Monthly Archives: September 2013

Fact vs. Fiction: On reading social issues in Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ (a response)

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Poster of "The Princess and the Frog," taken from  the movie's Wikipedia entry.

Poster of “The Princess and the Frog,” taken from the movie’s Wikipedia entry.

Yesterday, I came across this blog post called The Pricess and the Frog: A Feminist Fairytale from Feministing.com. It was a trend for me because I was researching on what others had to say about Hercules (1997) and The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) (and their respective TV spin-offs), and yes, I adore The Princess and the Frog (2009). It was the first movie my boyfriend and I saw together (on his laptop in our university’s study hall).

I’ve known a long while now that Disney, even though I grew up with and loved its 90s Renaissance era films, wasn’t exactly known for its feminism, historical accuracy, and cultural representation, to name a few things. But I decided to open that can of worms, in the name of picking up a few useful somethings.

Note that I only carry these opinions because I was raised in a traditionally patriarchal Filipino setting, on a steady diet of Western cartoons and books—but somehow, I don’t buy the traditional gender roles foisted upon women by my own culture. It was not just the Disney Princess line at work on my psyche here.

Anyway, the post itself is all right, but it’s the comments that are a riot. I’m always surprised (occasionally taken aback) by the sheer number of people who misread a work of art, whether this is overreading or not reading enough. Someone in the thread said something along the lines of “It’s okay, it’s just fiction,” and it got me wondering: when is it appropriate to say that and when is it just an excuse?

I’m not saying my own interpretation of the film is 100% correct, but that is the beauty of art: there is no “correct” interpretation.

However, the work itself has a scope and limitations, just like any decent research paper, and some people like to criticize art for things that are way beyond its implied scope and limitations. I’m not saying you can’t stretch its limits, but oftentimes, people forget its scope in a critique.

Case in point. Some of the comments (before they devolved into a critique of one person’s comment about personally not finding anything wrong with wanting a family even after getting an Ivy league education and the first, vicious reaction to this comment) discuss how the film completely disregards the social and classist issues prevailing in 1930s New Orleans that really hindered the so-called “glorified individualism” part of American culture, as exhibited by Tiana’s character.

Also discussed is the “problem” of Tiana and Lottie’s friendship, which boiled down to “why is there a problem with portraying wealthy black families onscreen?”

The issue of marriage naturally came up as well, about whether it was a side plot or something necessary for the hard-working career woman to have. And the speciesism? I couldn’t even wrap my head around that one; more research on my part is needed.

Now, if I said “it’s only fiction” to these people, that would be an excuse to get away from all these arguments.

In art and in life, a delicate balance of both must be struck; you’re never going to get it completely (exhibit A: Disney’s misrepresentation of the Voodoo religion), but you’re never gonna please everybody, either. I laud Disney for really attempting the balance, though.

I don’t know squat about the race issues between blacks and whites in America beyond what I’ve seen on TV and read in books, being a Southeast Asian living in the Philippines whose people have their own race issues. But I do know that The Princess and the Frog is a G-rated Disney musical for children. I highly doubt it could have been classified as such if the problems of the Deep South in the 20s and 30s were accurately represented; liberties will and must be taken. Moreover, it was wonderful to see a Disney heroine with so single-minded a purpose as a achieving a dream that has nothing to do with Prince Charming or happily ever after—something I didn’t quite feel in its successor, Tangled (2010).

Children’s movies need a healthy mix of fantasy and reality to get the message across. Maybe for Disney, some social issues need to take a backseat in order to tackle the main one? I don’t know. They’re not known for being good at that, so I suppose this effort in that context is a big one.

As a children’s movie, I think it depicted just enough of reality (like when Tiana and her mother were taking the bus home and it was shown that their neighborhood consisted solely of financially-struggling blacks). I had no problem with Lottie and her family being rich and white because that was the way things were, back in the day. What was truly remarkable about Lottie and Tiana’s friendship was that it existed at all—and sure, it’s only fiction. Maybe that kind of family with that kind of attitude toward people was not the norm in the American South of the 20s. Lottie and her dad are the exception, and an exceptional fictional example of human decency. Her friendship with Tiana is so strong that she, in full princess-bride get up and inches away from her dream of becoming a princess and getting her prince and happily ever after, offers to kiss Naveen in order to break the spell–no marriage required. How’s that for debunking the infamous Disney Princess image?

Kids are intelligent, no denying that. But the age group to which Disney caters should be shown movies accurately depicting life’s harsh realities when their ages hit the double-digits. Let them have their happy childhoods first, or they will grow up cynical. Besides, many of the more complicated symbolisms go over their heads anyway (example: I did not realize the sexual politics behind Hercules until I was much older); for as long as they’re at the age they are, we should keep molding their foundations with positive messages. And when that’s been built, then do you let them see the darker side and the gray patches of reality.

In the end, I have yet to make up my mind as to whether or not the human race places too much emphasis in the role of media as the hands that form the clay of the human mind. I think of the Catholic Church and well-meaning parents who go to crazy lengths to censor a work for its “depravity” or “obscenity” or whatever, even if all the work does is work along the lines of “what if.” I think that’s when it’s okay to say “it’s only fiction”—when the work is challenging one’s pre-conceived notions and the “taboo” status of a subect. One must delineate between fact and fiction…but at the same time, one must be open to what it might be trying to say, as all good fiction contains a grain of truth.

The only time it’s not okay is when it outright fictionalizes and romanticizes—not merely borrows elements from—an existing culture. That’s a recipe for promoting stereotypes. Perhaps that is why Disney will always have the problem of culture, gender, and sex on its hands, as it often fails to strike a balance when depicting cultures completely foreign (look at the way Genie in Aladdin (1990) and Mushu in Mulan (1998) are so staunchly American—perhaps that is their way of keeping up audience interest).

The Princess and the Frog, however flawed it may be, is a big step in that long way to go. Let’s see how Disney does with Frozen.

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11 Life Hacks For The Emotionally Struggling 20-Something

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This just listed down everything I’ve been trying to incorporate into my life this year. Worth a read 🙂

Thought Catalog

Everybody I know is either in or needs to be in therapy. The common theme among them is that they self-sabotage, and I think we all do, it’s just that not all of us have the discipline to address it. I’m not one to pass judgment on this because I am guilty of it probably more than anyone, but I was able to figure some things out on the journey back from that place. I don’t know your situation. I don’t know what will help you. All I know is that these are the things I learned to hone in on every day and of which have brought me unprecedented happiness. By this I do not mean a sustained state of joy. I mean contentment; the ability to flow through emotions and the ins-and-outs and disappointments and numbing routines of everyday life; how to transcend them. How to garner your…

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8 Famous Male Writers, And Their Present Day College Counterparts

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Worth reblogging if only for the Tao Lin mention :))

Thought Catalog

1. The First-Name, Last-Name Boy: Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac is the boy who you can’t help but refer to with his full name no matter how many times you’ve see him naked. This is because he always makes you feel tragically unhip in comparison with his uncanny ability to drop witticisms and snarky references that go way above your head. He pounds shots of whiskey like a champ and smokes so many cigarettes you wonder how he can still breathe like a normal person. Each time he texts you to “hang out” at one in the morning, you forget all semblance of self-respect despite knowing that he keeps a running harem of other girls who are similarly attracted to his tortured-intellectual mystique.

2. The Frat Star: Charles Bukowski

In 1978, Charles Bukowski published Women — what may be one of the most misogynistic pieces of literature in existence. The thinly disguised…

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Learning to take care of your sanity, or enjoying rest in all its forms

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I had one of those rare days off in which I simply stayed at home in my house clothes and did nothing but eat/lounge around/mentally work out a few stories/play computer games/surf the internet all day.

I watched two episodes of Disney’s TV spin-off of the Hercules movie and discovered that I really like it, whatever reviewers may say.

I even went on to see what a bunch of blogs had to say about Disney movies (particularly The Princess and the Frog) and their feminisim or lack thereof (needless to say, I opened a can of worms).

Reading all those reviews got me thinking about a certain point regarding how it’s okay to say of a work that it’s only fiction sometimes and at others, dispute how it is untrue to life and unfair to certain minority groups even if “it’s only fiction”—but that merits a whole other post altogether.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that today was rather productive, if only because it engaged my thinking faculties. I am trying to tell myself that it is all right to spend a day mostly resting—even from writing stories or catching up on submission deadlines—because sometimes what you really need to do is let your brain veg.

I don’t know if I’ll ever again have a day spent mindlessly playing computer games or doing something certain high-powered individuals I know wouls call “useless” or “lazy.” But if I ever do, I am training myself to think that that’s all right, too.

After all, it would be best for my sanity to move on my own time, at my own pace, and do whatever I want to do with what I’ve been given.

25 Signs You’re A Liberal Arts Major

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Hahahaha…I was not a Liberal Arts major but oh god =))

Thought Catalog

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1. You habitually find yourself in inappropriately deep conversations. In particular, at bars, or in other social settings. Someone brings up Rihanna, like casually, and you’re all “the post-colonial American hegemony of pop music is infiltrating homosocial relations.” Awkward silence ensues.

2. You write hundreds of pages criticizing the oppression of past time periods, yet secretly love old times and wish desperately that you lived in, say, 1920s Paris.

3. You have an irresistible urge to put quotation marks around everything: “feminine,” “masculine, “ “nation-state”…they’re all just like, cultural constructs, you know?

4. After college, it dawned on you with no-small horror that no one would ever again care how much you know about Herman Melville, and that your hyper-critical tendencies are no longer glorified and validated on a weekly basis.

5. You feel like you’re pretty smart, and definitely worked really hard…you think you have employable skills…but, well, define…

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Letters from the end of the storm

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The other day, I was drowning in work. Every time I finished one task, one of the higher ups had something else to do for me to do. It appeared as if my to-do list wasn’t going to shrink any time soon.

To make things worse, a friend of mine who is doing her graduate studies in Creative Writing in the UK contacted me and asked me what my post-graduate plans were. After I filled her in, she began to give me some very realistic advice—of course, realistic usually translates to “depressing.” I was up at 3am looking for more grad school options; even though that talk made me even sadder, I was unhindered by talk of competitiveness.

And then something happened the following day that reminded me that the universe has a funny way of laying down signs for you. For the first time in forever, I received snail mail: one was a postcard from that same friend who spoke to me about grad school, sent from Prague. The other was an information packet from one of my grad school options, sent all the way from the US, which I’d forgotten I ever sent for.

There is something very comforting and exciting about seeing a strong desire of yours take on a physical form, even in the shape of a rather large information packet. If I went nuts over reading it, imagine how I’d be when it’s something like an acceptance letter between my hands.

I don’t have to go to grad school next year, or even the year after that. But somehow I’ve shown myself the extent I’m determined to go. So go I shall, someday.

Sometimes, all you need is something to look forward to.