Beauty and the Boner?! How Disney Emotionally Messed With My Childhood

Just when I thought I had finally arrived at a stage of in life when I could mitigate media’s strong effects on my psyche, Dr. Hayden pulled all stops with a favorite childhood indulgence: Disney Movies. Watching the classic Disney movie montage in class reminded me of just how powerful the media is in “producing” us, as Siochru argues.

From the moment the magical, sparkling castle with the blue backdrop and the familiar music began to play, branding the video a Disney production, a gleeful smile spread across my face. I was immediately taken back to the days of my youth, repeatedly watching classic favorites like,  “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast” and the “Aladdin” with my three sisters and friends, for hours on end. We viewed those movies so frequently in my household, that my sisters and I had memorized almost all the lyrics to the movie soundtracks and could successfully do voice overs during a muted film.  In fact, often times we would play the movie and simultaneously act out scenes from it, dressing up as the characters and breaking out into musical as we followed along.
If you aren’t convinced yet or scared of the fact that “media produces us”, let me throw in another terrifying dynamic to this Disney brainwash; the effects of these movies didn’t stop at my childhood. During my adolescence, I became very distraught when I learned about the Disney scandals of the 90’s that suggested Disney had a darker side. Critics and film analysis battered Disney with a host of accusations, claiming that original VHS special effects exhibited provocative, hidden sexual messages that one could see if they watched certain scenes in slow motion.

I became obsessed with disproving mass media’s accusation of my favorite childhood buddy. As a burgeoning teen, I busted out the dusty VHS Disney films thought forever abandoned in a basement cupboard and horrified, I rewound the scenes again and again, shuddering as I confirmed that the priest performing the marriage of the Prince and Ursula did, in fact, get an erection, in the middle of the ceremony. In The Rescuers, a photo realistic image of a topless woman can be seen in the window of one of the buildings as the characters pass by. Maybe I’m being dramatic when I say a substantial piece of my childhood was shattered as Disney subsequently issued recalls of several of it’s films in the late 90’s.

Despite the trauma, let it be known that I can still reproduce certain Disney scenes and perfectly regurgitate almost all of the most popular soundtrack favorites: Aladdin’s, “A Whole New World”, we performed in a school concert for a Middle School class; and The Little Mermaid’s, “Under the Sea”, I will forever recall dancing and singing to on water skis during the summer with my adult cousin, the tune blasting from the boat radio pulling us across a Michigan lake. My point is not to make a freak show of myself. But rather, to emphasize Siochru’s argument that media influences how people interact with one another (for example, the performances of my sisters) and more importantly, media sets a moral code for our culture. Whether or not Disney is guilty of breaking that moral code is beside the point; the fact that I felt deceived and horrified as a teenager when Disney was accused of immoral behavior is evidence in itself that the media plays a significant role in defining our culture’s ethics.

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4 Comments to “Beauty and the Boner?! How Disney Emotionally Messed With My Childhood”

  1. I could not agree with you more about this too. I also was (still am in different ways) a big fan of Disney movies. Walk into my living room and you will see a whole collection of Disney movies. It does not run only in my household, but in my other family members’ households as well. My aunt has her own personal gym with a Disney theme. It has a nice touch to it, in fact. To support your point about media influencing our culture, it is true. What media says, we think. What media says, we do. Media does encourage a strong definition for our culture. If you look back like 10 years ago, everyone was crazy about Disney. But, when the secrets of Disney surfaced, many people changed their feelings and opinions towards it- why? Because of what media exposed about them. Sometimes I wonder if Walt Disney came back to life, what would he think of Disney now seeing that Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Lion King, etc. have secret sex themes. Another thing I wonder is that why would people want to do this? What is the purpose or the benefit of making secret sex themes in Disney which affects many children’s big dreams about cartoon characters?
    Besides these unfortunate sex themes, I still watch Disney movies and I probably would let my kids watch Disney movies because they are still classic with good moral stories. It is up to the viewers to filter out what is necessary to share and what is not necessary.

  2. I have an 8 year old cousin who just thinks she will wake up one day to discover she is one of the Disney princesses. It is really amazing to see how these Disney movies and stories and characters really have an effect on her reality. I am a big music lover and a singer too, so I must say that as a kid and even occasionally, I still bust out a Disney tune. But as I read your post about the underlying sex themes in the Disney movies, it really makes me worry about my little cousin on a totally different level. It’s been a struggle trying to make sure that she loves who she is and sees herself as a beautiful young lady, but I don’t know if these sex themes will have an effect on her dating choices in the future, her views on men etc. I don’t want her to live her life based on a Disney fantasy, but based on her ‘own’ reality. Thanks for the post. Media does affect us… we can’t run away from it. I just hope the media that our kids are exposed to is better than what we have right now…

  3. I found everyone comments really interesting, and while I see everyone’s point about the concerns they have about media, specifically Disney movies altering a child’s perception, I would say that there is a lot worse out there. I didn’t have cable as a child so if we watched anything it was pretty much Disney movies, with the odd Duck Tales thrown in. Of course I knew the songs and would act out movies, but this didn’t change my understanding of reality. Kids learn by playing games and using their imaginations which Disney movies are great at encouraging. But like any other part of childhood it’s up to the parents. They help kids understand reality from fiction and teach them important lessons that reaffirm what good morals are. Considering all the people I’ve met with what I’d consider a lack of morals, I’d say there are a few more kids out there that should be watching Disney movies.

  4. I love this post, Lauren. And I love Disney. I was even on a radio show once in 6th grade because they had a segment for kids who could quote entire Disney movies and my sister called in for me!

    Even though the priest gets a boner, well, it doesn’t change the family-friendly magic about these films to me. As you pointed out, you just don’t notice that stuff as a kid. And animators who spend hours over finicky pictures have to get their frustrations out somehow I guess…maybe it’s just an “Easter Egg” for those lucky enough to find it. :p

    Sarcasm aside, I do think Disney films are successful in creating the hype they do because they manage to communicate on topics that are of globally relevant: love, family, friendship, class differences, racial differences, betrayal, forgiveness, loss, etc. On a childish level, we love the characters and the colors and the voices, but we also connect to these themes as human beings.

    My biggest complaint for Disney films is that it creates somewhat naiive, unreasonable expectations for relationships. The females all have gumption of course, but most of the themes show the women as extremely physically vulnerable (Belle gets captured, so does Jasmine, so does Snow White, etc etc) and also that they need men to rescue them. I think even Pocahantes needs rescuing by John Smith despite her ability to leap from waterfalls.

    I don’t mean to say that a man can’t rescue a woman or that it’s a bad thing. We all need some rescuing both ways. But the cumulative message I got through those films is that great women wait for men bold enough to rescue them, yet women will always need to be rescued and wait for men. More than that, the fairytale love story lacks profound messages about commitment, hardship, and weathering undesirable storms of life together (maybe you go through one hard thing and then everything is easy). Whether that’s good or bad, I’m pretty sure it affected me growing up and probably even now.

    Regardless, it will probably not change my love for Disney movies or my desire to show them to future neices and nephews or my own kids someday. We’ll always be bombarded with messages, but knowing how to filter and analyze them is more important. Generally speaking, Disney is A-OK with me in its story-telling.

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