We’ve been clamouring for them for years, but now that we’ve finally got we wanted, it may actually be necessary to kill the strong female character off.
Frozen has been released to near-universal critical acclaim praising it as a long-awaited return to greatness for the Burbank studio of the Disney Company. Some reviews and analyses have touched on the film’s greater themes of feminism in light of the twin female protagonists and a dearth of traditional, patriarchal themes. While that may be true, there are other aspects that potentially undermine the Frozen feminist claim.
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!
While it is tempting to think that such forms of entertainment are enjoyed only by those on the periphery, but the truth is different. Plenty of people enjoy them in a casual manner and plenty of them are teenagers. The problem is that they send the wrong message that can, and is, filtered and extrapolated into false truths.
Since I’m on my honeymoon this week, enjoy some of the finer stuff I’ve collected on my tumblelog over the last 4 years or so.
Pardon the title, but it isn’t mine. It is instead from super-artist Krisztianna who drew these awesome guides to drawing female characters. They are just a little tongue-in-cheek but with enough truth behind them to make people sit up and pay attention. Click to embiggen!
I like female characters, that’s no secret at this point, they’re awesome and unfortunately continue to be under-represented in contemporary animation programming. That’s not to say they don’t exist at all, but they do tend to occupy either the sideline characters more so than the lead protagonists.
I find myself very consciously making sure I have female characters in my shows….But a few years back, I did a little drawing-a-day project with zombies. Somewhat gruesome and not for the kids, it was just for fun. I realised when I approached the end of it that an overwhelming amount of the zombies were male. Why? Well, I wasn’t really thinking about it. They just were. It’s like even being so aware of female under-representation that, when I stopped thinking about it, I would fall back into the whole ‘default human being male’ thing.
Is that a fair assumption? Do we (as adults) have preconceived notions of the place that gender plays in roles? Absolutely, but as Jason rightly points out, it shouldn’t be that way:
It tells me the only way to change this situation, to improve this, is to be active about it. Is to actively make it part of our thinking as we develop shows, games, anything. Should we force female characters in to a show if natural development has led to mostly males? In my opinion, yes. Yes we should. Because that ‘natural’ situation usually comes about because we are just perpetuating old media habits and conditioning and those are really hard to break without actively pushing against them. Getting female characters, varied, interesting and active should be a clear goal when developing media. Because there is a very good chance it won’t happen on its own.
In conjunction with the above post is one from the soooper talented Brianne Drouhard (a.k.a. Potato Farm Girl) wherein she details a concept she developed herself, Harpy Gee. Check out the awesome art she posted the other day:
The post where the picture came from is a fairly simple one that details the characters:
Harpy: An elf that cannot use magic, considered a grave handicap in her home country, she’s been sheltered all her life. She lives and works at the Item Shop, but also will take any odd job around town, regardless if it’s teaching, ballet school, or scrubbing the castle floors. Nothing is too mundane or adventurous. She’s doing her best to make up for lost time and stay optimistic.
Pumpkin: Harpy’s goblin cat. He is indestructible, and will eat anything. Luckily he is lazy and sleeps most of the time. He’s also her living suitcase, she keeps her important items, clothing and weapons in his inter-dimensional stomach.
Opal: A witch doctor from a large family of pig ranchers. She doesn’t like dirt, but since she has to dig up most of her potion ingredients, she wears gloves and a bandana. She uses her shovel to fly, since she also needs it to dig. She likes anything that’s cute, and her helpful ingredient smelling pet pig, Truffle.
Ash: A knight in training. He thinks highly of himself, and regards the others as children. He secretly collects playing cards of famous knights. He tries his best to act like what he knows what he’s doing, but half the time ends up embarrassed.
Humphrey: The prince of the kingdom, he was sent to live at his uncle’s castle in town. He doesn’t like being outside or sunlight, and would rather write sad poetry or read about battles that end in failure. His uncle regularly sends him out to take Peepers, the royal dog out for walks.
They’re all fairly straightforward, right? I mean, there’s nothing in there that could potentially scare away any potential networks or studios, and I sincerely doubt that Brianne would even consider something that would to begin with.
Nope, where the really interesting fact lies is in one of Brianne’s posts from March 2012 that goes into much more detail about the struggles of getting Harpy picked up:
In the end, the shorts program [the aborted Cartoonstitute] went in a different direction, and Harpy was shown around to a few other studios. I don’t think it’ll ever happen, after being told, “Make Harpy a boy”, “put her in high school on Earth”, “it’s too scary”, “it’s too cute”, “boys won’t watch it”, “make her an animal”…
Aside from the more generic comments, a few of the asinine ones sure stand out. What advantage would it be to make Harpy a boy? What’s wrong with the character being a girl? More to the point, why wouldn’t boys watch it? the concept has male characters, so it isn’t as saccharine as, say, My Little Pony, and it’s not exactly about ‘girly’ things like makeup either. Unfortunately Jason hits the nail on the head:
At the weekend, my eldest Daisy was at a party in a kid’s art place. She made a rather awesome clay model of a princess in a tower. Asking her about it, she explained that the girls all had to make princesses to be rescued while the boys all had to make knights with swords to rescue the princesses. I was not exactly happy with this narrow gender-based project. Seeing this, Daisy went further and told me that they could choose to do either but all the girls chose princesses and all the boys chose knights.
I am not sure what form this choice was presented in or if indeed it was much of a choice at all. But if it was an open choice, I could well believe that most girls would choose princesses and most boys would choose knights. Because those are the gender roles assigned to them in an overwhelming amount of media and, in particular, marketing.
In reality, kids only know what they’re told, and with the average American child (and adult) being bombarded with literally hundreds of commercials every day that purport the gender roles that Jason discusses, it isn’t hard to see how boys could be said to favour male-centric programs over female ones.
It’s truly unfortunate because until there is better parity, awesome shows like The Legend of Korra, where the main protagonist is a female (and a kick-ass one at that) will continue to be the exception rather than the rule. And despite the fact that Korra has almost as many boys watching as girls, it’s tough for just one show to change significant numbers of minds. Kim Possible was a great model and the effect it’s had has yet to be felt. Even Lauren Faust says as much, and she knows the truth:
A more collaborative effort is needed that sees a better balance between male and female characters in shows but also a sobering realisation that if boys profess a dislike for lead female protagonists it is perhaps because it has been drilled into them that such a character isn’t acceptable to them.
Is a quota of some kind needed? I would hope not, although if I were the head of a studio, I would much rather see my content watched by the largest audience possible rather than trying to narrow it down in the hopes of selling more merchandise and would make damned sure someone else didn’t attempt to push me down that road.
To end on a positive note, both posts discussed here are optimistic about the future:
I’m also curious how the next few years are going to be for female characters in animated tv shows.
“Legend of Korra” just started on Nickelodeon, and is amazing! Lauren Faust did an excellent job with the current “My Little Pony” and “Super Best Friends Forever” shorts.
I’ve been really happy getting a chance to work on Amethyst too. Sword fighting magical girls is right up my alley!
If we do this and do it well (and by the way, I think many of us in preschool are actively tackling this right now), it would take just one generation to make real change. One generation later and maybe the writers won’t have to think about getting strong female characters into their stories. It will just happen as it becomes normal.
What are your thoughts? What do think it will take to see a more balanced approach to televised animation?
Tiana in Vanity Fair
…a cultural filter, igniting the global conversation about the people and ideas that matter most. With a dedication to journalistic excellence, brilliant photography, and powerful storytelling, Vanity Fair is the first choice and often the only choice for the world’s most influential and important audience. From print to the social stream, big screen to smartphone, Vanity Fair is the essential arbiter of our times.
So VF basically proclaims that it’s the best magazine in the world. End of story. Although is Tiana the right character to grace the cover?
Perhaps focusing in on the “igniting the conversation” part of the description, Tiana herself was stirring debate long before she made it to the big screen. Notable for being the first African-American “Disney Princess”, there was much debate about how the character would turn out, and whether it was simply corporate pandering for the sake of political correctness.
All that was dispersed when the film was released, and although it didn’t light the box office on fire, Tiana was praised as a character with much integrity.
Overall, it’s a B+
Rapunzel in Teen Vogue
Although we’ve already covered Vogue, Rapunzel gets a turn in Teen Vogue:
Influence Starts Here. This simple mandate sets Teen Vogue apart. Style-conscious girls everywhere know there’s only one source for relevant fashion, beauty, and entertainment news communicated in a sophisticated tone with the power of the Vogue brand.
Confused? It’s basically marketing speak for “hook ’em when they’re young”.
Compared to Snow White, Rapunzel makes a much more appropriate character for Vogue simply because she is much closer the typical teenager of today, and as a result fits right into Teen Vogue’s target demographic.
Right from the off, it’s clear that the pink is very apt, even if the film itself used lavender instead. All of the stories seem appropriate too.
Megara in Marie Claire
This magazine bills itself as:
…a compelling media destination that combines provocative features and outstanding fashion to inspire every woman who wants to think smart and look amazing.
That’s probably a bit brief, but I did have to grab it from the Facebook page.
This is perhaps the blandest cover of the lot, but that’s because Megara a a character is quite unique from the others. She’s a bit of an anti-hero in many ways and that makes any “stories” that would be relevant to her not ideal to the front of a women’s magazine.
Other than that, I think style-wise, her own unique style is something that would probably better suited to Harper’s Bazaar or even Jalouse.
So point’s for effort, but ultimately, this cover gets a B- but only because Megara herself is a tricky character to place.
Jasmine on Cosmopolitan
Cosmopolitan describes itself as:
…the lifestylist and cheerleader for millions of fun, fearless females who want to be the best they can be in every area of their lives.
Cosmo edit inspires with information on relationships and romance, the best fashion and beauty, the latest on women’s health and wellbeing as well as what’s happening in pop culture and entertainment…and just about everything else that fun, fearless females want to know about.
Jasmine is one of the more powerful Disney characters and it is disappointing to see that this cover chooses to focus solely on her looks and sex appeal as opposed to the character behind it all.
While Jasmine is undoubtedly beautiful, she is also extremely intelligent and smart. It is difficult and indeed, incomprehensible that she would stoop to using her looks in the manner that this cover suggests.
Overall, this cover is a good fit for the magazine, but the character is a good fit for neither and as a result, this gets an F.
Pochahontas in Nylon
Unfortunately, I had to grab the description from Wikipedia:
Nylon is an American magazine that focuses on pop culture and fashion. Its coverage includes art, beauty, music, design, celebrities, technology and travel. Its name references New York and London.
On first glance this is a very apt use of the magazine as the tale of Pochahontas does straddle the old and new worlds (i.e. America and Britain).
On the flip side, the cover naturally can’t deal with the technology and music side of things, so it focuses on things like art, beauty and fashion. Although the skew towards these goes a wee bit against the character herself, the cover nonetheless does an OK job of representing the character.
So, does such a pompous mission statement fit for a princess like Mulan? I would say, yes. the cover is tastefully done and although there is a hint of sensationalism about it, it does not jump out at you as it does in some of the other covers we’ve looked at.
Don’t miss next week’s final installment when we look at Rapunzel, Tiana and Megara.
Princess Aurora in Glamour
Glamour magazine has a title that pretty much says it all, but does the Princess live up to the standard? from the official description, Glamour is:
…a magazine that translates style and trends for the real lives of American women. Our award-winning editorial covers the most pressing interests of our 12.4 million readers: from beauty, fashion and health to politics, Hollywood and relationships. We’re often optimistic, always inclusive, beyond empowering and can always separate the Dos from the Don’ts.
Our readers live for fashion, live for beauty and most of all, live for Glamour.
For the most part, it is a good match. Aurora’s story is compelling, and the tale and all that surrounds would certainly be useful in a magazine like Glamour. There’s a good dose of style content and there are personal articles in there too. Living up to the billing are the articles that provide advice to the reader.
Overall: B+ (if only because she’s asleep for a good portion of the film)
Arial in Seventeen
Seventeen magazine in each issue:
…reports on the latest in fashion, beauty, health and entertainment, as well as information and advice on the complex real-life issues that young women face every day.
So “young women” in this case presumably means “teenagers”. Arial is perhaps the most well known of the Disney princesses for being a rebellious teenager so naturally Seventeen would be the perfect fit. Is this the case?
Yes, it is. The cover is filled with a good mix of kiss-and-tell stories, “best of” lists, advice and tips and tricks on how to do things.
Belle in Jalouse
Well, this one is certainly the odd one out thus far. Jalouse magazine is French in origin and originally:
…conceived as a Jalou family idea that a totally young magazine, for the young and by the young, was essential to complete L’officiel, has been the magazine for the trendy in crowd in Paris for its daring and contemporary editorial positions since 1998. Devoted to women from 18 to 30, looking for an avant-garde view that shakes up preconceived ideas, Jalouse constantly innovates.
So it’s an über trendy fashion magazine for any girl who dreams of living in Paris and is looking for a sophisticated alternative view from established publications.
Naturally, Belle is French, so that part makes perfect sense. The rest of the cover seems to live up to the concept. There are plenty of fairly mundane articles that undoubtedly have a special twist and are likely to be more comprehensive in nature than some of the other publications featured here.
Stay tuned for part 3 with Jasmine, Pocahontas and Mulan
You may have already seen these floating about the internet recently. Created by (I presume) whoever runs the Petite Tiaras tumblelog, they’re quite an interesting collection.
Are the magazine a good fit for the characters though? This 3-part weekly series of posts aims to find out.
Snow White in Vogue
Vogue is described on the official Conde Naste site as:
America’s cultural barometer, putting fashion in the context of the larger world we live in- how we dress, live, socialize; what we eat, listen to, watch; who leads and inspires us.
From its beginnings to today, three central principles have set Vogue apart: a commitment to visual genius, investment in storytelling that puts women at the center of the culture, and a selective, optimistic editorial eye.
Vogue’s story is the story of women, of culture, of what is worth knowing and seeing, of individuality and grace, and of the steady power of earned influence. For millions of women each month, Vogue is the eye of the culture, inspiring and challenging them to see things differently, in both themselves and the world.
So does Snow White fit into that kind of magazine? Perhaps not. She is not really a cultural figure per se and her story is far from the usual high-society gossip that one would expect from the pages of Vogue. The cover itself is good, but it does completely neglect any aspect of the fashion scene for which Vogue is [in]famous for.
Cinderella in ELLE
Surprising enough because she’s facing away from the reader, Cinderella is the cover girl for ELLE magazine, whose mission is:
…to influence women’s whole lives, helping them to be chic, smart, and modern. With intelligent, in-depth writing and a razor-sharp curation of fashion that is at once aspirational and accessible, ELLE’s readers and users are building not just personal style, but personal power.
Cinderella does fit this, for the most part. The stories touch on aspects of fashion with a strong emphasis on the women behind them. Cinderella herself is an aspirational story, as she overcomes the difficulties of being imprisoned in her own house to marrying the prince.
Tinkerbell in InStyle
Tinkerbell is one of the most well-known Disney characters and has endured and progressed far beyond the original Peter Pan movie. Featuring on InStyle magazine, which according to the official description has:
…emerged as the world’s premier media brand in celebrity, style, fashion, beauty and beyond. InStyle takes a uniquely fun and inviting attitude towards celebrity style in all its forms including its flagship magazine which reaches an audience of 9.6 million readers each month.
Tinkerbell is most certainly a celebrity in this day and age; being a merchandising powerhouse for Disney and a star in her own movies. InStyle is a good fit for her. She’s a fun character with a positive attitude and it is fair to say that she’s more than just a little bit sassy. This magazine cover is fairly accurate, with a “53 Great Outfit Ideas” article, a few personal articles and even a recipe guide to round it out.
More to come next week in part 2, including Aerial, Princess Aurora and Belle