So I’ve been seeing the Disney news lately. They’ve done the usual thing with Merida from Brave, prettying her up to make her fit more in line with the Disney Princess model of looks and behavior. It’s not surprising. Disney is a marketing engine, a big-league one. They have a goal of billions of dollars with a product, not millions of dollars. You can’t get that without making each product as broadly appealing as possible. You might think it’s crazy to destroy the central idea, the thematic origin of a character, to appeal to a broader audience…when Brave made over six hundred million dollars in worldwide box-office and domestic DVD sales.
To put that in perspective, since it’s release Brave, on the list of top box office money makers of all time, rates one step above The Empire Strikes Back. It was a fantastic success as a movie, and needs no change. What they’ve done is the equivalent of re-casting Darth Vader as a bumbling slapstick villain. They’ve gutted the whole story driver in order to make a buck. And they will make a buck. A good many of them, probably. It doesn’t seem to make sense to those of us who enjoyed the movie, but it makes good business sense. Profit is what makes a business healthy, not long-term investment. Long term investment can’t be liquidated, it’s not an asset that can be moved easily into other, potentially more equitable ventures that might need a sudden influx of capital to get going.
Sure, you are killing the long-term potential of the story. Young girls that watched the movie in the theatre will probably grow up disgusted with what Disney made Merida into, and that kills them as a market in future…but right now their parents, their grandparents, will see the new Merida as the perfect thing. They will buy the pretty princess for their kids and grandkids because it’s more proper than a chubby, weirdly-haired thing with a WEAPON for god’s sake…
You think your average wallmart grandma is going to buy one of those for her little princess granddaughter? What kind of role model is that? Obviously little girls want sparkly, off the shoulder dresses for their as-close-to-barbie-as-possible dolls. No bows. That’s not feminine.
When my daughter was born, her mother and I had one rule for all the grandparents and family…No Barbies. We had strong ideas of what kind of daughter we wanted to raise, and barbie dolls had zero place in our plans. It was a hell of a battle, with many sneak attacks launched by the older generation. They would talk about feminism and equal rights/rites, but extending that to kids toys was, apparently, beyond their ken. Sparkly pink always seemed to find it’s way to my daughters hands when she was young, just as daytime tv did when she was older.
I’m not opposed to pretty. I’m opposed to gender limitations, but I think everyone is free to express their chosen gender in whichever way appeals to them. If you want to flaunt your curves because you enjoy who you are? Cool. Should people judge you based on how you chose to dress? Only if they are ignorant. Working as a bouncer, when I started my shift I would go do a walk-through inside before I settled down at the door. I eyeballed everyone inside to get a sense of who might be trouble, who might have my back if things got bad, and who would be likely to makes things worse. You learn very, very quickly to never judge by what someone wears. You learn to see the person regardless of what layers are around them.
So, no… I don’t mind so much that they changed Merida’s dress. I mind that they took her bow away. Dressing pretty isn’t an automatic killer of skill. My wife more than capably fenced me at our wedding, swords and daggers, while wearing her beautiful and form-fitted wedding dress…in high heels. My friend Yvonne used to fence in thigh-high spike heeled boots, and kicked butt. She was more than happy to take advantage of stupid expectations. I don’t mind that they changed Merida’s hair, made her appear slimmer…skinny girls need role models too. But when they took her bow away, they took away her ability to be a role model.
A bow is a weapon. A weapon we can use to kill. Or to hunt, or to sport, or to play. Our hands are made to grasp, to hold, to shape and guide. To use our hands in the art of weapon play is a deep pleasure, an expression of joie de vivre as well as a statement of our self-reliance and independence. That’s offensive to a lot of people. Deeply, deeply offensive. And so very much more offensive when it’s a woman. Disney doesn’t get rich offending people, so off to the harem goes Merida, to be the Sultan’s plaything. Honestly, a lot of people would find that less offensive.
People quail in the face of self-reliance. Not in a big way, but in a small frown. Right and wrong is a judgement we put on other people, and we expect the world to be fair and balanced. Damned if it makes a difference that we not the world or the species we were ten thousand years ago, don’t you dare go against the grain, you will get eaten by the tiger, and if you go too much against the grain I might get eaten by the tiger. And my kids. So, you start acting up I’m going to throw you out of the cave so the tiger eats you first, jerk! Or throw you to the police, or into the world of the homeless. That’ll teach you to be different.
Carry your sword or bow in public, and people give you the look. They shrink back. It’s not fear of you doing violence to them that makes their thoughts turn dark and petty towards you (at worst,) it’s fear of you standing up and bringing down the barbarians on to everyone. You are no hero to them, you are the person who stands up and shouts out about what is wrong…and we all know that never makes things better. It only means the teacher gets angry, and we all have to suffer her sullenness for the rest of the day.
Merida with her bow.
A hero to only a few of us.