Monday, June 8, 2009

Yeah, But What About Real Role Models?

Into the Disney cast of Princesses charges Tiana (below), poor thing

In this overprotective, kid-centric culture of ours, I have no explanation for the Princess Phenomenon other than the simple fact that marketing trumps good sense, materialism has more meaning than role models of substance, that spending equals good.

Else, my suspicion is that Walt Disney's princesses, regardless of their race, creed or color would have been laughed outa here as impossibly frivolous and even dangerous stereotypes years ago. But it didn't happen and now our little girls are dressing as a variety of dependent, entitled little beauties whose only goal in life is to be pretty and to marry that guy with the big horse. The sooner the better, so let's get a nice boob job at 13 to enhance--so to speak--our chances, ladies.

Disney's newest profit center ... uh, princess ... breaks ground in that she's African American and stars in "The Princess and the Frog." This is ground I'm wondering if my African bretheren need to have seen broken. Equality is great when what's being sought is desirable. This princess, Tiana, is so hot she gets to have a Brizilian boyfriend, and we have to wonder what are the young African American boys thinking about not qualifying as princes.

I don't know exactly how this story will play out, but it appears to be yet another chapter in the saga of young women--girls--using their "feminine wiles" as they were once called, in order to entrap rich young men so the princesses-in-waiting can get what they deserve: a castle full of clothes and other necessities, a stable of the best Arabian stallions, 100 handmaidens, all the makeup Max Factor can imagine and, well, whatever they want to imagine.

She's a princess. She's pretty. She's entitled. She won the prince and never has to lift a finger--not to mention a brain--again.

So who's responsible for this misplaced emphasis? Marketers? Yes. A society that places far too much value on being pretty and not enough on having something under all that hair besides air? Yes. Mothers? Yes. Fathers? Not so much, in my experience (let me emphasize in my experience so Betsy Gehman won't call me a "misogynist" again). Grandfathers? Not this one.

I don't know where I'm going with this except to scream fecklessly into the digital netherworld. Nothing I can say or do will change anything. My granddaughter and your child will continue to gather mounds of princess gear at every occasion and when, at some point in the future, she is lying on the shrink's couch lamenting her tortured childhood, not a soul will dare point to a body image created by Disney animators, to values built on a cartoon storyboard, to interests formed by marketers whose only goal is to sell "product," no matter how that's accomplished--even at the cost of the very culture they seek to shape. These are as completely amoral a group of people as it is possible to create.

All this is an exasperating thought, one I had hoped not to have again after George Bush left Washington.


  1. Hiya Dan. You know what? I used to think along the same lines: All this stuff is ruining America, regardless of age.

    Consumerism, marketing, talking heads, "role models," progressively crappy music, endless bad news on TV, desensitizing new extreme experiences, etc.

    Then I realized how life on earth runs around in circles. Most people arriving at middle-age defend their "back-in-my-day" story, and everything going on presently will be heralding in the end of time as a consequence.

    I have a niece whose single mom would be in the poor house if it weren't for grandparents. What or whom is to blame? Television? Schoolmates' peer pressure? Adults who cannot say "no," and mean it?

    I choose the latter. People have the power, and the choices. Who is to say what constitutes acceptable consumerism? And how does that get adjusted over time? It couldn't rely on math and reading scores, because if that were the case, we'd need some major baby-sitting for adults as well as for children.

    Well, that's what is already going on. We have the gullible people. Then we have the smart people with a conscience. And we have the smart people who know how to play the gullible people. Why are the smart ones with a conscience getting involved? You cannot un-gullible gullible people. They learn one thing as a result of over-protection: they are never at fault.

    I have to laugh whenever I'm considering infringing on other people's stupidity. You are right. It won't go very far. Besides, I am short of being fool-proof, so warning others essentially makes me look like a hypocrite.

    Case in point: I can't blame Jim Cramer for my stupid decisions last year in the stock market. I'll chaulk that one up to experience. A learning experience. If I do it again, I am retarded.

    Another case in point (and you're really gonna hate me for this one): I smoke. I love smoking. I know EVERYTHING that's bad about smoking. But the leading cause of death is being born. So I am enjoying the crap out of my life as revenge.

  2. Ron: I'm not wild about the blame game, either, and, frankly, I enjoy change (at 62 I've embraced social networking, for example, and started a new business after retiring). But when I see something that is so thoroughly out of line with what I believe to be the national interest (the human interest), I have to rebel. I find myself falling into old thoughts about racial stereotyping because the build of depictions of certain people falls into the violent category. It is my responsibility to fight that, but I'm not so sure I should have to. A little shared responsibility goes a long way.

    It is also easy to say "people have the power to ..." when that is not always true. When we are raised with a constant drumbeat of specific thought, how are we to break from it if we do not have the tools? My values go toward self-determination and for that reason, I rebel at the dependent, entitled Princess role model. It is counter to the notion of responsibility and places value on physical beauty and materialism over courage, innovation, education, respect, personal growth and a whole can full of other positive attributes.

    I don't think of us as being gullible or stupid if we finally succumb to incessant one-note marketing. I think that the control we need to exercise is both within us and without (the law). We can exercise both with care, compassion and concern for ourselves, our culture and our world. DAN

  3. You've worked up quite a lather over princesses, Danm and your concern has merit. But as a father with 2 daughters, I'll offer some counterbalance.

    My four-year-old loves the princess and fairy thing. She's a girly-girl, and has played pretend and dress-up and baby-doll since she could sit up, much to my "dismay". It's who she is. Trying to change that would by like screaming into the wind (or screaming at Disney).

    But the princesses and fairies don't have to be about entitlement and materialism. It's up to the parents to steer the values and the conversations. Our daughter's fairies show up in the garden, and help grow the veggies (Disney acutally nods in this direction too). Her princesses are strong and independent as in the kid's book "The Paperbag Princess".

    As far as physical beauty...well, good luck with that one.

    I'm on your side. I wish Disney and others could put up a better role model. It would make my life easier, for sure. But they're not going to. Like everything else, it's up to the parents, the neighborhood, the community.

    Thanks for provoking the thought this morning...

  4. Ok Dan... First, I love your blog and read it religiously... anxiously checking it for what is new in your world...

    That said, I feel the need to remind you that your granddaughter is growing up in a household that encourages her to be strong, independent and intelligent.

    I agree that consumerism and companies like Disney have put unrealistic scenarios on pedestals that can end up leaving our girls with many unfulfilled dreams. In my opinion it is the duty of parents to raise children to understand the difference between the Disney fantasy and reality. I also feel that children should be exposed to as many different kinds of cultures so they have a better world view, and are don't grow up to be so closed minded about the rest of the world. We do our level best to make sure our sweet daughter gets a healthy dose of different cultures as much as possible. We also let the babe play with what she likes, which includes princesses, fairies, dolls, balls, sticks, rocks, dirt, and anything else she can get her hands on. She has even declared that she wants a "boy bicycle when she gets a little bigger". We will continue to encourage her to PLAY and be a KID as long as possible, with out worrying about all the stuff about catching the right guy, being the prettiest and most popular girl in the "class" (which she already is) and all that heavy stuff that can wait until she is an unruly teenager.

    It is also important to us that she have the right role models, and I think those can best be found at home and in one's family, not in picking your favorite super hero, princess, or anything else like that. For heavens sake my parents have always been my role models and the people I attempt to emulate, not any silly old princess. It is my hope that our sweet heart (who is at the moment making funny faces and dancing around the living room in her shark slippers that Pampa bought her) will find that her parents and grandparents are her real role models and not those pretty princesses.

  5. Kara: Nicely stated. I am encouraged (though I had no real doubts about any of you; it's the less strong, the less focused, the less philosophical, the less thoughtful parents who are most susceptible to this suggestion from people who have no morality--none at all, save the dollar).

  6. Kara: Nicely stated. I am encouraged (though I had no real doubts about any of you; it's the less strong, the less focused, the less philosophical, the less thoughtful parents who are most susceptible to this suggestion from people who have no morality--none at all, save the dollar).