At this time of year I tend to find myself somewhat overwhelmed with the back-to-school to-do lists and the many ideas that come with the reading, writing, and planning that constitute the academic break. Even a brief vacation to Disney World—one in which I (almost) completely unplugged—led to thoughts about research and curricula.
This spring Kelli Sellers and I will have a chapter out in an edited collection entitled Teaching Disney. In this piece, we reflect on the ways Disney’s princess narratives function as a master narrative in the lives of our students. Our research stems from our experiences teaching Disney-themed writing classes that typically involve active-learning experiences. We have had wonderful opportunities teaching this class—from participating in the Disney YES program with our students to visiting New Orleans and considering the Disneyfication of the city and its cultural history via Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.
Always intrigued by Disney’s representations of gender, race, class, and sexuality, my family’s recent trip to see the Mouse, not surprisingly, led to a mental list of new research interests relevant to teaching and writing about Disney, and I thought this would be a good place for some initial reflections.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Disney’s latest release meant to capitalize on the acquisition of the infamous series (See here for an interesting review that considers the movie in light of Disney’s ownership of the franchise) is front and center in the Disney parks. From Jedi training, to revamped rides, to sold-out BB-8 pins for pin traders, a new spin on an old narrative is being constructed and sold to consumers. My daughters did not request princess merchandise this year (to be fair they are both too old for most princess products), but they did want light sabers, Star Wars pins featuring Rey, and to the catch the monorail train that was Star Wars themed.
This was also our first experience with Disney’s magic bands. The ease with which we became accustomed to using our personalized bands for park entrance, room keys, and payment was frightening (my children were arguing over who got to use their band to tag our pictures at rides). Simpl
y touch your band mouse-to-mouse and voila—your wishes really do come true (along with a hefty credit card bill). I am not certain what stories these bands will tell, but I am confident that we are knowingly providing our own narratives of consumption to the Disney corporation—from the number of times we park hop, to the types of souvenirs we purchase, to the number of alcoholic beverages necessary at the end of the day. And let’s not even talk about the fact that after riding one of the newest rides in the Magic Kingdom we automatically received pictures and videos of us on the ride without ever having “tagged” ourselves.
This year will also mean the release of Disney’s newest princess, the Polynesian princess, Moana. It is not hard to imagine the publicity for this non-white princess or the commodification of the movie via tie-ins with Disney’s luxury Polynesian resort or perhaps the outposts in Epcot’s World Showcase that currently do not represent countries.
Thus, I can only imagine that 2016 will mean new opportunities for those of us interested in writing and teaching about Disney, as the mouse conglomerate continues to take the pulse of American consumerism and create new narratives of production and consumption that affect the ways we see the world around us. The magic is real (and I think it always will be), but so are the consequences.