Sunday, March 9, 2014

Girl Scouts and Lean In Team Up To "Ban Bossy"

I'm so proud to be a part of the new campaign "Ban Bossy," organized by the Girl Scouts of the USA and I personally would be nowhere without the many take-charge women I love, some of whom I must confess I have called "bossy" over the years. (Sorry mom. Sorry honey.) 

As Sheryl Sandberg and Girl Scouts USA CEO Anna Maria Chavez summarize in their recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, the word pops into our heads when girls and women show leadership qualities. That's not because we're all sexist jerks. It's because we've been trained to think that way, and the word is one way we get that training:
The word "bossy" has carried both a negative and a female connotation for more than a century. The first citation of "bossy" in the Oxford English Dictionary refers to an 1882 article in Harper's Magazine, which declared: "There was a lady manager who was dreadfully bossy." A Google Ngram analysis of digitized books over the past 100 years found that the use of "bossy" to describe women first peaked in the Depression-era 1930s, when popular sentiment held that a woman should not "steal" a job from a man, and reached its highest point in the mid-1970s as the women's movement ramped up and more women entered the workforce.
Most dictionary entries for "bossy" provide a sentence showing its proper use, and nearly all focus on women. Examples range from the Oxford Dictionaries' "bossy, meddling woman" to Urban Dictionary's "She is bossy, and probably has a pair down there to produce all the testosterone." Ngram shows that in 2008 (the most recent year available), the word appeared in books four times more often to refer to females than to males.
Culture, including language, teaches each generation what to value and what to believe. As parents, we have a crucial role to play in helping our children filter the culture in a way that reflects the values we hold. So, if you want your children to believe that women and men can both be leaders, try not to signify through what you say and do that really, little girl, it's kind of annoying when you raise your hand and have ideas and stuff.

As Sandberg and Chavez put it, "How are we supposed to level the playing field for girls and women if we discourage the very traits that get them there?"

Their teams have put together a fun website with tools for girls, parents, teachers, managers, and troop leaders. There's also a highlights section called "Things We Love," and I'm so delighted that my TED talk on "How Movies Teach Manhood" is featured. In fact, the talk has inspired an entire activity for parents!

"Leadership Tips for Parents" (PDF) looks to me like an excellent handbook on how to ban bossy in your household (while cultivating the strong, brave, and compassionate children we want to lead the next generation). Girls Leadership Institute co-founder Rachel Simmons and the Girl Scout Research Institute have compiled 10 tips:
  1. Encourage Girls and Boys Equally to Lead
  2. Be Conscious of the Ways You and She Talk
  3. Make Your Home an Equal Household
  4. Teach Her to Respect Her Feelings
  5. Moms and Grandmoms: Model Assertive Behavior (not a problem in my house)
  6. Dads and Granddads: Know Your Influence
  7. Seize the Power of Organized Sports and Activities
  8. Get Media Literate--Together (hey, this looks familiar)
  9. Let Her Solve Problems on Her Own
  10. Encourage Her to Step Outside Her Comfort Zone
I helped design the movie-watching activity on page 10 that will help you introduce great media criticism into your regular movie nights. Yes, the Bechdel Test figures prominently. 

Note: Please read Alison Bechdel's work for its own brilliance--her legacy goes far beyond this 30-year-old throwaway joke that her friend Liz Wallace actually made up

THAT'S NOT ALL. From pages 15 to 20 are worksheets you can use to facilitate the discussion and charts you can print out and put on your fridge. It sounds like homework, but I think they've designed it so colorfully that it will go down easily. (Plus, it's still basically watching a movie you like and talking about it, pretty much my favorite thing to do in my life.)

If you print all this out and organize your family to do this activity, I promise you two things. First, you will model assertiveness and possibly inspire critical thinking about media for your children's lifetimes. Second, even though it might run through your family's mind, I will not call you "bossy."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Hero's Journey Led Me Astray: Further Reading

Here are some of the things I read about before, and refer to in, my TEDxBeaconStreet talk on the Hero's Journey. You should definitely read them and follow these writers.

The Hero's Journey

Joseph Campbell's work is beloved by most. It certainly has become the blueprint for screenwriting, through teachers like Robert McKee and Christopher Vogler. I found a few compelling counterpoints, though, ranging from the hilarious to the academic to the provocative:

"Hulk Explains Why We Should Just Stop It With The Hero Journey Shit" by Film Crit Hulk
"The Problem of Woman As Hero In The Work of Joseph Campbell" by Sarah Nicholson
"The Heroine With A Thousand Friends" by Elizabeth Lyon
"Forget the Hero's Journey. Women Want An Antagonist's Tale" by Robin Childs
"The Heroine's Journey: How Campbell's Model Doesn't Fit" by B. J. Priester

2013 movies about race

I'm not the first to notice the unusual abundance, prominence, and success (both artistic and commercial) of movies featuring African Americans in 2013. Much more will be said as the Oscar race proceeds.

"In Hollywood, Black Is The New Black" by Bilge Ebiri
"How Did Racism Get To Be So Popular?" by Stephen Marche

White people's relationship to movies about race

Like boys watching movies about female characters, white people supposedly won't go see movies featuring mostly Black casts. This is a curious by-product, or way of expressing, privilege: marginal groups are expected to enjoy stories of the dominant group--they do it every day! But the dominant group does not need to empathize with the marginal group. Unless they have an "audience surrogate."

"The White-Savior Industrial Complex" by Teju Cole
"Why White People Don't Like Black Movies" by Andre Seewood
"Oscar Loves A White Savior" by David Sirota

What about those statistics, huh?

It wouldn't be a TED talk without some numbers and studies. I got mine from these sources:

TV-watching and self-esteem "Racial and Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Children's Television Use and Self-Esteem" by Nicole Martins & Kristen Harrison

Racial make-up of 2012 movies and movie-goers MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics 2012, p. 13
"Race/Ethnicity In 500 Popular Films" by Dr. Stacy Smith, Marc Choueiti, & Dr. Katherine Pieper

Heroes of color in all time top 100 Top 100 Worldwide:
Independence Day (39)
Hancock (72)
Men In Black 3 (73)
Life of Pi (79) (Not Will Smith.)
Men In Black (84)
I Am Legend (88)
Puss In Boots (96) (I was generous.)
Plus, to be even more generous, I counted Beverly Hills Cop, which is #41 on the Top 100 Domestic Adjusted for Inflation.

Bias studies "Everyone Is Biased: Harvard professor's work reveals we barely know our own minds" by Carolyn Y. Johnson
Science Faculty's Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students" by Corinne Moss-Racusin, John Dovidio, Victoria Brescoll, Mark Graham & Jo Handelsman
"Lack of Female Sources in NY Times Front-Page Stories" by Alexi Layton and Alicia Chepard

What other articles, talks, and research have you found about these topics?

Monday, September 23, 2013

3 Things I Noticed Watching 'Beauty and the Beast' For The 129th Time

1. Taran from "The Black Cauldron" chases his pig as the opening song starts.

Well, not here. But in the movie.

2. Paige O'Hara is totally doing an impression of Judy Garland as Dorothy during every scene with the Beast. 

It's bad enough picking on a straw man, but when you go around picking on poor little dogs...!
Well if you hadn't frightened me, I wouldn't have run away!

3. So, the third act launches with little Chip breaking Belle and her dad out of their basement by ramming Maurice's wood-chopping invention into the side of the house. I would really like to see someone try to storyboard how that worked exactly.

How exactly did a small teacup rotate and operate this piece of heavy machinery?
What have you noticed?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Wib's World: A Remembrance

A year ago, my father-in-law Willoughby Walling died in a hospital in Brookline at 69, of complications from the treatment of lung cancer.

A week later, I spoke at a service in his honor at the church where my wife learned to love singing. At the service, she and I sang "You Walk With Me" by David Yazbek, accompanied by the children's choir director who mentored her. Then I gave the remarks below.

The experience of public speaking again, after many years as a performer in other people's plays, turns out to have been transformative for me. In a way, the impact this speech is having on my creative direction is a continuation of the career coaching he offered me after leaving acting. A disciple of Dick Bolles and his classic What Color Is Your Parachute, Wib loved to help other people find and pursue their deepest passions.

You probably either loved or would have loved Wib. I hope you enjoy my memories of him today.
Courtesy of Harvard Magazine
A remembrance of Willoughby Walling 
February 11, 2012

Jessica inherited her singing talent. But probably not from her dad. Did you ever hear him sing? He sang along to Ella, to Aretha, to Rod Stewart, unfortunately. But it was like some of his art—more abstract than representational. And very expressive.

My name is Colin Stokes. I married Wib’s daughter Jessica. If I can give young people any advice to secure a happier, richer life, it would be to get in-laws like the Wallings.

I managed to secure Wib’s approval at some point early on, probably by knowing enough about modern art. Or just being able to get the printer to work.

And it was a lovely thing to be liked by Wib. If Wib liked you he would always like you. You could be a part of Wib’s wonderful world, a unique midwestern liberal country club bohemia.

His name was not the only one-of-a-kind thing about him. What was Wib like? Well, you know: a typical blueblood idealist…who set up schools for dropouts in Bedford Stuyvesant alongside the heroes of the civil rights movement. Just your average NPR-New York Times-New Yorker reader…with a divinity school degree and a Bible study group. Just the stereotypical Brookline man of leisure, heading to tennis…after spending the morning in the basement with duct-taped shoes on, painting his brooding self-portrait in the style of Matisse.

The world didn’t have a name for his combination of passions and truths, so he made his own. Let’s just call it “Wib.”

Wib’s world was a big and welcoming place, because he was so comfortable in it. Here, everything was interesting. There was so much worth learning he went to graduate school three times.

Wib loved teaching too. He taught the teenagers in New York—he’d just ask to join their pickup basketball games for a while, and eventually the weirdness of this white guy wore off and he’d invite them to the storefront where they could learn how to read. (I wonder if he said “golly darn” to the guys in the Bronx?)

In Boston he was a fundraiser, which is a kind of teaching. He taught art and religion. He mentored people in their career changes—including me and a number of others here today, whose lives were permanently transformed with his coaching.

He taught me something crucial about fatherhood. As Jessica and I were expecting our daughter’s birth, I asked him for advice. Well, Jess told me that if I wanted to learn how to be a great father I should ask him.

To my surprise, he looked a little abashed. “I don’t think I was a particularly good father,” he told me. It took me a while to get my brain around this—it was like hearing that Bill Gates doesn’t think he’s a particularly good businessman. Maybe he didn’t think too much about it, but the results kind of speak for themselves. Wib’s approach gave me permission, as a parent, to just be who I am—with a challenge to make sure that you are your very best self.

That’s the thing: Wib’s humility was anything but blasé. Under the modesty was a deep, private conviction to be as good a person as he could be. Being a good father was just an outgrowth of his character.

He also tried teaching me how to drive stick, which was less fruitful.

And in the final, rich phase of his life, he was an artist. Stubbornly rejecting categories as always, Wib refused to choose among abstraction, realism, and religious painting. He refused to market his paintings in the common way—like, you know, selling them to people. He aimed to satisfy his own eye and his own imagination. Like his favorite forebear Vincent, Wib saw art as a journey, not an end: a sensual interaction with his own vision.

Wib was so un-phony that, when he cared about something, you knew it was worth caring about. That’s one way he made Christianity look so good. If his faith held his interest and passion for so long, there must be something to it. In our secular world, there’s that crucifix in every few paintings. There’s that Bible study group. There’s that heartfelt grace at the dinner table. None of them conspicuous; just another glimpse into what mattered to him.

Every Christmas morning, Wib would gather the kids and son-in-law on the landing before the presents were opened to read a story. Not some sugary holiday fable, or even a straight-up Gospel passage. No: Wib would have the kids read an experimental essay by the theologian Frederick Buechner called “The Birth.” It’s like Rashomon of the Nativity, telling the Christmas story from the point of view of three ordinary people in Bethlehem who either witness or avoid the great event that provided new meaning to their world. The Innkeeper has it worst, because he said no to God’s parents. The Wise-Men knew the truth but held themselves back from it to protect their careers. The working-class Shepherds, though, whoop with joy at their pure vision of glory. They don’t overthink it.

Wib was moved by these stories for decades. I never asked him why.

To me, the story says that the meaning of life is here now, hiding behind all the things we do and the politics we play. When Wib choked up reading about it, I like to think he was reminding himself how important it is to really connect with this truth. Maybe that was the source of his authenticity—he deliberately went after the source of deepest meaning in a world crowded with distractions.

Every Christmas, he reminded his cherished family—including the lucky son-in-law—don’t be the Inn-Keeper, who gets a chance to steward something significant and banishes it without looking up from his books. Don’t be the Wise-Men, who understand the significance intellectually but don’t make any sacrifices on its behalf.

Stay on the scene, like the Shepherds. Like Wib. Don’t worry about your status or your short-term priorities. Live in the moment, and you’ll hear the trumpets. When you hear the trumpets, run to the manger.

Be there for it.

"We thank you, Lord, for these thy gifts. Amen."

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Princess Marketing Is Insane, But Princess Movies Rock (Part 2)

This is part two. Part one is here.

Princess as Product

The 20th Century ended with the Disney animation legacy dimmed. The animated film was still a global entertainment medium, but Walt would not have recognized the hits rendered photo-realistically by the digital artists of Pixar and DreamWorks. Mickey Mouse's tradition, like a collection of Grimm fairy tales, was musty and out of date.

And Disney princesses? Who are they? Oh, you mean from those old-fashioned fairy tale movies?

It's so easy to forget that, not long ago, Disney Princesses weren't a thing. As Peggy Orenstein recounts,  we owe this entire debate to a Scotsman named Andy Mooney who had an aha moment in line at Disney On Ice.

Mooney was a marketer brought in from Nike to head Disney's Consumer Products division. Taking in an ice-skating show, Orenstein quotes him saying, "I was surrounded by little girls dressed head to toe as princesses. They were generic princess products they’d appended to a Halloween costume. And the light bulb went off."

Sell kids what they were buying for cheap, put the Disney imprimatur on it, and mark up the price. It reminds me of bottled water. Look! The water in these bottles has a picture of a waterfall on it! And it's $2.50! It must be better than what you get IN YOUR SINK! And so: buy the tiara with a tiny picture of Aurora on it, at triple the price of the little cardboard crown you were perfectly happy playing with.

It has been a blockbuster strategy, to put it mildly. Within a decade, under Mooney's leadership, Cinderella and company became one of the biggest brands in the world in and of themselves. Now that Fantasyland has been torn down and rebuilt as the Princess Experience, the brand has been apotheosized.

We are right to be concerned, and to lament marketing cosmetics and luxury lifestyles to kids. We should object to anyone whose business model depends on generating peer pressure among children to manipulate their parents into buying more consumer products that end up in landfills. There are so, so many things to object to.

But the most recent Disney princess movies are not among them.

Third-Wave Princesses: Tiana

While some Disney executives were enriching the bottom line by putting screenshots of the happy endings of 50-year-old movies on plastic wands, that revenue was subsidizing another group of executives who were digging through Grimm again to give "2D animation" another shot.

Pixar's visionary John Lasseter, promoted to head the whole Disney studio, asked the directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin to return. Their project was The Princess and the Frog.

If you only read advance media coverage, you'd think the adaptation, the setting and the casting were racially clumsy overreaches. If you only read reviews, you'd think the finished product was sweet and forgettable. If you actually see the movie, you'll experience a risky, earnest  implantation of the princess myth into one of America's healing wounds: the African-American community in the segregated South.


There is a lot to say about this movie. But lumping it in with Snow White and dismissing it as a regressive influence on girls requires willfully ignoring what's on the screen.

Tiana's entire motivation and character arc are based on her outsized work ethic. She is so determined to be financially independent that her romantic foil spends the movie trying to loosen her up. If anything, the emphasis on female strength, especially when repeatedly contrasted with the layabout frog prince, can be strident. She's so mature, so resilient, such a good role model that there's not really anywhere for her to go. She must--what? Learn how to relax?

But if the hero journey of The Princess and the Frog is less than transcendent, the cultural journey is jaw-dropping. The New Orleans setting, especially the bayou voodoo caricatures, must raise eyebrows for people who study exoticism and representations of non-mainstream subcultures. I am not qualified to weigh in on those sensitivities. To these white eyes, the experience of a fairy tale led by a black woman and her loving family in a working-class neighborhood--endorsed by Disney, the West's chief purveyor of wholesome normalcy--felt very new.

This was the first post-Obama Disney princess.


The studio's next--its 50th animated feature, as it happens--was to be Rapunzel. But in a notorious eleventh-hour renaming, it became Tangled. Once again, a discussion of the studio's decision-making drowned out appraisal of the actual film.

Allow me to appraise it for you: it's brilliant.

Like the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s--the last period in Hollywood history where active women could be the center of universal stories--Tangled is about a creative, charismatic woman seeking what she wants. As in the original story, Rapunzel begins as a damsel in a tower.

But she does not long for a prince to rescue her. She longs to satisfy her curiosity about the world (as Ariel and Belle do).

And she does not turn mute, or become a prisoner, so that she can earn the hand of a prince. She goes on an adventure in a strange new world--one worthy of Luke Skywalker. There's a cantina full of thugs, a delirious chase, twists and betrayals, daring rescues, and shocking revelations.

Plus, she's also got the natural leadership of Dorothy, using an arsenal of charm and compassion to build alliances that make everyone's life better.

Like Dorothy (and unlike Tiana in The Princess and the Frog), Rapunzel has growth to do. The ingenious plot allows her to experience both disillusionment and ecstasy, sometimes in the same montage. And in a major step forward for any major animated film--or for that matter any American film--the protagonist grows alongside the romantic interest, as opposed to just growing toward him. The prince, for the first time, is a three-dimensional person as well, whose flaws are not mocked but rather shown to be lacking, and allowed to heal, with Rapunzel's help.

The only constituency who ends up looking pretty bad is stepmothers.


Pixar, now part of Disney but working as a separate studio, finally created a film with a female protagonist in 2012. It too went through a title change (from The Bear and the Bow, which I think would have been awesome), as well as the dismissal of its female director and creator. It too was so surprising and fresh and different that critics seem not to have actually watched the movie they were writing about.

Brave is about a young person born to a ruling clan, and the choices she makes out of youthful rebellion that have consequences for the society at large. It moves from family tensions to (very light) geopolitics, from Miyazaki-style magic to Disney-style cartooning, from well-worn symbolism to striking originality (I'm talking to you, terrifying scene where mom's bear eyes go subtly from human to animal).

And out of all this richness of fable and timelessness of plot and roundedness of relationships, the film somehow inherited the epithet of "princess movie."

The snarky dismissal of such a rich, emotional story, especially in contrast to the oohs and aahs heard over virtually every Pixar film before it--starts to suggest a knee-jerk contempt for the feminine. (Even though Brave comes down pretty clearly against frou-frou femininity.)

Princess Culture Is Not About The Princess Movies

And once again, we read of the angst of progressive parents, wringing their hands over the "princess culture" their daughters are stewing in.

To the extent that princess products are part of the stew of manipulative marketing that all our children soak in, I agree. Princess birthday parties are just dress-up parties that have been monetized, and it's annoying when we see we're being ripped off.

But remember: parents soak in that stew too. It's called consumerism, and capitalism. We are all constantly being sold stuff that's bad for us, and we often buy it because it's been designed to stimulate our pleasure centers. We buy terrible magazines and watch terrible shows and eat terrible food substances. These are no less insidious to our development than princess birthday parties are to our daughters'.

But Disney princess movies? Out of all the stories and messages our children take in?

They're some of the best out there. And they've gotten better and better.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Princess Marketing Is Insane, But Princess Movies Rock (Part 1)

This post got big, so I broke it into two. Here's the first part.

Princess culture has had a big backlash, and this week a little voice came forward to defend it, tentatively. Andy Hinds compared his twin daughter's enjoyment of dressing up as royalty to drug addiction several times, but with the help of Justice Sotomayor's appearance on Sesame Street he reached a detente.

Commenters and other bloggers closed ranks, perhaps imagining that an army led by Peggy Orenstein would strike back. As a movie fan, I want to emphasize a distinction that I think may help parents sort out their stand in the conflict.

Princesses are not the enemy. In fact they are getting more and more terrific. And it's Disney who deserves the credit for digging them out of the cultural hole (that they put them in).

The Origin Story

It's easy to forget, through the hysteria around the sparkly dresses, that the princesses themselves had a rougher origin story. Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty entered the permanent record of the collective consciousness through the hands of folklorists from the 17th and 19th centuries like Perrault and the Grimm brothers. Their strange, magical folk tales established a set of heroes for the West: resilient heroines who navigate to safety and prosperity in a world steeped in sudden violence and death.

Then, skip a hundred years, and there was Walt Disney. He seized on the idea of domesticating some of these public-domain stories to appeal to American families in the tumultuous middle of the century. And he ended up building an empire of children's entertainment and, ultimately, setting parameters for American popular culture.

First-Wave Princesses

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the very first animated feature film, breaking ground with every frame. A dozen years later, the studio released a lovingly designed cartoon based on Cinderella and then, a decade after that, Sleeping Beauty.

Kids wouldn't know it today, but these three weren't a trilogy. They were just three releases out of sixteen or so that the Disney artists released for their first twenty years, some of which were also based on copyright-free material like Peter Pan, Pinnochio, and Alice in Wonderland.

Many have noted that the Disney films imply a worldview very different than the one we glimpse in Grimm. Like much American popular culture in the World War II era, they were constructed to delight and divert, while reinforcing trust in authority and stable family structures. Behind Snow White, Dumbo and Bambi, we see the fragile innocence of our liberty gaining its confidence. And after the war, as in so much 50s culture, we see in Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Tinker-Bell the American wife infantilized, as if to say, "Go back to the house, honey; we need our jobs back."

These three Disney princesses are grating to progressive parents. The vigor of these artifacts from our cultural adolescence is still visible, but it's clouded by their stereotypes and blind spots.

Second-Wave Princesses

But the country changed in the late 60s, and Disney's messages landed with quieter and quieter thuds. Their animated features drew from boy-driven stories like King Arthur, The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, Oliver Twist and Sherlock Holmes--often recast with animals--with diminishing returns. By the 1980s their films were flops, and animation looked obsolete.

The studio needed a hit. And they got it with the lucky combination of a fairy tale source, a couple of New York theatre insouciants, and an adaptation that connected to audiences by giving the heroine the yearnings of a modern teenager on the brink of puberty. The Little Mermaid made Disney relevant again.

A run of inspired classics lasted a few years, with Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King--the first two with Mermaid's ingenious songwriting team. (The genius lyricist, Howard Ashman, died while Aladdin was in development, and Tim Jesus Christ Superstar Rice was his wordy replacement.)

Lots of insightful people have reflected on the ways these films are both feminist and reactionary, both progressive and patronizing. But compare them with the first wave of Disney movies. They share the painstaking artistry that makes masterpieces, and, yes, the square happy endings that ensure a satisfying family viewing experience for all ages. But the 90s Disneys introduce a tonal sophistication far surpassing anything in Hollywood entertainment up to that point.

Ariel trades her voice for a chance to be a woman, with the understanding that she can only recover it by encouraging the sexual advances of a wealthy male suitor. The screen could have been captioned "PIERCING METAPHOR FOR BEING A TEENAGE GIRL IN LATE 20TH CENTURY AMERICA." And look at the care taken to set Belle up as a reader, even though "her name means 'beauty.'" SHE TEACHES THE BEAST TO READ.

No, these cartoons are not radical. And they end with, gasp, the promise of romantic happiness (as do Shakespearean comedies).

But the entire plot is driven by a woman chafing under the restrictions society places on her, and the consequences of her breaking free of them. Sounds like A Doll's House, or The Awakening, right? I'm so proud of that mega-corporation for putting those seditious ideas in a delicious package for mass global consumption.

Blowing It

Of course, it didn't last. Following the boy-centered Aladdin and The Lion King, Disney proceeded to photocopy their winning formula until it was a kind of blotchy smear of itself. Squeezing animal sidekicks into Pocahontas, and musical comedy into The Hunchback of Notre Dame?

Strangely enough, one reason I think these movies started to alienate audiences was that the liberal messages became more important than the entertainment. Watching the colonists sing a number about pillaging the New World's resources was awkward, especially coming from the Disney Global Media Empire.

Meanwhile, a new gang of animators, many of whom had spent apprentice years at Disney, had  exploded into family movie history. The newfangled computer-animated features from John Lasseter and Pixar were based on original stories, with no music or reliance on formula. And they were instant classics.

2-D animation was declared obsolete again, only ten years after being brought back to life.

It is in this dark time that the real culprit for Princess-hatred was born. But, as Peggy Orenstein passionately chronicles in Cinderella Ate My Daughter (previewed in the New York Times Magazine), the sparkly-dress phenomenon that so infuriates her and many Free To Be You And Me parents did not come from the Disney movie studio.

Read part two to learn the story...and why the Third-Wave Princess is one of the most exciting things in American movies.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A More Nutritious Netflix Queue

Thanks to Kate Torgivnick and the TED editors for the kind endorsement at My audience more than doubled in 24 hours! The community seems to be  enjoying my talk and I appreciate all of the sharing and commenting you're doing.

I even appreciate the YouTube trolls who helpfully reveal their misogyny (behind the cover of a username, of course)--thus proving my point. These guys (?) feel so threatened by female equality that they puff up their chests and denounce it in any public forum. Evidently they feel their status in their circles will be enhanced by ridiculing and insulting ideas that critique their assumptions.

You've seen what happens next, right? Foolhardy defenders attempt to engage in dialogue with the name-callers. But they're just feeding the fire; bullies aren't interested in persuasion, only in dominance. They are like Darth Vader in the face of calm Princess Leia--interrupting her with a booming voice and a wagging finger, telling her who he believes her to be and sending her off.

Anyway, for the TED blog, Kate gave me the fun assignment of thinking of a few more movies to compare along the lines of The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. I thought of three common formulas that have been treated in typical ways in high-quality movies, and offered films that I encourage parents and filmmakers to promote because of the unusual way they include teamwork and respect:
Movie formula: The Quest
  • Typical Version: A boy’s world is threatened by an evil male force. He must train and mobilize other boys to defeat the enemy in a violent conflict. There is essentially one female, who is granted to the hero as a prize. Examples: Star Wars, The Hobbit, The Lion King
  • Enlightened version: A boy or girl (or team) seeks to heal an injustice in the world. They must make friends who share their goal to change the culture of an older generation, by modeling a better way. Examples: The Wizard of Oz, The Muppet Movie, The Dark Crystal, Castle in the Sky (Japan), Spy Kids 1 & 2, , Tangled
Movie formula: Finding a Purpose
  • Typical Version: A boy finds his place among men through mastery of a skill, understanding of competition and teamwork, and/or moving up in the male hierarchy. There is essentially one female, who is granted to the hero as a prize. Examples: A Bug’s Life, Cars, Ratatouille
  • Enlightened Version: A boy or girl finds his or her place in a diverse society through self-knowledge and the application of skills to communal goals. Examples: Kiki’s Delivery Service (Japan), Babe, Stuart Little 1 & 2
Movie formula: The Secret Alien
  • Typical Version: A young boy comes into contact with a being seen as dangerous by the adult male world, and moves up in the male hierarchy by using the being against shared enemies. Examples: Iron Giant, How To Train Your Dragon
  • Enlightened Version: A boy or girl comes into contact with a being seen as dangerous by diverse adult world, and re-orders the world’s assumptions in the act of stewarding it to safety. Examples: E.T., Lilo & Stitch, Monsters Inc., Secret World of Arrietty (Japan)
One additional plug: A number of you have jumped up and down to spread the word about the children's films of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki, sometimes called Japan's Disney. He and the studio he co-founded, Studio Ghibli, demonstrate in film after film that adventure and magic and spectacle do not require male-dominated, violence-driven heroism.

Every film he's made is worth seeing; most are classics. The littlest kids can go for My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Ponyo, and The Secret World of Arrietty. When they're a little older, Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky will transport them. The Hunger Games set will devour Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. The thinking parent will be challenged by them all as well.

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Okay, what did I miss? Are there other films you think work as great stories without resorting to excluding girls or holding up violence as the best means to resolution?