Pecan Pie

Social Anxiety from the South

Are Pirates Really All that Bad?

I read this article about the Pirates of Caribbean ride at Disney on Sociological Images a couple of days ago.  When I posted it on my Facebook page, I was actually surprised at some of the pushback I received from my friends.  It resulted in a great discussion about personal responsibility, parenting and corporate interests.

I am no friend of Disney.  Now, that doesn’t mean I hate Disney.  They have some incredible media available for both children and adults and, as one of my dearest friends pointed out; Disney has done amazing work through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, granting wishes to children with life threatening illnesses.  They have pioneered open work and play environments for the GLBT community and religious minorities.

Here’s where my problem comes in.  All of those things are great.  But those things generally only touch the people directly involved in either working, attending a park or being involved in that charity.  I live in Georgia.  My son’s exposure to Disney is through movies and the Disney Channel.  While it’ll be a long while before he’s a witness to the offending ride and I agreed with my friends that one 10 minute ride probably won’t go a long way in trivializing sexual slavery for him, I feel I need to look at the bigger picture.

Disney has a habit of trivializing and romanticizing a lot of things.  Anyone who’s taken a basic sociology class has learned about The Little Mermaid giving up her right to speak in favor of finding and pleasing a man, the hyper sexed drunken buffoons in Beauty and the Beast and the rampant sexism by Mulan’s comrades-in-arms.  Disney’s largest contribution to civil rights, in my opinion, is to further a message of patriarchy, sexism and maintenance of the status quo.  Disney’s greatest audience is far outside the gates of the Magic Kingdom.  Children who will never have the opportunity to meet Mickey in person watch Disney movies.

Do I think Disney is evil?  No, I don’t.  But, I do think their messages are mixed at best mixed and grossly irresponsible at worst.  I’m already dealing with a three year old who announces to me that pink is only for girls and explains to me which things only boys are allowed to do.  His influences surely exceed that of Disney, that’s only a small portion of his entertainment, play and education, but, it’s a reinforcement issue for me.  I struggle to know what to do.  Do I let it ride and allow the messages that girls only do X while boys always do Y prevail, or do I severely censor the content he watches every day (thereby making me the mean mommy?)

I don’t know.  I want my child to have all the awesome experiences that all kids should have, including enjoying fun, entertaining children’s media.  He’s too young for an explanation every time he watches the buxom, exotic girl save the white “gods” who in turn save the heathen Native Americans in El Dorado.   But, by the time he’s old enough, will I be fighting a losing battle?

I don’t think that a 10 minute ride or a onetime viewing of Cinderella is going to turn my child into a sexist asshole with no respect for women.  What I think is that prolonged exposure by anyone’s child to preconceived norms for women (and men) and minority populations through children’s media are harmful.  Anytime we allow the media to educate our children on social issues we fail them and we fail all the people who’ve worked against the status quo…and we fail ourselves if we are in anyway interested in a more equitable future.

Written by thelittlepecan

November 12, 2010 at 10:45 am

Posted in atheism

8 Responses

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  1. I don’t get it. Maybe this is something I’m not wired to notice any more than I really notice skimpy clothing on people unless said person touches me with the implied exposed skin and that’s a problem for an entirely different type of reason. I love Disney movies, I always have. But it never once occurred to me that these movies were supposed to have any sort of impact in my real, non-movie life. That makes it really hard to see that others don’t see it the same way. Okay, wrong phrasing, of course I see THAT others see this, now anyway; I just still don’t see WHY anyone sees this stuff this way. It was just always so separate to me.

    There is an episode of the Brady Bunch where Bobby goes through a period of idolizing Jesse James, and everyone gets incredibly concerned about this. They get this old man to come in and talk to him about how his father was killed by the James Gang. ***Spoiler if you care*** That night Bobby has a nightmare in which they are all on a train, the James Gang boards it, and even as Bobby is telling Jesse how awesome he thinks he is, Jesse is shooting the entire family in front of his eyes. He wakes up fully cured of romanticizing histories bad guys. My point — no, really there is one — is that I think this is what you are trying to get across here. That apparently most kids don’t get the difference, and are watching these movies without the benefit of live victims to give a straighter version of the real story, schools are too busy being a battlefield for religious crap and budget cuts, and too many parents are morons just phoning in their parenting.

    However, in my opinion, a movie is just a movie, and it has no responsibility to be more than that unless it goes in stating outright it is a documentary.


    November 13, 2010 at 1:11 am

    • WTF is that random avatar it assigned me? Some sort of bunny-eared gay pride carrot?

      You know, that’s got some possibilities.


      November 13, 2010 at 3:02 am

      • Lol, you can create a Gravatar account if you like, or it’ll always assign a random weird critter 😉


        November 13, 2010 at 7:41 am

    • That’s pretty much exactly my point. Except that, I think there should be some implied responsibility for companies that market almost solely to kids. I’ve recently been made very aware of just how huge child traffiking is around the world (@sctnow on twitter) and watched a documentary about the horrors these girls go through. It is entirely possible that I’m over sensitive to a lot of things, but, I’m not sure how one becomes over sensitive to the abuse of children. I’m not planning to write Disney, demanding they end this ride-because it isn’t the one ride that’s the problem. I think. Better option would be for Disney to take that opportunity to educate their visitors (outside the ride, if we’re being specific) and find a child traffiking charity to donate to, since they are, at least in part, proffiting off of the idea.


      November 13, 2010 at 7:40 am

  2. As a little girl, I was dazzled by Disney. The movies, the toys, the land…….I loved it all. Just the idea of adults catering to my childish imagination, building playlands for children like me and movies for us to love…….it tickled me. In a world of suits and frownie faces, Disney provided an escape for me that I didn’t have to take alone.

    But even then, I knew it had problems. Even as an eight year old girl I knew that most Disney princesses were embarrassingly insipid and willing to give up anything for their men. I knew that the raping and pillaging that is so playfully portrayed in the Pirates of the Carribbean was never, in reality, FUN for the victims.

    Would I stop my children from seeing Pochahontas? Yes–but not because the story is so twisted and wrong. I would never show them that movie because it SUCKS, it was a terrible movie of unbelievably low quality, and I thought it was insulting it was so badly done.

    For my family—-personally? I would take them on the Pirates of the Carribbean ride, and while in line for the next ride, we’d have a healthy talk about it. Knowing my boys, they would also be a little disturbed by what they saw. But it’s a really awesome ride, at least my 8 year old memory of it is pretty strong, and I’d like them to experience that.

    Not that it will ever come up. I’ll never have enough money to take my own children to Disneyland. Grumble. Perhaps the grandkids?

    You know what I really dislike? Disney Princesses. You know, the pink birthday and toy stuff, all the princesses mashed up together looking all pretty and cross-eyed and stuff? I really dislike that whole idea. They are individuals, albeit weak ones, and shouldn’t be lumped together like that.


    November 12, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    • Obviously most of the people who are even interested in what I have to say are mostly extremely socially conscious individuals and they WILL have those conversations with their kids.

      But what about those parents who don’t? Where is our responsibility to their kids, or do we even have any?


      November 12, 2010 at 1:47 pm

  3. I am torn with Disney. Some things I LOVE, others I HATE. I am with you on the movies. funny thing is, when I saw Little mermaid at what, 8 or 9 years old, I thought “why does she have to give up her voice to get the guy, so lame”. I was one of the few kids who didn’t like that movie because of that lol. Don’t get me started on snow white and cinderella.

    Although with Mulan, I always thought of the sexism as making fun of the guys for their stupidity–but that was just my interpretation.

    I agree, disney upholds a lot of sexist ideals–but they are as much to blame as Cosmo, Maxim, MTV, etc. is. the media feeds into social ideas and vice versa and that’s what we see. And thats where the prolonged exposure comes into play.

    I think sometimes it’s looking at the trees vs. the forest. if you look at each individual tree, then yes really what’s the big deal. but look at the whole forest and see what the impact is at large.

    So it’s up to us (collectively) to change what we want to see in the media. I think Mulan/Aladdin was a step in the right direction (as compared to snow white who goes off and lives with strange men and Cinderella who has to hide who she is to get the man). I am curious to see what Tangled will be like as far as all of those go.

    Zeenatroohi Kwon

    November 12, 2010 at 11:04 am

    • I haven’t heard about Tangled. Also, I have a correction, El Dorado is a Dreamworks production. Kid’s media companies have a great opportunity to make leaps instead of strides. They don’t have to “baby step” things, because their influence is already so great. If they build it, the world will come-that’s the luxury of the Disney name. So why not just do it?


      November 12, 2010 at 11:19 am

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