• Princess culture has a big impact on little girls, a new study shows.
When a study criticising the 'Disney princess effect' was released, "boring feminist" Helen Razer ought to have felt vindicated. But are we just overestimating the media's influence?
Helen Razer

13 Jul 2016 - 11:00 AM  UPDATED 14 Jul 2016 - 10:56 AM

Never entrust the care of your child to me. Please. Not when it’s a choice between Helen and staying home. Not when it’s a choice between Helen and your neighbour’s miniature schnauzer. Not even when it’s a choice between Helen and a bloke with tattooed knuckles that spell out “H A T E”. I am, as once declared by the mother of a four-year-old, Probably The World’s Worst Babysitter.

This was a fair judgement and one due partly to the fact that I am boring, a quality children despise. But, it’s largely due to my failure to appreciate Disney princesses, whom I decried when the little girl, unasked, said “I am going to be a princess like Jasmine or Aurora when I grow up”.

I shouldn’t have answered, “Well. That’s hardly a realistic career ambition, Brynlee. You might want to think about something in the office management field instead, because the monarchy is largely dead”. But, you know, I was very confronted with all this princess business. It seemed peculiar that a person born in this century was fed ideas of pure, posh and pretty little maidens.

My point being the very same that Brynlee’s mother made to me when she recovered her crying child, “You are a boring feminist who hates Disney princesses”. I am a boring feminist who hates Disney princesses. I mean, what in the name of poison apples is a parent thinking when they shove the idea of a princess inside a little girl? (Also, why does the Evil Queen in Snow White get such bad press? She always seemed very reasonable and well-dressed to me.)

As a boring feminist, I ought to have felt vindicated by a recent study that elaborated on what had been previously called the Disney princess effectbriefly, the observed tendency of little girls exposed to cartoon royalty to believe that there were a large number of things, including getting covered in mud or appearing less than pretty, that little girls mustn't do. But, I didn’t and, no, it wasn’t because the research was completed at a religious, pro-abstinence university that offers a class in Suggestions for Sexual Control During Engagement. I’m certain that such institutions are very good at research; so few of their academic staff would be distracted by the problem of actually enjoying themselves.

It seemed peculiar that a person born in this century was fed ideas of pure, posh and pretty little maidens.

It was because, especially since the time of the disaster babysitting gig, I am less inclined to blame The Media for all the rot in the world.

So frequently, we see claims from many different sorts of people that The Media has generated real social trouble. The Media causes sexism. The Media causes boring feminists. The Media causes obesity. The Media causes unhealthy weight loss etc. And, of course, while there are clear examples of media accelerating the idiocy of people, and very occasionally, enhancing their good, I have come to believe that we overestimate its influence.

This, in part, due to the fact that I have been a media worker for my entire adult life. Through work, I came to understand that media are not leaders of popular thought, but are slavish followers of the least risky, most popular thought.

Traditional and corporate media are not providers of thrilling new ideas. They are cautious recyclers of tedious old ideas because these are the ideas least likely to make a financial loss. Ideas like “if women are not fragile and untainted little princesses, then they are vulgar old queens” or “people from other faiths are to be feared” or “you can’t trust an Asian” have a very long history in the West. They weren’t created by the enormously successful Disney corporation.

One thing I did find interesting about the princess study, which received a good deal of international press last month, was the belief uttered by many parents surveyed that Disney was “safe”.

To think of a private media corporation as either benevolent or as evil kind of misses the point. Corporations are not people and therefore have no significant moral motive. What they do have—and this is a fact and not a judgement—is a profit motive.

I came to understand that media are not leaders of popular thought, but are slavish followers of the least risky, most popular thought.

Even if a company is begun with the best commitment it moves, if it is to grow, toward a single commitment. Google’s first motto “don’t be evil”, has since been dropped. And while Walt Disney may have positioned himself as a family-friendly man, an image that persists to this day, many of the underpaid family men and women who walked out of his studios in 1941 would tell a different story about the old union buster. And, this is not to say he was a particularly bad person. It is just to say that he was an excellent servant of profit.

In businesses of all kinds, you minimise risk to maximise the chance of reward. In many industries, this can mean paying workers as little as possible. In the entertainment industry, it means giving consumers something that seems “safe”—which can often mean upchucking the same old tripe we’ve been doused in for centuries.

I understand that parents want to change what Disney offers. I understand it keenly. I mean, FFS, once, I read a four-year-old girl notes from my old gender studies lecture pad to explain to her why princesses were evil.

But, what parents who want better entertainment for the littlies might begin to understand is that corporations are never in the business of improving the world. Which, gosh darn it, leaves that tedious work to us. 

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