Friday, November 13, 2009

someday my prince will come

I have ranted about this to some of you before, but I am having a horrid bout of insomnia, and Tim has been doing an essay series on animated Disney films, and so I figure the time has come to once again complain about princesses.

Now. To be clear. I have nothing against actual princesses. In fact, I still harbor a pathetic fantasy (and it has been previously documented multiple times) that I will somehow end up as the Princess of Sweden. What gets me about princesses is the commercialization of the concept of "princess." And, again, let me be clear- it's not that I'm against little girls pretending to be princesses- I played at being a princess innumerable times myself. It's the qualities that are somehow assigned to being a princess that I can't stand.

I shall start at the beginning.

When I was 15, I spent a summer babysitting for Rebecca and Ellen, my step cousin Diane's two little girls. At the time Rebecca was 4 and Ellen was about 2 1/2, the sorts of ages where you can't really expect them to play on their own without getting in fights. They had this game called "Pretty Pretty Princess," wherein each player was a colored princess token, and you took turns spinning the dial, and moving your token, and if you landed on a space with a crown, you got a crown.

i hated playing this game with my cousins

There were crowns- or, I should say, tiaras,- necklaces, bracelets, rings, and (clip-on) earrings, and the object of the game- the ENTIRE OBJECT- was to collect all five kinds of jewelry and thereby become a pretty, pretty princess. As I recall, there wasn't even a way to LOSE jewelry if you did something wrong, you could only acquire jewelry, and thus the game was always over very fast and we always had to play many, many rounds.

Pretty Pretty Princess was bad, and incredibly boring, but it was nothing compared to this wretched video game Natalie and Alec had when I babysat for them in college. To give them credit, they only played it for a couple years, until Alec became obsessed with dinosaurs and was no longer willing to do whatever Natalie wanted. But until then, there were many interminable afternoons during which you could find me in an Evanston basement, one kid on my lap and one by my side, playing Barbie Princess Bride:

this is the worst game on earth

The whole basis behind Barbie Princess Bride was that Princess Barbie was in love with Prince Ken, and one must assume that he was in love with her, because he goes off in a boat on a Long Voyage, and Barbie stays home and plans their wedding. There is absolutely no indication that Ken is aware he will be getting married when he returns, but no matter, because oh! Planning a wedding with Princess Barbie is such fun! When you plan a wedding with Barbie, you get to:

barbie's requisite princess' woodland creature friends
1. Deliver wedding invitations to all the woodland creatures! What is it about being a princess that seems to require one has woodland creature friends? Is it some sort of royal gene?

help barbie bake her wedding cake, if you want to die of boredom
2. Decorate the wedding cake, using decorations plucked from the garden of her helpful butterfly fairy friend! (Really.) The ingredients that go into the baking of the cake included butter, sugar, flour, harmony, and the gift of giving (really).

barbie sings an incredibly unfeminist song
3. Sing an incredibly unfeminist song to the swans! The lyrics of said song included "For all times I'll be here waiting for you/ for all times I'll be here, your heart is close to mine/ Still I can't believe that love has come and walked into our lives/ For all times I'll be here waiting, waiting for your heart." Ignoring the gramatically incorrect use of the word "times," doesn't a princess have anything better to do all day than moon about singing mopey songs to swans?

4. You get the idea of the game design, yes? I shan't bore you with any more pictures, then. Next you get to fish important things out of a well, after a boy dropped them down there while "polishing things for the wedding." For how can there possibly be a wedding without the candlestick and the goblet?!?!

5. Design the wedding dress! If I recall, you didn't get to really DESIGN it- it is the same poofy princess shape no matter what- but you do get to decorate it, because apparently the life of a princess is largely concerned with decorating things. This sequence is the most fun, because you can pretend to be the fairies from Sleeping Beauty and switch the gown from blue to pink to blue to pink. Or, if you are me circa 7 years ago, you can let Natalie do it all because holy god, this game is boring.

6. Hurry ever so much faster because Ken's face gets clearer in the magic mirror, which presumably means he is getting closer, and whatever shall we do if the wedding is not ready when Ken gets home? That might give him a chance to run away.

7. Patronizingly check in on the musicians, then "help them play the right music" by reorganizing their sheets of music.

8. Omnisciently "navigate" Prince Ken's boat home through such ocean-going terrors as wind, sea monsters, islands, and dolphins.

9. And finally (and this is the game that was truly the bane of my existence), you get to pathetically toss coins into a fountain and make wishes about how soon Prince Ken will come home. This was the worst part of the whole thing because the design of the game was bad enough that where you clicked was not necessarily where the coin would go, and thus you had to compensate, and neither Natalie nor Alec ever really got the hang of it, so I'd always have two extremely frustrated kids on my hands while I clicked away at the damn thing so that the stupid fluttery butterfly fairy would shut up about it.

Anyway. Sorry for the Barbie Princess Bride tangent, but it truly embodies all that bugs me about commercialized princesses these days. For, you see, Barbie's entire life revolves around Ken and her wedding. Pretty Pretty Princess was dumb, yes, but it was also a game for 3 and 4 year olds, and there was a fairly simple goal to it, but Barbie Princess Bride makes a huge to-do about how Barbie won't really be happy until she has a giant fairytale wedding to The Man Of Her Dreams, surrounded by adorable forrest creatures. Should we really be teaching our impressionable little girls that getting married is the most important thing ever? I mean sure, getting married is great and all. I hope to get married myself one day. But hey- maybe we will make fewer girls completely miserable if we don't dwell on it in such an utterly magnified way when their brains are so maleable?

Also, I don't know about you, but I have never truly been happy with my life, because I cannot commune with woodland creatures. All the cool girls in the Disney movies did it. Snow White, Cinderella (she was the one that really got me- oh, how I wanted tiny mouse friends!), Sleeping Beauty, even Belle and Jasmine and Pocahontas to a certain extent.

Which brings me to Disney and the ridiculous "Disney Princesses" brand name. I don't know if you guys have been much exposed to all this, but I worked at a preschool right when it was first being marketed, and man, the power these few cartoon ladies hold over little girls is terrifying. So today, after reading Tim's Sleeping Beauty essay, I googled Disney Princesses and found The Official Princess Website, which invites you to "explore each enchanting world and collect charms from each princess." Its the same sort of crap that litters Barbie Princess Bride- in Cinderella's world, you help her get dressed for a parade. In Jasmine's world, you help her get dressed for a tea party. You help Snow White get dressed for a Forrest Friends Festival, who bakes "gooseberry pies for everyone" to cheer up Grumpy and helps Dopey pick flowers. You help Pocahontas get dressed for a Wind Celebration. Do you notice a pattern here? The only important thing to do in these girls lives is get dressed- and might I add that I don't know any real women who would just indiscriminately let someone else pick what they were going to wear to a big event?

So, what I gather from all this is that first you must get dressed, and then you must get married. I'm so glad that these are the things on which such powerful corporations as Disney and Mattel have chosen to focus. Really sends a message of independence.

You can also paint a picture, although the things you can do with your brush are very limited. I painted this (click on it, for it's hard to see all the incredible detail with such a small size):

i painted this on the Disney Princess website

I realize I'm not articulating any of this very well, but it's 5:15 in the morning and I haven't really slept in the last few days (woo!), and so this has turned into what it promised to be: a rant. I'm sorry. But I'm also not. It makes me mad. I guess it's good that girls are using computers and all, but I don't really think they'd be avoiding computers otherwise. Why can't we just resurrect Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego and let them, I don't know, learn something? Are we really still stuck in this age where girls play pretty dressing up games and boys DO things?

In conclusion... I'm going to bed.

P.S. If you are so inclined, you can watch a guy with a cute Liverpudlian accent get frustrated with Barbie Princess Bride here. I owe him a lot for refreshing parts of my memory.