December Daily: Day 14

12 Jan

Day 14

This page took me hours and hours to create. It was a ridiculous amount of time, given how simple the elements. Actually, the images came together quickly and were easily placed in the layout. Where I struggled was with journaling. Here’s what I wrote in the end:

An impromptu, late morning visit to the movie theatre. She fell asleep half way through, but keeps telling me how much she loved that princess movie. Luckily, she still gets in for free. In spite of that, I was a bit shocked to realize one matinee ticket, a small popcorn, and a medium drink set me back $20. I got to sneak that grainy, underexposed shot of her just as the movie’s first musical number started, and she took in the magic of the giant screen for the first time.

I decided to document in writing what was being shown in the images, because I doubt I’ll understand it a few years from now. It’s also a way for current me to get a chuckle from future me, who is paying $20 for a mantinee ticket and can’t believe I used to complain about $8.50.

But let’s talk about what I really wanted to talk about, shall we?

PAS: Princess Avoidance Syndrome

Many years from now, we may only remember this season for one thing: We let The Princesses in. Although I have worked hard to keep them at bay, I have been realist. I knew some day that Lyra’s love of fairy tales would emerge. And, just as with my  own childhood, there would be strong pop cultural messages that would influence that love, and eventually define it. Though there are plenty of messages I don’t like that are pervasive in Disney’s version of  classic fairy tales, what I despise more is the vast commercial empire these images are attached to.

For me, the bigger danger of letting Lyra watch Sleeping Beauty is not that she would start dreaming of her own Prince Charming and all the ways he might save her, but that she would be introduced to a set imagery that is plastered on everything from diapers to sippy cups to Barbies to a special Princess version of Candyland. Certainly she sees these images already, but without exposure to the source material, the images don’t have the same meaning. It’s one thing to see a movie and absorb it’s themes; but when the images from that movie are regurgitated repeatedly on every plasticized surface you look at, it carries a different weight.  The young child brain has no choice but to believe there’s an important truth she must absorb from these images if the larger culture has gone through so much trouble to make sure sees them. Unfortunately, the message the culture is actually peddling is buy buy buy, but that’s by riding on the backs of more heinous messages about body, beauty, and femininity.

It would be inaccurate to say I’ve raised Lyra commercial-free, because she is exposed to marketing messages all the time. We all are. But we have not had commercial television since before I became pregnant. Lyra lives in a world comprised mostly of movies, and almost all of them Pixar. Outside of these she watches a few downloaded episodes of Sesame Street. She has no idea that most kids watch a different episode of her favorite television programs every day. As far as she knows, only three episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine exist, because that’s all I downloaded from iTunes, unable to stomach more.

As a child I had unlimited access to television. I could watch any amount and the content was never censored. I saw The Exorcist at 5-years-old ( s tory for another time). My favorite show in junior high was Thirtysomething. The return of The Real World each year on MTV was semi-religous experience for many years. It had never occurred to me that there was any danger in all of this until I took an Intro to Advertising class in 2000 and watched a terrifying Frontline program called The Merchants of Cool. I haven’t watched even five minutes of MTV since I saw that program. Plopping my future children in front of Nickelodeon? A worse possibility than feeding them high-fructose corn syrup deep-fried in partially-hydrogenated soybean oil.

But, I love movies. I love television. (And I love that my daughter’s ability to sit through ninety minutes of Toy Story 2, means I can compose a novel-legnth blog post with minimal interruption.) So, while I had no intention of being an overly-fearful parent, completely restricting my child from TV, I knew that it was important to approach what she watched with skepticism. And I have remained highly skeptical about the value of sharing my own childhood wonder of seeing Snow White and Cinderella given all of the commercial messaging attached.

But let’s talk specifically about this princess movie. For that, I think we’re going to need a part two.

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