Disney’s latest addition to the princess lineup ticks all the right representation boxes, yet still isn’t pleasing everyone. What’s going on?
Sprung upon the (non-Japanese) world last week was a series of lingerie based on the Disney Princess brand. Yet here in the west, a bit of a burhaha unfolded as people discussed the merits and demerits of such merchandise. In the midst of it all, people forgot that they might not be so weird, or so bad after all.
Last week was skipped because, well, there wasn’t anything to link too! Everyone was apparently on holiday! That’s changed this week with plenty of stories you should read.
Stretching the limits of what this blog will cover animation-wise, the topic of today’s post nonetheless commands attention. We’ve all seen what fans are capable of doing to beloved characters for their own amusement. Heck, deviantArt is filled to the brim with established characters contorted into all sorts of different manners; anime-isation is a popular one among others. However, where does the limit of tasteful fan art lie and what harm can it cause? The topic of today’s post straddles that limit and challenges what some would consider acceptable.
Meet the Disney Princess Warriors
Yes, (individual shots to follow), they are a sight aren’t they? (Thanks a bunch Geekologie!) While there is no denying artist Mike Roshuk’s artistic talents, one must nonetheless consider in what taste his creations lie. Are they classified as fan art? Absolutely; there’s little reason to see any legal conflicts with them. That said, where do they stand on the emotional and scale of good taste?
What They Produce
There is a ton of blogs devoted to the portrayal of female characters in a diverse range of media (this one is a favourite), but it is video games that seem to be attracting the most attention as of late. If it isn’t the stature of girl gamers within the community, it is the portrayal of female characters in games that garners attention and provokes debate (or rather, harrassment).
While the obvious argument is that a lot of games are created to appeal to males (and rabid, hormone-addled teenage ones at that), that does not excuse the logic that the portrayal of female characters in either subservient or slave-like roles is necessary and even required to be successful.
Video games have been shown to have [relatively] minimal impact on player’s emotions and their ability to separate fiction from reality. There does not appear to be a lot of data regarding the impression that such games can have on their opinions however. If male gamers (and especially impressionable ones at that) are fed a constant stream of content portraying female characters in such roles, then there is the possibility that such views carry over into their opinions of girls and women in the real world.
Where They Subjugate the Characters
Although this is less of a concern when it comes to animation and animated content (because you usually have to seek out the more depraved stuff relating to those), when the two cross over, we have the issue where characters representing a particular ideal are poisoned by a view of females that is completely the opposite.
The Disney princesses (horrible brand that they are) are a diverse range of strong female characters that have long represented the strength of Disney storytelling. Combining them with what represents the worst of video game storytelling seems to be an odd move for someone attempting to highlight their character strengths.
Why That’s a Concern
Now obviously that is part of the reason for creating these pieces in the first place; the idea of contrasting character idioms and traits is a common one in the fan community. But what we have here is the use of some of the most well known characters of the last 100 years. It also destroys the characters for the joy of turning them into something that, quite frankly, denegrates them.
The recent Merida hubbub certainly highlighted the concern expressed in many quarters about the overlap that a teenage character like Merida occupies; ostensibly ‘mature’ on the one hand but appealing wholly to kids and tweens who are not.
These ‘warrior’ versions of Disney princesses, while clearly never intended or wilfully aimed at kids, would certainly be seen as being acceptable for teenagers. There is no nudity after all, and they’re certainly no worse than what many teenagers are seeing in video games and elsewhere.
Why They Are Concern for the Disney Princesses
I’m reminded once again of this:
It’s by Krisztianna and highlights how simple elements of a character’s design can influence the character itself. Most fan art retaines a degree of respect for the character and their design. Sure it’s fun to try different styles but a central tenant of fan art is that the core of the character themselves is never compromised; if it is, you’re not really creating fan art any more are you?
It’s why we see so many fan-created original characters out there. Subjugating the actual characters to a ruinous extent is usually frowned upon, but creating one of your own is fair game for whatever you want.
In the case of these fan art creations, the legitimacy of the characters themselves is compromised and instead of something meant to illustrate the strong and forceful nature of the character, we have instead, models wearing artefacts that are merely reminiscent or alluding to something that is far superior.
I’m curious to hear what YOU think of all this. Do you agree or disagree. Leave a comment and share your thoughts!
You’ve undoubtedly read the stories by now. You know, the ones proclaiming Merida’s coronation as the latest entrant in the ‘Disney Princess’ brand and (on the other side), the ones decrying her redesign into one with more than an air of sexuality about it. The point of this post isn’t to belabor either side (although this blogger leans heavily towards the latter), rather its to discuss how Merida proves how unwieldy characters can become within large corporations such as Disney and why they need to keep tighter grip of the reins.
Why It’s a Problem
So why would such a change be of issue in the first place? We all know that multitudes of artists work on these characters and the very nature of merchandise (with all its differing surfaces and sizes) necessitates changes to permit an acceptable level of familiarity across the range.
Well, normally it isn’t a problem because the characters remain relatively consistent. In Merida’s case, however, the change is near radical. In fact, all the Disney Princess have undergone some sort of noticeable change from their original appearance on film.
Another reason Merida’s case stands out is that she’s undergone not so much a redesign but a transformation. Even by comparing her looks (and her measurements) one can deduce that she isn’t likely to exhibit the same character traits as her CGI original. Such a transformation runs the risk of confusing consumers.
The Confusion Caused By Merida’s Transformation
In times gone past, the change wouldn’t have been given that much thought. After all, merchandise always lagged behind the films and the medium through which the largest audience would see it (home video) was released many months afterwards, when memories had faded somewhat.
Fast forward to today, and the omnipresence and semi-permanence of the internet has meant that fact-checking and comparison can be done instantaneously. If a corporation makes an overtly obvious change to a character, you can be sure that someone somewhere can confirm the change and indeed, analyse it to astonishingly high degrees of accuracy.
Changes in character can be easy for adults to gloss over, but kids can find it hard to reconcile the apparently unnecessary alterations. Kids place a lot of value in characters and they readily identify with them; changing the character can cause not only confusion, but also trauma. That’s not to say that Merida’s change will cause the latter, but it will not go unnoticed by kids (mainly girls) who’ve identified with a character who’s most significant trait is not fitting in with a crowd.
I’ve always said that it’s not about the movies. It’s about the bait-and-switch that happens in the merchandise, and the way the characters have evolved and proliferated off-screen.
This is true, and certainly part of the cause. The Disney Princess brand relies upon a broad range of characters to appeal to all types, but who still reside inside a statistically maximising percentage of the population. In other words, the characters can be different, but not too different lest they be marginalised and hence, unprofitable.
How To Fix It
Since the confusion and frustrations that are caused seem to be emanating from the changes made, wouldn’t the simplest thing be to just keep them the same as they were in the film (or concepts in the case of CGI)? We’re long, long past the time when merchandise had to look different on account of manufacturing technology and the like. Today, it’s possible to maintain a high degree of quality across the board. There really is no reason why a Merida doll has a different structure to her animated counterpart, or for that matter for a stock image of her on a T-shirt requires a redesign.
Heck, even the Disney Princesses themselves do not need such a standardised sense of design. What it amounts to is the merchandising or marketing division of the corporation attempting to stamp their impression on characters created somewhere else (by animators). It amounts to overstepping their boundaries insofar as they may adapt characters to their work, but outright changing them is unconscionable.
Yes, these are entirely real, believe it or not. Media studies professor and author, Rebecca Hains, came across them at her local Home Depot recently. Kinda reminds you of the Disney Princess grapes I stumbled across at the grocery store last year, don’t they? Rebecca’s written a great post about on these seeds which you should all read (as well as the comments).
While her post does a great job of analysing how such merchandise is bad for kids and parents, I can’t help but conclude that it is bad for the Disney company also. How is that, you say? Surely they are simply getting a cut and/or fee from the licensing rights and nothing more. Why should they care about it any further than that?
Well, because it’s a sign that they’re failing to care for their characters. The Disney Princess brand is a faux collection of said characters who supposedly represent the best in female traits. Now you could argue about that until the cows come home, but what’s more important is that each of the princesses is only a good fit for her particular context. In other words, the film they appear in.
The Disney Princess brand takes that context completely away, and instead mashes the characters together in a manner that attempts to blend them all into a singular idea of what good female characters should be like; read: princesses. This would be OK if it was for a once-off thing or a singular celebration of the characters, but branding them in such a manner (and licensing them to everyone under the sun) only serves to devalue the characters themselves, and worse, the films they originally appeared in.
The original films are masterpieces, they evoke they very best in art and character. These seeds and the grapes which precede them do not. They are a cheap attempt to imbue otherwise unexciting products with some sort of luster, and while even the humblest of grape can make the finest wine, a grape is still a grape, no matter which character is on the packaging or how superb the film she appeared in is.
Unfortunately, it would appear that the brand is making big bucks for Disney and shows no sign of abating.