any particular culture has been lost. But that’s not the case with our family, since Ro is adamantly African, or Sudanese, but does not consider himself African American… to the point that if he will check ‘black’ on forms, but will check ‘other’ before he will check African American. So on the one hand the kids get these negative messages about Africa, and on the other they have this role model that is fiercely proud of his culture and adamant about retaining it.
Wish I had conclusions for some of these posts… most of the time I just find more questions.