Saturday, March 22, 2014

Is Disney Controlling Your Children's Minds?

Is Disney controlling your children's minds?  No?  Well, the way you all talk about Disney movies, especially since Frozen came out, you sure could have fooled me.

First of all, I should emphasize that I love Disney movies and characters very dearly, and this is by no means a "Save your children from the evil Disney!" post.

This is my daughter.  We love Disney around here, maybe even a bit too much!

Everyone, I know this might sound like I'm overreacting, but can we please stop reading so much into Disney movies and acting like Disney has a major role in raising our children?  I understand that there is joy in finding themes you relate to in movies, and if a movie is devoid of things we relate to we generally don't like them, but there is a line that shouldn't be crossed; we shouldn't expect a movies to 100% reflect our values and impart these values to our kids for us.

Recently, it's felt to me like every cartoon is being analyzed on how well it prepares our children for life instead of how entertaining and fun it is.  Now, I agree that we should be wary of showing our children movies with inappropriate themes for them, but I'm kind of surprised that suddenly everyone seems to think that every movie that comes out for children is either theologically perfect and will teach little girls and boys the "right things" and save our society from a horrible and inevitable downfall, or morally repugnant and will send our culture past the point of no return because of immorality and indecency (sometimes people split in these feelings about the same movie!).

Hey, guys, they're movies.  They're fun!  Yes, they have morals that we can take and use to help teach our children about life, and sometimes the messages are a bit questionable, but they are mostly meant to entertain us, not completely shape our children!  Children learn mostly from the example of the adults around them.  Your relationship with your spouse is going to be the love story they are most familiar with, so I think it is safe to say that your relationship is the one that they will learn the most from, not Disney movies.

We have the power to try to model what we want our children to look for if they get married.  We have the power to talk to our kids about what is realistic about a movie romance and what isn't.  We have a good amount of control left in this, it isn't completely out of our hands and left to the mercy of how Disney wants to portray marriages to our children.  They aren't using mind control here.  The thing that I've felt most confused about recently is I don't understand why people get so down on Disney Princesses and their marriages. The general opinion seems to be that little girls are like lemurs who see Disney princesses getting married, and they thus all run off of a cliff looking for Prince Charming to sweep them off their feet without any work, and there is absolutely nothing we can do in our power to stop this, unless if Disney changes its evil ways and shows better female role-models for them.

Okay, so some of the Disney princesses end up marrying men who they didn't know very long.  So what?  Explain to your children that these stories took place a long time ago when marriages were different.  Explain the political position that princes and princesses were in and the responsibilities that their heritage and wealth brought them.  Explain how women weren't as free as they are now to pursue careers and educations, so they were dependent on men and needed to get married to be provided for and how the world is different now.  Take the good from the movies your kids enjoy and make it work for you, and explain anything that isn't realistic to them.  Children love stories. Humans have used stories to teach lessons for as long as we figured out how to speak.  Every Disney film is based on a long-loved story of some kind, whether it be a fairy tale, book, or legend.  It's not like Disney just makes these stories up completely.  They have stood the test of time for a reason; they have messages that are good to teach the next generation.  To just throw them away and act like they are worthless because they don't contain an accurate portrayal of marriage in the modern age is simply lunacy.

I wanted to be a princess as a child.  Desperately.  I was one every year for Halloween.  I now regret this, especially since my friend, Patty, who I would go Trick-or-Treating with, was always awesome things like a tube of Colgate Toothpaste, but I don't regret all the stories that I grew up with and the lessons I took from them.

Cinderella taught me that jealousy and trying to hold another person back gets you absolutely nothing in the end.  Snow White did as well.  Also, both Cinderella and Snow White taught me that being kind and gentle is always the right thing to do, and to work hard, even when faced with adversity and hardship.

Belle taught me to sacrifice my dreams for the safety of my family and loved ones.  She taught me to look beyond the exterior, to forgive, and that a love of reading is a wonderful thing.  She also taught me that caring for a sick parent is more important than a budding romance.

Jasmine taught me that women are not pieces of meat for men to use or commodities.  She also showed me the difficulties that came with wealth and royalty as a woman, and that being a princess doesn't guarantee a happy life due to those difficulties.

Now that I am grown and have daughters of my own, I'm enjoying watching Rapunzel teach my eldest that true love means being willing to sacrifice yourself, Giselle teach her to find the joy in life and not be cynical, and Esmeralda teach her to care for others, even at great personal expense to yourself.  Yes, I am also enjoying her love for the princesses I grew up with, but I'm not planning on just leaving her alone to figure it out herself.

It is our job to teach our children about life and morals, not Disney's.  Disney's job is to entertain us. Pay Disney to come up with likable characters that your child falls in love with and then milk it for all it's worth.  For example, Cinderella is currently one of my daughter's favorite characters.  Last night I made up this age appropriate story (she's 3) using Cinderella to teach her a little about marriage:

Once upon a Time, there was a princess named Cinderella.  She was married to Prince Charming. Cinderella loved to read, sing, and dance.  One day, Prince Charming went on a trip and left Cinderella at home.  Cinderella was very happy and danced all day until dinner time, when she knew Prince Charming would be coming home to eat a yummy dinner with her.  When she realized that he was very late, she decided to go look for him, even though she was very hungry and wanted to get back to dancing.  She left on her horse and found the Prince on the ground.  He'd fallen off the horse and gotten a boo-boo!  Since Cinderella was very strong from all of the dancing, she picked him up and put him on her horse and walked him home.  She sent for a doctor who bandaged his boo-boo and told Cinderella to take care of him while he was sick in bed.  Cinderella wanted to dance, read, and sing, but, she wanted Prince Charming to get better more, so she took care of him instead.  When he woke up, they read and sang their favorite songs together, and, when he was all better, he danced with her.  He was very happy he had Cinderella to take care of him and he thanked his wife for being so helpful.  Then they both had a yummy dinner and cake, and were very happy.  The end.

See, it isn't so hard.  Just pick a theme you want to teach your kids and make it up.  It doesn't even have to be a really good story when they are very little.  It might not work 100% of the time, but persistence and repetition should help, and, hey, you can even use Disney characters to make little stories about things as simple as sharing.  It doesn't have to be very deep, just remember that these beloved characters are meant to be a tool for entertainment and learning that are at your disposal. Well, I guess, so long as you don't try to use the characters to make money!  (Don't do that.)

Ever since Frozen came out, the Catholic blogosphere has exploded with opinions about it, most of which have been overwhelmingly positive and praising the movie for being so theologically accurate because, to put it simply, Anna don't need no man.  Past Disney princesses have been scorned and treated like they are awful role-models. Kristoff is being held up as Disney's first authentically masculine "Prince."  I'm over here scratching my head wondering if anyone's actually watched the same Disney movies I have with the characters I love.  It feels like there is this whole mythology about what Disney princesses are like, with all of them obsessed with a dopey prince, without any depth of character.  Now, the only princess I can think of who is obsessed with her Prince without even knowing him is Ariel.  I've never been the biggest fan of her.  I'll give Prince Eric a little credit, though, as he did risk his life battling Ursula to save Ariel and Ursula is terrifying.  Ariel is really the exception rather than the rule, though.  Yes, Snow White sings about her Prince coming, but that movie is mostly about being kind and graceful in the face of adversity and that jealousy gets you nothing.  Aurora couldn't help that Maleficent cursed her.  Cinderella was kind and industrious, and she only wanted to go to a ball for some fun, not to get married.  Belle was smart and sacrificed herself and her freedom for the love of her father.  I could go on and on with examples.  So what if the timing of their engagements wouldn't work in today's world?  That isn't the point of their stories.

I'm also unsure why any Christian would be upset by a prince saving the heroine of a story and risking his life for her.  Ephesians 5:25 anyone?
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her
Men are supposed to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and what was the ultimate way that Christ loved His Church?  He died for us.  Having a man willing to lay down his life for the woman he wants to marry is a very Christian theme.  I just don't understand why suddenly this is seen in such a bad light.  Yes, I know women aren't helpless and are perfectly capable of saving themselves and, when the time comes, other people, including men, but to act like there is anything anti-Christianity in a prince doing something like risking his life fighting Maleficent's Dragon form to save Aurora is silly.

Prince Philip needs to get some credit.  Maleficent still haunts my nightmares O_O

The truth is, there is nothing written anywhere that a couple can't get engaged without dating for a certain period of time in Christianity.  Yes, in our modern times where divorce is rampant, it is good to know the person you are marrying, and the Church rightfully has couples go through Pre-cana to make sure that they have a strong foundation to start with because divorce isn't allowed, but to make as though this is a moral law is to deny history and all the valid, arranged, Catholic marriages that have occurred in the past.

Children need a strong foundation for their beliefs.  So much of this comes from their parents and guardians.  If we want any of our beliefs to go to our children, we have to work hard and find creative ways to teach it to them, like creating a Catholic culture in our homes and teaching them about the faith outside of their religious ed classes.  If you are doing this already, have some faith that your kids aren't going to completely disregard you because of what they saw in a Disney movie.  If you're worried about other people's kids, remember that your children will influence their friends way more than the movies their friends see.

Watching a movie isn't going to be what makes your Catholic child discern that their vocation is marriage.  If they are meant for marriage, it will be written on their hearts.  The single Catholic men I know long for a wife just as much as the single Catholic women I know long for a husband.  The truth is, since marriage is a vocation, it WILL be a huge defining factor of who both spouses are.  This is not a bad thing.  Teach your pre-teens and teenagers to prayerfully discern if a person is the one they are meant to marry.  With the grace of God, it will be one of the most challenging and beautiful things they ever do.  We shouldn't be upset by any movie that ends with the hero and heroine getting married, even if the love story isn't perfect.  Marriage is good, created by God in the Beginning.  There is no reason to mourn that a story that takes place in a past society with different marital norms reflects those marital norms.  Give your children more credit.  They will be smart enough to understand that our modern world has it's own unique set of challenges that they will have face in their marriages if marriage is their vocation.

Beyond that, I don't think that Disney movies are an effective way to teach theology on their own.  As a teen, I had attempts made in my faith formation to use Disney movies to teach me about God, and I can tell you, it was obvious that the other teenagers couldn't have cared less about it.  It was too dumbed down and too simplistic.  There was no depth to it without a strong foundation of the complexities and beautiful Truths of our faith being taught at home.  Even though I was given more instruction at home than most, all the Disney movies did for me was to annoy me as I felt they weren't doing our faith justice.  It's okay to use them to break the ice for conversations about theology, but don't make them the main focus.  Our children can rise up and learn more than we give them credit for.  Let's not bog ourselves down in what Disney is doing and, instead, focus on what we can do.

It's okay to like movies and stories that aren't 100% in line with our morals.  It's okay to find themes that you like in movies.  It's not okay to be expecting a movie studio to be doing your work for you and teaching your kids every single lesson about life in one movie!  Disney does not have control of our kids!

I'm by no means an expert in parenting, and I'm not sure if my technique will create children who grow to live their faith, but it's the best I can think of to do in this world and certainly more productive than expecting the world to change to accommodate me and my needs for my kids.  Besides, our parental role is laid out in the Catechism:
1632 ...The example and teaching given by parents and families remain the special form of this preparation. The role of pastors and of the Christian community as the "family of God" is indispensable for the transmission of the human and Christian values of marriage and family, and much more so in our era when many young people experience broken homes which no longer sufficiently assure this initiation: It is imperative to give suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise, so that, having learned the value of chastity, they will be able at a suitable age to engage in honorable courtship and enter upon a marriage of their own.
It's the job of parents, families, and priests, not Disney.

My advice is to join me and make up little fairy tales with morals you want to teach them when they are little, give them a strong faith foundation, have honest discussions with them about life as they grow older, and finally, pray a whole lot that you are getting your message across and it is accepted. That is the best we can do, but we certainly aren't helpless.  We have the greatest love story of all time at our disposal.  Jesus' passion can teach us more about life and our purpose than anything else. The Bible and the Catechism are full of wisdom.  Expose your children to these things and try to ground their lives in it.  Beyond that, they will have to live in this world and be able to discern for themselves what messages are good and what aren't.  They will be human and they will sin, so it won't be perfect, but we have to have trust in God and remember to pray for them.

(By the way, the original story of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson is extremely Christian and involves a little girl saving a little boy from the Snow Queen.  You might want to check it out.)

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