Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cartoon Ladies

Disney is the root of all evil.  No really.  Let me tell you why. Read More...

Disney is the Big Kahuna of cartoons, one of the staples of children's entertainment.  It's interesting to note that the first cartoons were never intended for children, and for good reason.  But with Steamboat Willy, Walt Disney had an empire on his hands.  Disney is incredibly protective of its name and brand, and for good reason: they are the most trusted name in children's entertainment.  But Disney isn't only entertaining children.  It is starting children down a visual path of stereotyping, gender-binaries, and behavioral 'norms.'  (Seriously, no one is 'normal.'  There is something about all of that makes us 'weird.'  Normal does not exist, it's a false utopia that we're all expected to buy into. /mini rant)
Let's start our tour with a look at some of our favorite Disney princesses:

Hello skinny ladies with pale skin, large doe-like eyes, and demure looks.  Light make-up (on assumes).  Why, I would hate to see you scuff your shoes--especially you, Cinderella.  Broken glass in the foot has got to be more of a bitch that your evil stepsisters--and get dirt on all of that pretty tulle and silk.  Seriously, none of these women look like they're suited up to save themselves.  Snow White's prince will ride in on his white horse (and as the oldest of the Princesses, she's a bit more full-figured than any of her anorexic counterparts), Aurora gets to sleep through her grand rescue, Jasmine's will ride in on a magic carpet with Robin Williams at his side, Ariel's is a shallow ass who fell in love with her voice, Belle literally loves a beastly man with rage issues and Cindy's will scour the country side putting shoes on people.  These are the visual role models for little girls.  These are an animator's version of what women should look like.  They were created from scratch; everything they're wearing, everything they say and do in these films, every interaction is created from somebody's mind.

Now, lets take a look at our princes!

Princes correspond to the princesses above.

Light skinned.  Chiseled jaws.  Same body types, with broad shoulders and tapered waists.  Disney princes tend to be fairly blank slates.  Aladdin is the most developed of any of the princes--I don't think Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty really had any significant dialog in the whole movie.  None that I can remember.  They also tend to be defined by their princesses, which is an interesting commentary in and of itself.  The men aren't real  unless they're saving the damsel in distress/princess, and the princesses aren't fulfilled unless they're being rescued by Prince Charming.  It's a vicious cycle of dependence and identities tied into another person that is extremely unhealthy when translated into the real world.  And for those of you rolling your eyes and saying "EXACTLY!  DISNEY ISN'T THE REAL WORLD!"  I have this to say:

Cartoons represent a world in which everything you see on screen must be created.  Nothing is there "by accident," it is an entirely constructed and artificial environment.  Everything is there for a reason, and everything says something about the world.

Consider the implications of this.  Consider what message we're sending to boys and girls who grow up with these movies.  Consider that at the age where one is first exposed to Disney, schema's are developing and setting the foundation for every interaction or the rest of that child's life.  Consider the commentary about our society inherent in such a sentiment.

Now, lets get a look at Disney's villains:

Heavy make-up.  Angular features, except for Ursula who is voluptuous.  She's almost a caricature of female sexuality--large hips, really large breasts, one of the few characters who demonstrates an understanding of sex appeal and how to use it.  All this makes her one of the most evil villains in the Disney cadre.  And again, every single thing about her was specifically chosen reinforce her evilness.  So what is a young kid supposed to think looking at Ursula?  Or the rest of our villains.  (We'll even keep Jafar, who is literally the odd-man out, but has a super cool parrot named--quite subtly--Iago whom I love.  Notice that he doesn't fit Disney's mold of what makes a man: he's skinny, without a chiseled jawline.  He also has a discernible personality, even if it is slightly evil.)  That larger women are, if not evil, at least undesirable?  That 'good girls' don't wear make up, but 'bad girls' do?  That evil queens don't have noses, just tiny little air holes?  I'm half of a mind to say that the whole 'witches have big noses' thing (Maleficent up there, the old witch from Snow White) has to do with Disney's well documented antisemitism.

Exaggerating certain characteristics is a time-honored visual technique.  That's not what I'm talking about.  This is a systematic portrayal of the group of characteristics deemed acceptable, desirable, and

I find it very interesting that Cruella De Ville is super skinny.  Her skinniness translate into sharp angles: knobby knees, killer elbows, that chin.  No breasts to speak of.  This is a fairly apt depiction of anorexia, and what someone who is that skinny would actually look like.  Unlike the false representation princesses' version of skinny which is nigh impossible to obtain.

If you think these representations stop at children's stories, you are wrong.  Oh no, let us take a look at adult "cartoons."  Comic books!

WAIT!  I know Spiderwoman's secret identity!  It's the magically shrinking Ralph Lauren model!

Do we see a common theme in what these women look like? Giant boobs, impossibly tiny waistlines, seductive looks all around.  Still white-skinned.  And I'm sure if we actually got a look at their legs, footwear that's more practical for stripping than fighting crime.  I imagine it would be hard to kick criminal ass with a broken ankle.  Even for the boys.  Granted, these are Comic Book heroes, which is a different medium that writing or film, but the underlying themes are the same: women tend to be fairly stock cardboard cut outs, secondary to the male characters, and often there to be sexually available/distracting/motivating in some way.

And none of this means that we aren't still being unfair to the men too.  I chose comic books as the visually representative medium to showcase stereotypes because everything that's shown in them is intentional, just like in Disney movies.  And artist sat down and said "I want to draw ______.  Here is what this looks like to me, and furthermore, is something that will appeal to my consumer demographic."  Cartoons/drawings made for mass consumption are one of the most telling examples of society because you aren't dealing with any preexisting conditions: an actor/model's body, the set, existing lighting, type of camera, aperture settings, etc.  This is direct from the artist's mind to paper, so let's see what comic books tell us men should be like:

Overly muscular.  Grim.  Angry.  Dominating.  Aggressive.  Wearing their underwear on the outside.  Okay, that last one is a joke.  But there's a lot of inherent violence in these pictures, and I don't know any men who look like these guys.  Not even the actors who play them on TV look like this.  Yeah, they tend to have nice chests, but they're not rippling with muscles.  That's actually really gross.

So let's just merge both worlds and draw a male superhero in the style of our females:

 Yeah, I'd hit that too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not sure where to post this but I wanted to ask if anyone has heard of National Clicks?

Can someone help me find it?

Overheard some co-workers talking about it all week but didn't have time to ask so I thought I would post it here to see if someone could help me out.

Seems to be getting alot of buzz right now.