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as a young kid, no other DISNEY film scared the shit out of me quite like DUMBO (1941). the whole idea of being estranged from your family by a bunch of evil circus freaks set out on exploiting you and making you do crazy shenanigans against your will was just too much to process back then. even viewing it as an adult i can't believe they got away with showing underage drinking and racist blackface caricatures, wait actually the later part i can believe. this is the same company that put out SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946) and WALT DISNEY himself was quite the walking contradiction himself, on one hand nurturing a reputation for wholesomeness while on the other being one of the lead proponents in HOLLYWOOD of RED SCARE propaganda and MCCARTHYIST misadventures into purifying the entertainment industry, with all of its antiemetic connotations intact. this is the same MISSOURI transplant that took inspiration from JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS's reimagined racist slave narratives and basically white-washed them for commercial consumption. but i digress.
i'm not one of those people that share the criticism of DISNEY films for their routinely used plot trope of breaking up the nuclear family through death, estrangement or otherwise (see BAMBI, CINDERELLA, THE LION KING, FINDING NEMO, etc). i'm fine with that since in the end the films are about seeking connection with the greater community and establishing a surrogate family. its uplifting. but man the existential dread i experienced as a child watching DUMBO get drunk after watching his mom sing goodbye to him still makes me emotional. most depressing scene of all time. easily.
i really hate you WALT DISNEY for making me love this film so much.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
you ruined my childhood.
that's what i loved hearing from my high school students after having them read ANGELA CARTER's genius feminist reinterpretation of classic fairy tales from her 1979 short story collection THE BLOODY CHAMBER (PENGUIN, 1979).
i always loved the idea of a palimpsest, which is an artwork that has layers created over time. think of a wall in NYC that has graffiti, flyers and "post no bills" scribbled and glued on top of one another. there are layers of meaning literally stacked on each other.
same with FAIRY TALES, most were written in FRANCE in the 1700s as a way of controlling young women. many of the stories are exceedingly misogynist and artifacts of their era. many got reinterpreted in GERMANY in the 1800s and then again in 1900s in the UNITED STATES, most predominantly by WALT DISNEY. in many ways the DISNEY films are relaying a similar message about what is expected of young women, namely to seek marriage and motherhood as validation in a male-dominated society. it is super interesting and most don't even give it a second thought.
that is why CARTER and her reinterpretations are so shocking to kids. if you know the basic narrative and its variations, then if you are thrown a new interpretation these new alterations become cogniscent choices and oftentimes criticisms of earlier texts. for CARTER it feels almost as though she is correcting the narrative and releasing it from its chauvinistic worldview. the fact that such is jarring really showcases the level to which our basic identity in western society is built upon such gender power imbalances.
needless to say, my students had a hard time with DISNEY films thereafter. but my hope was that they gained a critical eye towards the relatioship between a coded message and its intended audience.
ah, critical thinking. too bad they can't put that in a scantron test. american education system is screwed. good luck.