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Rebecca Hagelin / Aug. 25, 2009

Disney's Decline

I'll always remember how magical it was to see Tinker Bell flitter across the TV screen. She would touch the top of Cinderella's Castle with her magic wand and release a million tiny sparkles that cascaded down the television screen and seemingly into my living room.

Since our family normally attended church on Sunday evenings, it was a rare treat to watch the Wonderful World of Disney. On that occasion when I was home and could steal away and turn on the TV, I was instantly transported into a world of fairytales and dreams. Disney was synonymous with innocence, happiness and hope - of Mickey Mouse, virtuous damsels and handsome heroes.

I’ll always remember how magical it was to see Tinker Bell flitter across the TV screen. She would touch the top of Cinderella’s Castle with her magic wand and release a million tiny sparkles that cascaded down the television screen and seemingly into my living room.

Since our family normally attended church on Sunday evenings, it was a rare treat to watch the Wonderful World of Disney. On that occasion when I was home and could steal away and turn on the TV, I was instantly transported into a world of fairytales and dreams. Disney was synonymous with innocence, happiness and hope - of Mickey Mouse, virtuous damsels and handsome heroes.

The Disney girls like Snow White and Cinderella were always so innocent, beautiful and kind. They taught little girls that we too should be generous and gracious - that our lives should be marked by goodness and virtue. The Disney message was clear: regardless of your circumstances, you can be lovely and thoughtful, and - if your heart is pure and with a little help from your fairy godmother - you might also find your handsome prince and live happily ever-after.

My, how times have changed.

This is not your mamma’s Disney. The lifestyles and fantasies they are selling our young women are anything but wholesome. Disney has deliberately and successfully transformed its brand from one of innocence and family entertainment, to a purveyor of promiscuity.

A recent case in point is Disney star Miley Cyrus. Last week I wrote in this column how, once again, Disney created a young, innocent heroine and then morphed her into a tramp. (Is Miley a tramp in real life? I don’t know. But she has agreed to be packaged as one.)

The larger point is that Disney itself has also morphed. They’ve gone from selling just childhood fantasies into also selling sexual ones.

This new corporate image was missed by many adults, but to my surprise, it seems that some teens recognize -and are beginning to reject - the newer, uglier, Disney.

After Miley’s now infamous pole dancing routine before a nation of teeny-boppers, I remarked to my 17-year-old daughter, “Kristin, it looks like Miley has gone trampy on us.”

“Of course,” she responded, matter-of-factly.

Surprised by her immediate and total agreement, I asked, “Why do you say, ‘of course’”?

“Because she’s Disney,” Kristin said simply.

Wow. I was stunned that my daughter knew what Disney had been up to.

“Who else has Disney turned into a tramp?” I asked.

“Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, the girls from ‘High School Musical’- lots of others”, she sighed.

The funny thing is that Kristin doesn’t even watch the programming. But the characters are such a pervasive part of teen culture, she can’t escape them.

So what’s a mother to do? For starters, don’t blindly trust the brands you have come to rely on.

Today’s marketers have become so savvy that they know how to skillfully present themselves to parents in one way, but be something radically different to the teenage population which now wields tremendous purchasing power. While Disney still sells the childhood characters of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to new moms, they are selling sexuality to our pre-teen girls.

When you hear about a new Disney flick, for instance, check out a reliable movie review before checking out the DVD. The best movie reviews I know are at www.PluggedinOnline.com.

And, don’t let your children become enamored by any media star. Teach them that pop stars are packaged products subject to manipulation by crass marketers. Remind them that young pop icons and their agents are always looking for the next role that will maintain their super star status, and that they are likely to make mistakes along the way.

You can take heart that Tinker Bell and Cinderella will never change - it’s too bad I can’t say the same for Disney or their modern heroines.

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