Saturday, August 25, 2012

According to You, I was Never a Heroine, I was Always a Villain

I got all riled up about this article this morning, which shows us how Disney has "slimmed down and prettied up" it's bad girls for a new doll collection. Which is sort of funny, because after I got all riled up about it, I remembered that I had gotten all upset about it when the article first came out which was like 6 months ago. But such is the life cycle of the internet. 

It's not so much the "slimming down" that bothers me, as much as the "prettied up" part. Every single doll from my childhood has been slimmed down. We all want to look like alien wraiths, okay, whatever. You've been making my princesses that way since I was little. Though to be fair, Snow White looks like a plus size compared to Belle, and Sleeping Beauty was willowy but didn't have Jasmine's improbably tiny waist and giant boobs. The princesses have been drinking lots of cow hormones and getting their periods earlier and earlier. So it sucks, but if you're going to put My Little Pony on a diet, then there is no hope, and parents are just going to have to be more discerning. May I humbly suggest Playmobils for your daughter? Best toys I ever had. 

No, what bothers me the most is something A.S. Byatt referred to in her now infamous essay about the easily consumable tame fake darkness of Harry Potter.  

"But in the case of the great children's writers of the recent past, there was a compensating seriousness. There was -- and is -- a real sense of mystery, powerful forces, dangerous creatures in dark forests. Susan Cooper's teenage wizard discovers his magic powers and discovers simultaneously that he is in a cosmic battle between good and evil forces. Every bush and cloud glitters with secret significance. Alan Garner peoples real landscapes with malign, inhuman elvish beings that hunt humans. 

 Reading writers like these, we feel we are being put back in touch with earlier parts of our culture, when supernatural and inhuman creatures -- from whom we thought we learned our sense of good and evil -- inhabited a world we did not feel we controlled. If we regress, we regress to a lost sense of significance we mourn for. Ursula K. Le Guin's wizards inhabit an anthropologically coherent world where magic really does act as a force. Ms. Rowling's magic wood has nothing in common with these lost worlds. It is small, and on the school grounds, and dangerous only because she says it is. 

 In this regard, it is magic for our time. Ms. Rowling, I think, speaks to an adult generation that hasn't known, and doesn't care about, mystery. They are inhabitants of urban jungles, not of the real wild. They don't have the skills to tell ersatz magic from the real thing, for as children they daily invested the ersatz with what imagination they had."

Of course, Ms. Byatt's point about Rowlings totally applies to Disney as a whole, and has from the get go, but I take it to heart especially here, as a last indecency. We have systematically erased any seriousness from our evil. We have dumbed it down and made it funny, and now we want to make it pretty too. That isn't teaching any child how to prepare for real evil when they have to face it, it isn't hammering home any points about good and evil, and it certainly isn't promoting any kind of real heroism. 

What bothers me most about the makeover of my villainesses is that by slimming them down and covering them in poofy skirts, we have erased even the personality from them, and with that, the source of their power. They have gone from being actual forces of evil, dangerous things who will do bad things to you, to being pretty little girls who aren't blonde and maybe overpluck their eyebrows. They have become interchangeable molds instead of real people, the only real people in any of the damn Disney films.

Now maybe I wasn't supposed to look up to Maleficent, Ursula, or the Wicked Queen as a child, but I certainly had nothing in common with the princesses - pure and good creatures whom everybody loved because of how pretty they were. I was not a pretty child and I was not a good child. I am not a pretty woman, and I am not a "good" woman, I get angry and yell and cry. Nobody is ever going to want to rescue me or take care of me because of my physical beauty, or my angelic calmness, and I knew this from a very young age, because my stories taught me. They taught me that magically good things happened to very pretty people, and the rest of us had to take power if we wanted it, especially if we were brunettes. If the system is going to fuck with my head and condition me to feel this way as a little girl, don't then take away the one good lesson I managed to get from the whole vile mess, which is that real women were maybe not pretty, but they were smart and strong and lived by themselves in really cool castles.

See, the key to the Disney Bad Girls is that they aren't girls at all. They are all older women, who have had to fight and scheme to get to whatever position of power they have now, and don't have any qualms about taking advantage of some young girl's stupidity to keep that power. You can say whatever you want about Disney painting these women as evil and what that means, that's a valid point. But they also made them the coolest character.  The Wicked Queen, she's a fucking chemist and a master of disguises. Maleficent TURNS INTO A DRAGON.  Ursula is a politician, who could choose to be a  pretty young thing if she wanted, but long ago recognized that beauty wasn't real power, talking people into owing you was. Being able to be a wrathful sea goddess who destroys ships was. 

And there's an important point - none of these women is really ugly. They have all made the decision to sacrifice being thought of as pretty for being in power. Being pretty when they were young worked for a little while - the Wicked Queen married Snow White's Dad, Ursula was a favorite at court - but then they got older and had to turn to their other more lucrative skills to stay on top.  This is a real lesson for young girls about getting older, that you can't stay a princess forever no matter how much pink you wear.

The Villainesses are basically what the Princesses turn into when they stop being hot young teenagers. And if they don't wise up, the only other path available to them is death, because any older "good" woman in a Disney film is dead, ie EVERYONE'S MOM.

My brother Nick said it best " The market Disney wants to court, evidently, are people who fantasize about an endless fractal procession of beauty queens murdering beauty queens. "

Some of us managed to learn, despite your best efforts Disney, that being a beauty queen ain't shit. So stop fucking with us.

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