Sex and Disney Movies

Are you wondering how to talk to your kids about sex?  One great way to introduce them to the basics is to make sure they watch Disney movies.  From LifeSite news:

Researchers at the University of Michigan have concluded that the love stories told in classic Disney and other G-rated children’s films – such as the Little Mermaid – are partially to blame for the pervasiveness of what they label “heteronormativity.” “Despite the assumption that children’s media are free of sexual content, our analyses suggest that these media depict a rich and pervasive heterosexual landscape,” wrote researchers Emily Kazyak and Karin Martin, in a report published in the latest issue of the Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) publication Gender & Society. 

“Characters in love are surrounded by music, flowers, candles, magic, fire, balloons, fancy dresses, dim lights, dancing and elaborate dinners,” the researchers observed. “Fireflies, butterflies, sunsets, wind and the beauty and power of nature often provide the setting for – and a link to the naturalness of – hetero-romantic love.”

The SWS press release on the research blamed what they called the “old ideals” of romantic relationships, specifically those found the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, which in many instances inspired the films’ storylines, for “such heavily gendered depictions and glorified portrayals of heterosexual relationships.”

The team says the results point to heterosexuality achieving a “taken-for-granted status” “because hetero-romance is depicted as powerful.” 

 Note that these researchers think that all of this is bad.  They think that movies should be used to spread gender confusion and perversion.  Be that as it may, I think their basic observations are accurate.  The old Disney movies do powerfully express the idea that heterosexuality is natural.  See, e.g. Bambi:  animals getting twitterpaited and reproducing in kind is nature’s plan.  Of course, it never occurs to university researchers that people might believe this because heterosexuality really is natural, and that the combination of animals, flowers, and young couples in love is not a random juxtaposition of unrelated objects, but that they have a real and intelligible connection.*  The old Disney movies certainly glorify heterosexual romance, but it doesn’t propagandize for it.  By this I mean that heterosexual love is not made to look good by being associated by something not essentially connected to it.  In fact, movies like Sleeping Beauty portay romance in almost archetypal purity.  The love of a man and a woman, ordered as it is to holy marriage, is beautiful in itself, so art that captures its essence will automatically share in its beauty.  In fact, it is adult literature that is propaganda, because it deliberately attempts to make hetero-monogomy look bad by concealing its essence.

On Disney movie treats sex in a particularly profound way.  I mean The Jungle Book.  In this movie, Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves, lives happily in the jungle outside of human society.  The jungle is a place of danger, but–provided one is content with the “bear” necessities–one without work or responsibility.  Mowgli’s position resembles the “state of nature” of the philosophes’ imaginations.  What will draw him out of it and force him to join human society?  How about physical danger?  That was a popular eighteenth-century answer.  Man lives in society to pool his defenses.  At first it seems like this is what’s going to happen.  The animals determine that Mowgli must leave the jungle to protect him from Shere Khan, the tiger.  However, the tiger is later defeated, so Mowgli will not be forced to leave the jungle for this reason after all.  And, in fact, Mowgli fully intends to stay with the animals, away from the world of men…until he comes near the human village and sees a girl.  While fetching water for her family, the girl sings a song about the duties of husbands and wives.  Hypnotized, Mowgli follows her into the village, laying aside the freedom of the jungle and taking upon himself the duties of civilization.  The wise panther Bagheera explains that Mowgli is now “with his own kind”, “where he belongs.”

What is the message?  First of all, the movie affirms Aristotle and rejects Rousseau:  civilization is man’s natural state.  And what holds man in society?  Sex, of course.  That is, the duties to spouses, children, kin, and clan.  So it was, and so it must be.  Notice that Disney’s treatment of sex is the opposite of the one fashionable now.  Movies nowadays tend to treat sex as an anarchic thing.  They associate it with the breaking of social bonds in pursuit of pleasure.  “Freedom” and “sexual bliss” are as sononymous to screenwriters as they are to adolescent boys.  But this is entirely backwards.  As The Jungle Book makes clear, it is the nature of sex to bind.  First of all, it binds a man to his wife and the children this act produces.  Less directly, it locks the man into the wider civilization, forces him to work, gives him a stake in the social order.

The story Walt Disney tells here is very old.  Indeed, it is the oldest known story in the world.  When the countryside of Uruk was being ravaged by the wild man Enkidu, Gilgamesh sends out a temple prostitute to give herself to the savage.  By uniting himself to a woman, Enkidu is separated from the world of animals and joins the world of men.  The Sumerians, too, knew that sex binds.


*  Indeed, most cultures regard gender complementarity as not only natural, but cosmically significant as well.  The Chinese speak of yin and yang; in the mythologies of countless peoples, all life proceeds from the union of the sky god and the earth goddess; in my essay on patriarchy, I argue that there is a male-female duality in the idea of personal dependence. 

2 Responses

  1. […] roles are powerfully present in all our memorable children’s literature, including Disney movies: One Disney movie treats sex in a particularly profound way.  I mean The Jungle Book.  In this […]

  2. […] often pleasantly surprised.  I’ve written about this before regarding Disney movies (see here, here, here, and here), My Little Pony, and Batman.  The affirmation of official pieties, when […]

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