Friday, December 19, 2008

rambling rant

The big deal lately for us is the colonization of the Disney Princesses of our house and our daughter's heart. I hate the Disney Princesses. I have violent fantasies about a big princess dismemberment and stewing party. Which makes me a little bit sad, because when I was little I thought Sleeping Beauty was about as great of a film as there could be. It's up there with Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Annie, and The Best Little Whore House in Texas for me. I even seriously considered naming Smootch 'Aurora', that film had such an influence on me. And as far as it goes, Aladdin is a great, Mulan is fabulous (though problematic politically, I know, but cross dressing is always a winner in my mind), and Cinderella, well, everybody can identify with Cinderella. I grew up with these movies and I love them (except Snow White - never could abide with Snowy's 'Someday My Prince will Come' *shutter*). These movies are not exactly a feminist ideal, they are a far cry away from the Grimm's fairy tales, but they've got something that I like anyway. Humor. Irony. Dragons.

But the princesses all together are now The Princesses, and they are a force to be reckoned with. The Disney Princesses are whores for an imperialistic marketing scheme. Their images are slapped loose and fancy free across everything imaginable without feeling moored to any logical connection between image and product: bed sheets, crayons, kitchen ware, toothpaste, wallpaper, sandwich bags, clothing, books, and on and on and on. The 'princesses', which are simply heroines of disney films, actually being royality is not a prerequiste, are pictured as a group, an uber princess, and their individuality is reduced to slight quirky preferences for certain colours, hair style, and pets. The princess personality (which I have extrapolated from my extensive research watching Smootch watch the Princess sing-a-long videos borrowed from the library) is mainly concerned with men and partying.

So, where am I going with this? I don't know (it's getting pretty late). I was thinking I was going to write about my revelation that I do not need to fight this silliness, because that is what it is. It is marketing, and the last time I checked, I am still not required to actually buy this crap. True, I resent the hell that shopping for the few things I do actually have to buy is about a faux-choice between this brand or that, having no trademark-less thing avaliable in my local shops (have you tried to buy a child's toothbrush without a cartoon character on it lately?), but it is not the only influence in my child's life. Of course, Smootch completely lacks the critical thinking necessary to defend herself from advertising and that Disney is horrifically predatory when it comes to imbedding their brand into the consciousness of young minds in an effort to create lifelong consumers, but, hey, such is modern life, right? Still, with two of her classmates actually going to Disneyland in the past month, and being asked continually about the Princesses, and what do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas (she has already discovered that replying "playing with mom alone all day long" (poor Birdie was not invited) is not an acceptable response - that was poo pooed by a stranger on the bus today who refused to believe that Smootch's innermost desires had nothing to do with bubble wrapped plastic), and then having our video store carry at least half of their children's selection produced by Disney (the other half Nickelodeon), and nothing of any damn value, well, it's enough to make a mom rant.


So, when I was a girl, I had toys. Some were character toys, though Branding as a marketing scheme was still in its infancy. I remember it being a bit of a scandal that they were selling toys related to Gremlins before the movie actually was released. Though with He-Man and GI Joe, cartoons created exclusively to support a line of toys, we were no trademark virgins. Still, it was a mere sideshow of influence, compared to the whole earthquake level of advertising now. What I would consider to be the most important influence on my own childhood play to be is the fact that every couple of weeks or so I would find myself out at an isolated rural acerage for an entire weekend, with virtually no toys at all. This is the time otherwise known as parental visitation with my father. My 'fun' resources were my brother, the land such as it offered for exploration (and amazing land it was!), and a few grown up games my father kept out such as Risk, Monolopy, and chess pieces. Yes, folks, I had to make my own fun and I'm sure I'm a better person for it (though I occasionally failed and could spend an entire day staring up at a slowly moving ceiling fan missing my nintendo, but I'm going to believe that was some sort of mind enhancing zen experience and not a complete lack of character and creativity).

One of my favorite play items was a set of chess pieces painted by my mother before I was born. They are little masterpieces of dedication and intricacy. I have them today and Smootch has grown to love them also.

I spent hundred of hours playing with these little figures, though, truth be known, never actually played chess with them. You can create almost any story you want with 32 pieces in two colours. I'm sure most of us have similar recollections of creating complicated plots and intriques with just a few raw materials. Good times, being bored on those weekends.

Now, back to marketing. I was thinking about this today while watching Smootch play with my chess pieces and a Dora the Explorer game set she received for her birthday. Now Dora is as insidious as The Princesses and her image has been slapped on everything under the sun and more. Dora isn't a friend of mine either, but Smootch's Dora game chest has been pretty good to us because we like games and the game chest contains classics like Old Maid, dominios, and checkers that have been modified slightly to be understandable to the preschooler set. Smootch has learnt to play checkers with the Dora and Swiper characters, and it is the game of checkers she likes, with the licensed characters being a bit of a bonus for her. So, there is some redeemable value there (though decapitating the Dora characters has come to mind...)
Back to it: this morning watching Smootch play (actually, I was playing with her, but she thinks that my part in the action is usually as spectator to the Great Smootch Show - but that's another story). Smootch had out her Dora game board, the Dora characters for checkers, and my chess pieces. She spent a good 15 minutes setting up the board, which went like this:Those are dominios, btw, with Dora characters on them. The set up was very deliberate and technical, with Smootch using whatever internal logic she had going on, followed by fussing, minor adjustments, and viewing the arrangements from multiple angles before she was ready to get on with the game.Which made me realize that Dora (and the Princesses) may be prominent in my daughter's material life, but they do not necessarily rule her imaginative life. This insight was compounded when Smootch, finally was ready to start the play after the hemming and hawing of the arranging, proceeded in a way that was wholly unexpected. With the final arrangement reminding me of some sort of Celtic ritual taking place by some holy ruins, perhaps they were trying to appease the gods?, along came The Baby. Baby the Destroyer.
Then a couple of survivors picked themselves up from the rubble and decided to get married (the marriage ceremony, btw, is a part of the play I'm allowed to speak in since Smootch can never remember exactly how wedding vows go).
Of course, the wedding took some time to set up. More arranging and fussing.
I do my slick as a justice of the peace, and then Smootch follows with the truly important part:
The ceremony ended with a scuffle between the bride and groom's families, with much drama, and whisper shouting, falsetto voices, and eventually a sword battle over how to set up the lemonade stand for the reception. (I laid back for this part and got comfy - Smootch's play brawls tend to go on for awhile.)
The lemonade stand was in the closet. Perhaps because of the differences of opinions between the families, it took a whole 20 minutes to set up.However, after a couple of lemonades, the guests all loosened up and the party turned out to be a great success with only a few broken tables.

Which brings me to my thoughts after spending this very entertaining morning with Smootch. Disney may be marketing evil geniuses, same with the crew of Dora, or the teletubbies or lazytown or whatever is the flavor of the week, but Smootch will, just as I did, make her own fun if she is allowed the time and space to do her own thing. The danger is not the Disney Princess stuff per se, it is failing to provide the head space she needs to create her own plots and dramas. Smootch needs time to develop her own style, to learn about her mind and body, and quiet in order to hear her own thoughts and recognize what is truly hers versus what has been suggested by others. Instead of fighting against the marketers, I need to focus on getting Smootch her time to play without distractions of commerical culture. Or without me or even other children sometimes. My job as a parent is to provide the raw materials and then get out of the way. Something to keep in mind, anyway.

1 comment:

Heidi's Loft said...

Great blog entry! How about when they get old enough to idolize the Jonas Brothers and Miley. That is where my battle is right now. I try to go with the flow and keep the tv off and the "characters" to a minimum. We do a little hello Kitty and Tinker Bell but the kids are old enough to be taught about marketing strategies and how not to fall into the traps. Funny thing is hubby/dad has his own marketing company so it is an interesting balance around here. Understanding and using the dragon for the purposes of good without being eaten by it.