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The princessification of America

Posted: July 9, 2011 - 6:13pm

It started with a care package of princess T-shirts mailed from the Lower 48 by a well-intentioned grandmother brandishing an Old Navy card. Next, a giant chest of dresses, slippers, crowns, wands, scepters, and costume jewelry found its way into our house, each item bedazzled with fake gem stones crafted to inflict maximum pain when stepped on in the middle of the night.

This chest became my 3-year-old daughter’s prized possession, coveted by every little girl, and several little boys, who laid eyes upon it. She and her friends have literally pulled dresses apart fighting over them. They claw at each other’s plastic rings as if they were forged in the fires of Mordor.

Soon came the inevitable meltdowns concerning why she couldn’t wear princess clothes camping or outside to play. Thinking myself awfully clever, I ironed a bunch of princess patches onto some toddler Carhartts, to go over her pink satin finery. Even on the coldest, rainiest days, my daughter wears her princess coveralls only under threat of no dessert.

“I can’t be a princess in jeans,” she once explained, before rationalizing, “but I can be a fairy princess.”

Unfortunately, rubber boots remain a harder sell. Her exact words: “I never saw Snow White wearing Xtratufs.” Got me there.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with dressing to let everyone else know what you’re into. It’s an outward expression of identity, like me with my ubiquitous Yankees hat (which also functions as a poor man’s toupee). When you think about it, my daughter and her little friends are no different from those motorcycle enthusiasts who walk around in Harley crap all the time. Although, I’ll tell you, as far as sheer intimidation goes, I’d rather face a biker gang than a room of 3-year-old princesses. Any day.

No, I see a more insidious development: the systematic marketing of princess-emblazoned junk to an extremely vulnerable, impulsive demographic prone to violent public displays of displeasure when its parents don’t buy it everything it wants.

Let me clarify: I don’t mean all princesses; just Disney princesses, specifically cartoon Disney princesses, as opposed to, say, Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries. You should seen my daughter’s crestfallen princess face when viewing last month’s live-action royal wedding: no magic mirrors, no talking animals, no catchy score by Alan Menken. However, there was at least one dragon in attendance (Victoria Beckham).

The fact is, if you have, or if you are, a little girl in today’s America, you can’t get away from princess culture. Not even in Juneau, perched at the edge of a 1,000-square-mile wilderness. In fact, we recently met a family that lives in a cabin with no running water out in Gustavus, and mirror, mirror on the wall, theirs were the princessiest daughters of all.

It’s as if Disney’s licensed itself to the entire country of China. Princess products are everywhere: princess placemats, princess camping chairs, princess toothbrushes, princess toothpaste, princess sheets, princess pillowcases, princess pillow shams (btw, what’s the purpose of a pillow sham, aside from providing yet another surface upon which to silk-screen Snow White?). We own several singing princess books, as well as a princess phone, which, when left alone for 10 minutes, rings itself to remind my daughter to play with it. I’d remove the batteries, but honestly, I think it’s one of those toys that runs on pure evil.

Seriously, though, in 2010, Walt Disney Company posted profits exceeding $4 billion. Half of that had to be for princess cutlery, which, I swear, they specifically designed to slip undetected down the princess garbage disposal, thus necessitating the use of princess pliers to extract it. Just remember to flip the princess circuit breaker first; you don’t want to accidentally electrocute yourself, unless, of course, someone’s standing by with a princess atrial defibrllator. Or there’s a prince on hand to kiss you.

Not that it’s all bad. Paige’s Disney infatuation gives me an excuse to enjoy a few Irish coffees of a weekend afternoon and watch Alice in Wonderland, which is a pretty intense flick, even without the Irish coffees. Fantasia will blow your freakin’ mind.

And at least my daughter gets creative with it, inventing elaborate role-playing scenarios incorporating elements gleaned from actual life, like going to school or picking up grandparents at the airport.

She claims to possess 26 super powers, one of which involves not fearing her room at night; another is holding in pee-pee.

Typically, my daughter plays Snow White, assigning my wife the role of Cinderella, although I have to say, in reality, I’m the one who does all the cooking, cleaning and sewing around our house, not to mention all the frolicking with woodland critters.

Our 8-month-old son alternates between Prince Charming, which my daughter pronounces “chow mein” (incidentally, “Prince Chow Mein” was my boyhood nickname — I really liked Chinese food), and the Wicked Stepmother.

Don’t ask.

I usually get to be Mufasa, from the Lion King. This makes sense. I do a killer James Earl Jones. My Sean Connery’s not bad, either.

Still, would it be too much for Disney to depict a more realistic universe? Or at least one in which my daughter’s problems aren’t solved by a prince who carries her away to live happily ever after?

First of all, who’s to say it has to be a prince? Why can’t it be another princess? Either way, though, no daughter of mine is going off with some stranger in tights and a codpiece.

But really, I’d just like my daughter to know that if and when her prince does come, he probably won’t be riding in on a white stallion; he’s much more likely to be half in the bag and passed out on the coat pile, refusing to move until she gives him her number.

Whatever, that’s how I met her mother.

• Geoff Kirsch’s “Slack Tide” appears every other Sunday in Neighbors. For a much more intelligent dissection of the Disney princess phenomenon, read Peggy Orenstein’s “What’s Wrong With Cinderella” from the Dec. 24, 2006 New York Times.

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