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The Protocols of Disney Princesses
princess
catvalente
So I finally saw Tangled on some plane ride or another (they are starting to blend,  yo). For the most part I was super-impressed--the animation is just weepingly gorgeous, even for a pastel-shunner like me, and the story did not completely offend my feminism (only a little) which is really all I can ask from Disney.

But I can't get past the evil witch.

Now, you all know I love me some evil witchery. And evil witches often have gross motives. That's fine. 

But I can't help the yucky feeling here. See, the witch in this Rapunzel story is extremely explicitly coded as Jewish. No one else in the movie looks anything like the witch, who could have walked out of 21st century New York. Everyone else is pastel and soft and very midwest. She looks and sounds like a combination of Bebe Newirth and Fran Drescher, so much so I had to check to see if Bebe did the voice. From her hair (black and super curly and in a weirdly modern sharp cut) to her voice to  (does she have a big nose? *goes to check* Awesome.) her overbearing mother attitude and icky Mama Knows Best song--I feel like they're all playing to these Jewish stereotypes and wrapped up to be the evil version of the Jewish mother. Gothel is also a Jewish surname, and Google says the ad copy described her as the "classic Jewish mama." So there you go.

And that makes me WAY uncomfortable when you consider that Rapunzel is as white and blonde as they come, and the whole story is about this Jewish woman consuming a white woman (whose power is in the culturally significant symbol her whiteness, her blonde hair) in order to stay young and beautiful, which is not what the witch in Rapunzel is about, incidentally. It's more of a property rights question, and loneliness and want of a child. But the cackling stereotypical Jewish lady stole a baby and is basically eating the nice Aryan girl to live forever is rather eeeeeekbloodlibelgetmeoffthisplaneack.

Maybe I'm being oversensitive here. But every time she came onscreen I cringed. This is without even discussing turning Rapunzel, which is really not about that, into a story entirely about feminine obsession with beauty and youth (thanks Disney! I've never heard that story before) and cutting out my favorite part which is that Rapunzel up and wanders the desert (indeed) with her twins being fairly badass survivor girl before healing the prince. (Nice that 17th century Germany allowed 'Zel a more complicated and interesting story than we will in 21st century America.) Or that this witch seems to have been around since the dawn of time but can't think of anything better to do with phenomenal power. Or that we're talking fairly horrific emotional abuse here--not the kind where she has to clean shit like Snow White but where her mother is constantly telling her she looks fat and is weak while compelling her love. Enjoy that marriage, kids. Rapunzel should totally not be scarred by this.

Anyway, Disney has notorious race issues--Much as I admire The Princess and the Frog for giving the "princess" an actual job and a desire beyond getting married, they had to shove a bunch of offensive voodoo shit in there and make sure her ambitions were soul food-oriented and have the little white girl who seems to have no parents, just a wandering helpful cutie, lend a helping hand to save the day. And, you know, the prince is a total douchefrog who does not deserve her at all but the movie tries to say that somehow Tiana needed to grow too, by...partying more, I guess. Tiana was awesome, movie, shut up. God forbid somebody work hard for their goals.

Rapunzel does add in the logical step that, given that she has nothing to do but hang in the tower, Rapunzel knows everything because she has read all the books. Sure, ok. But her superpower is healing (all girls are healers) and the boy takes it from her despite what she chooses and ONCE AGAIN dark hair is used as a sign of evil (the witchmother) or not being magical anymore (Rapunzel) because blonde is magic and brown is gross. Fuck you, Disney. It was a really nice movie. You didn't have to fall back on that tired shit.

I haven't heard anyone else point out the witch issue. Am I off the mark here? Did anyone else get react to her this way?


DOUCHEFROG.

I haven't seen Tangled, but this word just ... made what's left of my morning. Oh, it's afternoon? That too.

I agree with you SO MUCH on The Princess And The Frog. And the voodoo lady *tells* Useless!Prince what he needs, but makes Tiana guess and refuses to help her when she's wrong. I did a giant complainy post on my wordpress when I watched that movie. Tiana was *awesome* and the work ethic was awesome and I loathed the ending.

(I haven't seen Tangled yet.)

I caught the blond = good, black hair = bad (at least for women) thing pretty clearly, but I...completely missed the racial coding. Ugh. Now I feel kinda queasy about it. Especially since I'd been so very fond of that particular villain as an example of how to be powerfully wicked without A Wizard Did It powers.

Even without the coding, I feel she's just another BEING PRETTY IS ALL THAT MATTERS woman, and thus dismissable, whereas a man might keep himself young but would do it while doing all kinds of other things. Maybe she does other things, but onscreen we get that being pretty is all she wants.

I recoiled from the emotional abuse and manipulation, but failed to see the race and ethnicity parts.

I didn't notice the witch issue until you mentioned it (I can be oblivious to the symbolism sometimes), though now that you point it out, I see what you mean about the stereotyping. It's totally there.

The whole, blond is magical thing is something that makes me uncomfortable (like the idea that "blonds have more fun"). Someone on the radio this morning said, "Every girl wants to be a blond," which made me fume inside, because I have never wanted to be a blond and would go black as black can go (I remember my high school friend looking at me like I was crazy when I told her I had no interest in being blond).

I actually had pretty intense guilt when I was young that I was not blonde haired and blue eyed. The rest of my siblings were, my stepmother was, but I look just like my mom. Dark hair, dark eyes. Reversal Disney girl.

I was troubled by the witch but for different reasons. Yes, she was a fucked up mother but she seemed more . . .idk, real life standard fucked up mother who does shitty things and call me crazy but I felt like she and Rapunzel actually loved each other (dysfunctionally of course) so her sudden dip into crazy town and let's as usual kill the witch seemed weird to me. Also as someone who's adopted, to me it seemed weird that she was willing to throw over the woman who raised her for her better shinier actual birth problems no problem. I (and the two young girls I watched it with) were very dissatisfied with how the witch was dealt with and it felt jarring to me and them.

Now that you pointed it out, I agree about the Jewish stereotypes and it did seem strange and out of place but the witch was so beautiful I had thought that Bebe did the voice too and they just made her look like the actress.

I didn't know you were adopted.

It did seem jarring to be like OBVS THESE PARENTS ARE BETTER when there did seem to be a desperate kind of love there--one I'm pretty familiar with. The witch didn't have to be her mother, she could have just locked her up and taken the hair whenever she wanted. She chose that relationship--so it seemed odd that she turned so sharply to I'll kill you and Rapunzel had no trouble killing her but intense grief over a boy she just met.

I dunno. As someone with rather non-descript light-brownish hair, I can say for certain that Disney will never, ever stereotype me as anything. :) Actually, I haven't seen it, nor will I. I tend to really dislike practically all the characters in Disney princess movies, even the ones who have actual personalities. Well, that, and they take out all the gross bits which were the ones which, as a child, I really loved. I mean, cutting off Cinderella's stepsisters' toes/heels? Awesome.

Edited at 2011-04-20 04:59 pm (UTC)

The good parents have light brownish hair.

Maybe Disney can be persuaded to do "Wicked" one of these days?

I dunno -- think of what a hack-job they'd do of it. If they could be convinced not to change the script, now . . .

My first thought upon seeing Stepmamma's big nose and dark curly hair was: "She ... looks like me. :( "

Whatever, Disney. She's hotter than Rapunzel anyway.

I am a little tired of people who look like me being villains in everything, though.

I hadn't seen "Tangled" yet, but now I'm googling that and feeling really uncomfortable... "Gothel" is a very traditional Jewish surname, so I don't think you're off at all, even having nothing but a little character info and some images to go off of.

It would be just so very awesome to see a Jewish person represented in a way that was not either stereotypical, evil, or both. :( We do still exist, and a lot of us look and act just like everybody else, y'know...
I think the only instance of this I can think of is Willow from Buffy.

Gothel was also the original name in the Grimm version of the tale.

Re: Oh... (Anonymous) Expand
ONCE AGAIN dark hair is used as a sign of evil (the witchmother) or not being magical anymore (Rapunzel) because blonde is magic and brown is gross

But Rapunzel's parents and her beloved Flynn have brown hair and both Rapunzel's father and Flynn both have noses much larger than the witch.

I think a whole thesis could be done on female noses. On men, a big nose usually indicates prowess and manliness, on a woman only a button is acceptable. Gothel's nose is not only large but unusually shaped--for Disney women, even villains, this is unusual.

Rapunzel's parents aren't magical. The blonde is the wonderful perfect magic, and when it's gone, Rapunzel is "normal." Men in Disney are usually brunette.

(Deleted comment)
My reasons for not liking the evil mom was not the same as yours. You see she looks like me. :(
Not Jewish, Italian actually.

I do want to point out that the Queen on of Rapinzil,was a brunette. :)

I'm Italian, too. She looks not unlike me (though we have some Jewish background too). But her voice and behavior fell in line with stereotypical Jewish invective.

Ah, crud. So glad you talked about that, I haven't seen the movie and seeing the witch like that would be an icky surprise:/
The voodoo in TPAF bothered me too because of the good/bad voodoo split -and the hicky classless Cajuns made me feel sick. The movie was visually gorgeous but...do they have to have at least one funny/evil sterotype in every single movie?
then again I still love POTC despite of and not being whooped aboutits issues so I am likely part of the problem.

The hicky Cajuns in that movie felt...bizarre. Out of place. Unnecessary. I cringed when they showed up on screen. There were so many random threats in the swamp that could have been used to hit that obligatory plot point about rescuing each other and facing down danger, and they went with the Idiot Cajuns stereotype? Really? (At least when Avatar went and had stereotypical Cajun-type swamp-dwellers, it went ahead and let them have powerful magic and go on to act in heroic ways in later episodes...)

There are now a total of three blonde Disney princesses. Just three. If you throw in Alice and Tinkerbelle, you get two more. ut if you add them in, you have to add in Esmerelda and Megeara, too.
I'm not saying they are by any means perfect, because boyhowdyandhow they are far from it, but the blonde ithing is not really a disney thing.

First, who counts as an official princess is deeply arbitrary. I'd say they all count. Half the princesses aren't even princesses--Tiana, Mulan, etc. Second, it's hard to deny that blonde has been used as a marker for goodness and that Disney engages in this and did quite a bit before the late 80s when a redhead was considered bold and they felt pressure to include some other races which don't generally come in blonde.

I've read various pre-Disney versions of Rapunzel. In most of them, she's just the witch/the stepmother. In at least one of them, Gothel was just her name. /shrug

It means godmother. But at the same time, it's a common surname, and to pair it with all the rest...