Advice for Young Girls from The Little Mermaid

May 23, 2011

Ex Situ: Ice Age 3: Can a Queer Utopia Be Built on Prehistoric Gender Roles?

October 28, 2009


Never saw Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, but since it’s coming to home video soon (I wish I got paid for that plug), it’s time for an apropos update.

Page Schilt has mixed feelings about Ice Age 3. On one hand, it shows animals of heterogeneous gender permuting peacefully. On the other hand, it does its best to reinforce stale stereotypes, particularly masculine tropes. Here’s a bit:

In an attempt to create a compensatory family of his own, Sid appropriates a trio of dinosaur eggs. Now in nurturing mode, he begins referring to himself as “Mommy” and even–unless I’m much mistaken–using feminine pronouns.

All of this, I know, sounds really queer.

But, like so much pop culture, Ice Age 3 simultaneously subverts and reinforces sex and gender norms. All the stuff it’s dredging up from our collective cultural anxiety closet–changing gender roles, the anti-sociality of the nuclear family, alternative communities, homoeroticism–is, I would argue, kept in check by the film’s policing of traditional gender roles.


The utopian nature of the collective is emphasized by the subplot about heterosexual romance between two squirrels. The female squirrel, a hot femme fatale, repeatedly uses her sexual wiles to part the male squirrel from his nut (pun intended, I’m sure). After battling it out in SM foreplay for most of the movie, the squirrels briefly succumb to sexual bliss before descending into domestic hell.

It’s a good read, with some links that I’ll probably highlight individually in the future.

Ice Age 3: Can a Queer Utopia be Built on Prehistoric Gender Roles?
> Catena Ex Situ

From the archives: Thoughts on Biker Mice from Mars

April 3, 2009


Contributed by Sterling F.

CharleyOf all the shows mentioned on this web site, no one has mentioned Biker Mice from Mars. This truly underrated show had some surprising adult characters and situations.

First let’s look at the main characters. Throttle is the quintessential leader who is smart and your average guy. He is the only one with a girlfriend who is tough and very loyal. Vinnie is the classic young, hyper, oversexed man. He boasts and brags consistently and of course tries to get women (I’ll explain that more later). Modo is the lovable big guy who is committed to family (he is pretty much a mama’s boy). Charley is a woman who lives alone and is a mechanic (she is also the most realistic looking woman as she rarely wears sexy clothing). She obviously enjoys the company the Biker Mice bring her. The villain Limburger is very similar to the British villains seen in James Bond films. His assistant Carbunkle is androgynous in both look and voice. Greasepit, a henchman, is an idiot.

Now, there are tons of sexual overtones and innuendos between Charley and Vinnie. It is evident in the first episodes (in the second episode when Charley is dressed in a short skirt and falls over in front of them, Vinnie asks her to “turn around again”). Other incidents include: his reactions to when Charley is in danger (male protectiveness of his woman), flexing in front of her, jealousy (evident when Charley’s old boyfriend showed up), and many incidences in which he wants her to check him out. Charley flat out refuses all his advances (after all, that is bestiality) but even including that kind of relationship which is more obvious than Elisa and Goliath in Gargoyles is bold.

Also, the Biker Mice are borderline chauvinistic in most of the episodes. They fight while Charley sits in the garage only because they make her. She often has to fight to get equal treatment from them which mirrors the women’s rights movement and the glass ceiling issue.

The villain Limburger could be considered gay. He never does anything himself against the Biker Mice, he hires someone else to do it. Limburger has no family to speak of (except for a nephew…think of Scar from The Lion King) and is often running, yelling, and screaming (with Carbunkle in tow) from the Biker Mice. Also, Limburger has an inferiority complex. He loathes anything dealing with being Plutarkian (he is an alien). He despises doing the Plutarkian greeting and always has on his human mask even when he does not need to (in fact an episode showed a flashback where he was infatuated with Earth movies).

One thing about the show that seemed negative was the portrayal of rats. All the rats on the show are evil or do evil things. Modo, in particular, gets angry when anyone compares him to a rat. The person(?) that brings down the Martian forces is a rat disguised as a mouse who infiltrates the group. He also kidnaps the girlfriend of Vinnie (note that this takes place before they get to Earth). This smells of racism (the rats being African-Americans) and the rat kidnapping one of the mice’s girlfriend goes right into the stereotype of African-American men craving white women.

There are also lots of in-jokes. The voice of Vinnie is Ian Ziering of 90210. Thus, the show had guest appearances by people from 90210 including Luke Perry, Jason Priestly, and Jennie Garth (in fact, Luke Perry’s character looked like a twisted version of him). Also, an episode of the show dealt with Shakespeare. The voice of Limburger is a Shakespearean actor.

I hope this gives you an idea of the show, which was on the air for three seasons. Even though the animation was not nearly as good as Disney or Warner Bros., the writing combined sexual tension, humor, action, and adult in-jokes in virtually every episode while staying within the realm of children’s television. Also, what show geared toward kids would stretch out a storyline through 3 weekly episodes (as it did in its final season, before shows like ReBoot or Beast Wars did it)? Anyone who is a fan of this show or vaguely remembers it should comment and tell me what you think.

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The Last Days of Lady and the Tramp

December 15, 2008


From The Last Days of Disco, screenplay by Whit Stillman.

Saturday, I took my niece, who’s seven, to see the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp. She loved it! It was so cute. I’m beginning to fall in love with the whole idea of having kids.

I hate that movie.


It’s so tacky. Not to mention depressing.

This sweet movie about cute cartoon dogs you found depressing?

There is something depressing about it, and it’s not really about dogs. Except for some superficial bow-wow stuff at the start, the dogs all represent human types, which is where it gets into real trouble. Lady, the ostensible protagonist, is a fluffy blonde cocker spaniel with absolutely nothing on her mind. She’s great looking but, let’s be honest, incredibly insipid. Tramp, the love interest, is a smarmy braggart of the most obnoxious kind. An oily jailbird, out for a piece of tail, or whatever he can get.

Oh, c’mon.

No, he’s a self-confessed chicken thief—an all around sleaze ball. What’s the function of a film of this kind? Essentially it’s a primer on love and marriage directed at very young people; imprinting on their little psyches the idea that smooth talking delinquents, recently escaped from the local pound, are a good match for nice girls from sheltered homes. When in ten years, the icky human version of Tramp shows up around the house, their hormones will be racing, and no one will understand why. Films like this program woman to adore jerks.

God, you’re nuts!

The only sympathetic character, the little Scotty who’s so loyal and concerned about Lady, is mocked as old-fashioned and irrelevant, and shunted off to the side.

Isn’t the whole point that Tramp changes? OK, maybe in the past he stole chickens, ran around without a license, and wasn’t always sincere with members of the opposite sex. But through his love for Lady, and beneficent influences of Fatherhood and Matrimony, he changes and becomes a valued member of that rather idealic household.

I don’t think people really change that way. We can change our context, but we can’t change ourselves.

I agree with Josh. Scotty is the only admirable character. It would have been a much better movie if Lady ended up with him.

I’m really surprised. I think Tramp really changed.

Maybe he wanted to change, or tried to change, but there is not a lot of integrity there. First he’d be hanging around the house, drinking, watching ball games, maybe knocking Lady around a little bit. But pretty soon, he’d be back at the town dump chasing tail.

Ex Situ: Masculinity in Disney Films

August 12, 2008

Found via The Disney Blog, here is a  video essay on YouTube™ entitled Sexism, Strength and Dominance: Masculinity in Disney Films. Some brief comments afterward.

I found the essay to be short-sighted and reductionist. He seemed to cherry-pick the characters which fit his thesis (mostly from Beauty and the Beast, which is often used as a dead horse for essays of this nature). For every shallow example he brings up, a counterexample could surely be found. Off the top of my head: characters in Tarzan, The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound. The topic of the representations of masculinity and femininity in Disney movies is worthy and interesting, and deserves better. For a much more thoughtful and insightful discussion (without the crutch of video clips or lame This American Life-esque background music), see the very excellent over-analyzation Mulan: A Modern Rescripting of the Classic Romance.

From the archives: A Response to Sexual Ambiguity in The Brave Little Toaster

June 6, 2008

This article was originally written as a response to Sexual Ambiguity in The Brave Little Toaster. Alas, the name of the original author has been lost to the mists of time. And my poor organizational skills of ten years ago. Also: we apologize for the lack of updates this week. We take our update schedule very seriously.

I hope you were referring to The Brave Little Toaster (a 1987 Disney-affiliated cartoon movie) and not its parody, “The Brave Little Trailer” (a 1994 ten minute short on Animaniacs). The latter I know for sure starred a male cartoon character because at the end you see the Trailer as a grandparent with a white beard and the Pooh-bear voice of cartoon vocal-master Jim Cummings. But at any rate the first film does fail to meet your criteria for deducing the gender on cartoons for a number of reasons.

First off, you’re talking about appliances here. They have no clothes either way. In fact, going over the movie several more times I found no instance where the animators hinted of clothing on any of those characters; possibly to keep them subliminally apart from the human characters. And supporting my theory. (Yes there was that Hawaiian projection scene during that song but I’m talking about hints of clothing that was actually fused onto the characters kind of like Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast.)

Then you’d probably like to discuss color coding. Alas, it holds all too true for the stereotypically (hot pink) female examples, but remember- out of a million billion cartoons, I’m only evaluating the Toaster. Subliminally, I didn’t notice gender because the Toaster has chrome silver and black (those aren’t even really colors) which are exactly what all classic toasters are like. Hence, this character has passed the color coding test by avoiding it altogether.

Let’s see, the Toaster is seen dutifully and enthusiastically tidying up the cottage and minutes later is replacing burnt fuses and hot-wiring a car battery for a chair. Two opposing stereotypes=nothing.

The eye-detail doesn’t lead you much in any direction here. The Toaster has got the dinner plates thing but that’s because, being a toaster, it’s whole face is also it’s body (it’s sort of a verbal to visual pun). Absent are the eyelashes and that ever-alluring white glare found endlessly in Japanimation. To top it off, the Toaster has dark brown irises which not only transcends gender-specifications but ethnicity as well.

In dealing with the voice-issue, that one is totally arbitrary. In my case, I sit next to this student in my Algebra 2 class I would’ve sworn, for the rest of my like, was a full-fledged tomboy had I not heard someone speak his name.

Moving onto emotional status, examples grow increasingly murkier (as I would expect). The Toaster does briefly display what could be conceived as maternal instincts toward Blankie halfway into the movie- though by the end doesn’t mind sitting flat on him like a frat boy on a beanbag chair. Personally, I think that electric blanket is gay for several obscure reasons as well as those flagrant one (a scene where Curby “unloads” his bag of dirt, the Toaster wants Blankie not to gawk- my take on it is the Toaster also has a form of “unloading” like with breadcrumbs on the real appliance and since Blankie has none, he isn’t allowed to intrude this sacred act- it’s almost like a third gender! But now I’m really going off).

How about suggestive hints? If you want to think dirty you could say the Toaster has those slots on its head suggesting female genitalia (and the bread to toast process as pregnancy) but you will also notice the Toaster is the one with the inserting mechanism for those baked goods and, most obviously, it has a nice long power cord sticking out. Do you suppose that represents male genitalia? But rather than go off on a tangent rant of why this cartoon is suggesting of a hermaphrodite, it would be far better to just say “Hey, it’s toaster that happens to talk, okay?”

There was one scene that really, really had my gears turning and that was the otherwise meaningless encounter the Toaster has with a flower in a secluded, almost romantic setting. Well, my thoughts (as I’m writing this) are that the flower softly throwing itself at the Toaster symbolizes someone giving away their virginity- often associated with girls. But, then the flower seems to go into despair and wilt when it is told it was looking at a reflection (the Toaster clearly doesn’t want to get involved in anything here). Does this mean the flower was basically trapped in this romantic setting all alone and believed it found true love in the form of a reflection… or just a companion at all? Comments are welcome- either way, it still keeps the intrigue of my claim alive and well.

I was so convinced of my theory that I decided to view that sequel The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars. I shuddered when I heard it existed and I shuddered more at each passing minute of seeing it- this is the marriage of mediocrity and bribery at its worst, folks. But in the end, I got just what I wanted- more proof the Toaster has no gender. There is yet again a scene where they were supposed to refer to it by third person (by some gigantic refrigerator?) but it could have very well also been referring to the Radio or Lampey. I know it gets rather cumbersome to dissect a movie so thoroughly but to me, it’s increasingly obvious that the animators took great lengths to avoid the issue (and possibly the children’s book this was all based on). The simple fact of the issue is they refuse to give the audience any definite truth on the Toaster. However another totally different possibility is they’re letting you chose the specific gender of this utterly neutral character with an utterly flawless design. I choose neither side for all those reasons stated above. Of course, you can still choose male… if you want to believe that.

Lysistrata and Stitch

May 22, 2008

Contributed by Rob N., who blogs at

In the eternal struggle of boys against girls, the only hope for survival of intelligent life is for girls to win.

We’re talking lasers, aliens, boogers, gobs of earwax flicked off in restaurants, dogfights in space ships, a monster designed as a weapon to destroy worlds, plus shapely dancing girls. Lilo and Stitch has all the elements to win back boys and manly men who would normally avoid everything Disney. Sure, Stitch is cute and fluffy, but he’s also equipped with fangs, claws, spines, nightvision, nicks in his ears from past battles, tongue able to reach inside his own nose. He’s bulletproof, fireproof, lifts objects 3000 times his size and survives getting run over by two trucks. He also knows alien language so vulgar, it causes a robot to puke bolts in the trial scene.

Enjoy it while it lasts, guys, because the rest of the movie is about violent men who fail and women who pick up the pieces.

Lilo and Sith

Exhibit A in the case of violent males who fail: Dr. Jumba Jookiba, greatest scientist in the universe reduced to a common criminal. He’s able to avoid imprisonment only if he helps bring his genetically engineered Doomsday device under control.

Cobra Bubbles is a former CIA agent who became a social worker because, who knows, maybe he wanted a change of pace. Come on, what kind of real man would choose to leave the CIA? He either got booted or went soft.

Captain Gantu is a towering, sharky alien who enjoys slamming his fist on things to get his point across. Good at angry gestures, but he’s a failure when it comes to transporting Stitch to his asteroid exile or capturing Stitch for more than a few minutes at the end.

Agent Pleakley the environmentalist is hardly violent enough or manly enough to deserve male status. He fails to restrain Jumba through most of the movie and fails to bring Stitch back to the Grand Councilwoman. Even dressing like a woman (camouflage to prevent humans from recognizing him as an alien) doesn’t help Pleakley succeed like one.

Stitch manages to create a little havoc, but cuts it short before destroying any large cities. His greatest success comes when he acquiesces to women and rejects his manly instincts.

In the opposite corner, representing successful females, we have the Grand Councilwoman in charge of the Galactic Federation. This alien is not in charge of a nation or a planet or a star system. She runs the entire galaxy. Hillary Rodham Clinton would toss out her Yankees caps in a heartbeat and start wearing Alpha Centauri bloodsport caps if there was any chance the Galactic Council would elect a carpetbagger like her to lead them.

Then there’s big sister Nani. In between housework and chasing Lilo and waiting tables at the luau, Nani manages to fend off an intimidating social worker with the ridiculous covername “Cobra Bubbles.” More likely he’s big, bad Marsellus Wallace straight out of Pulp Fiction, hiding from the law or from rival gangsters, biding his time in Hawaii until it’s safe to go back to Cali. Maybe it’s just the same actor doing the voice, maybe both characters just happen to be bald with a gold hoop earring in each ear. Either way, you have to give Nani credit for standing up to him, and for confronting the aliens who capture her little sister later.

Finally in the case of successful females, we have exhibit Lilo, a lonely little girl who has a hard time making friends with humans (failure), disrupts hula class (failure), argues with her sister (failure), and is able to tame Doomsday personified (success!).

Eventually the major female characters all get their way or reach favorable compromises. Coincidence? No. Women know how to behave.

Child Protective Services from Outer Space

Reviewers and shills for the movie played up the “non-traditional family” featured in Lilo and Stitch, a young woman trying to raise her sister Lilo and hold a job. We’re supposed to give props to the creators for bringing up the topic at all in a children’s movie. Unfortunately if that’s your focus, the moral of this story seems to be that a young, single woman can’t raise a child without help from powerful aliens with advanced technology, or at least one adult male surfer. One of the highest points of the movie comes when Nani’s love interest David tries to cheer them up by taking them surfing. They’re depressed because Stitch just caused a riot on the beach and Nani got turned down for every job she applied to. Yet as soon as David joins them, everyone laughs and giggles and behaves. Instant nuclear family, just add boyfriend.

Hanging over the struggling family comprised of two sisters is the threat of authorities breaking them up. Stitch’s experience is a primer to show us what could happen to Lilo. When parents raise a child carelessly, for example teaching it to destroy large cities, then authorities take away the child. The Galactic Federation acts like Galactic Child Protective Services and takes Stitch away to be exiled on an asteroid. After watching the trial and Stitch’s escape, we know what’s at stake for Lilo if authorities disapprove of her sister’s parenting skills. Lilo will be banished from her sister to live with a foster family, maybe on a deserted asteroid.

Lilo and Sartre

For a long time after the title characters are introduced, Stitch behaves like a conniving hero straight out of a screwball romantic comedy. He fakes a relationship with Lilo because she’s useful to him, a human shield to prevent Jumba from blasting him. Gradually Stitch develops genuine feelings for her. There’s no romance, but call it a screwball friendship.

A picture book triggers Stitch’s transformation from self-absorbed monster to friend. He glances at boring books on Lilo’s shelf and tosses them aside until he finds one that shocks him into reconsidering his life: The Ugly Duckling.

Stitch skips the part of the story that everybody knows and lands on a section he can relate to. On one page, the duckling wanders alone in the woods shouting, “I’m lost.” On the facing page we see the Swan family happily recovering their misdiagnosed “duckling.” Stitch identifies with the ugly duckling so strongly, he uses it as a guidebook, trying to reenact the end of the story. He takes the picture book deep into the woods on a vision quest to call his true family. Stitch speaks the magic words that worked for the ugly duckling, “I’m lost.” He waits all night for his real family to find him and make him feel wanted.

Ironically his closest original family does find him at that point, his creator Jumba, the father who was jailed for doing such a monumentally bad job of parenting. Jumba says that Stitch has no family and he’ll never feel like he belongs. He should come home quietly and let Jumba take him apart.

What do you do if your creator gives you a purpose that seems absurd? The same thing that Jean-Paul Sartre said to do if you can’t find or believe in a creator at all: you design your own purpose. Stitch has already seen glimpses of what a functioning family is like. He had to endure a whole montage of Lilo squirting water at him as if he was a bad dog, trying to teach him how to behave, sharing snocones, surfing, hanging out at the luau where Nani works. Belonging to a family makes more sense to Stitch at this point than destroying cities or allowing himself to be snuffed out as punishment for the sins of his creator.

Stitch rejects Jumba’s violent way of life. A failure as a manly Doomsday machine, Stitch starts to succeed when his goals turn girly, focusing on family.

Lilo Versus Stitch

If they’ve been raised traditionally, boys manufacture chaos and girls strive for order. No one says, “Girls will be girls” to excuse them when they break rules.

Girls are badgered to specialize in relationships and family. Even the most loose-knit relationship requires some compromise now and then. Families have hierarchy and rules built into them. That’s why Lilo tries to bring order to her messy world from the first moment she comes on screen. She arrives to her hula class late and drips water on the stage, causing the other dancers to slip. By her way of thinking it was quite necessary. Lilo explains that she has to feed peanut butter sandwiches to a certain fish every few days, but all they had at home was tuna, which would be wrong to feed to a fish, so she had to take time to buy peanut butter so she could feed the fish, and that’s why she was wet and late. Why does she need to feed the fish? Because he can predict the weather.

Okay, that part doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it shows how Lilo sees patterns in everything. Even if she’s wrong about the fish’s secret knowledge, the subject of weather prediction fits with Lilo’s concern of finding order in chaos.

Lilo’s other obsession is taking pictures of people on the beach and taping their photos on the wall of her room. She keeps a snapshot of her family under her pillow and demands that her alien pet/friend Stitch must never touch it. Staring up at her wall of pictures, she says mournfully, “Everybody leaves.” Lilo takes pictures to remember everyone, because parents can die in car wrecks and tourists only stay a short time before going home. Given how much she values that photo of her parents, it might also mean that she takes pictures of strangers as a way of incorporating them into her family. They might not know it, but they will always be part of her photo family, properly organized instead of random strangers bouncing in and out of her life.

Lilo often brings up the Hawaiian word “O’hana” that her late father taught her. Instead of the simplistic translation of “family,” he explained that “O’hana means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” By repeating and emphasizing that idea, Lilo shows Stitch there’s something better than chaos.

I’m not saying she’s using a wink and a come-hither look to keep Stitch under her thumb, but a different kind of feminine “wicked wiles” as Grumpy calls it in that other Disney movie. The battle of the sexes can also be about family and relationships in general. In the classic Greek play Lysistrata, women who are sick of war stage a protest in a government building and refuse to have sex with their husbands until they stop the war. There they go again, men creating chaos, women demanding order. It’s not just the act of sex that women control and extend to men, but their example as the embodiment of family and order. How can families stay together if their members and resources are being wasted in some distant conquest? If men care about their children or family or consistently getting booty, then they have to give up their dalliances with chaos and come to order.

Lilo has something valuable to trade with Stitch if he’s willing to give up his destructive nature. Imagine the two of them singing a playground song that you might hear on any given day between a competing boy and girl:

Stitch sings: “I can do anything you can do, better!

Lilo: “Only if you destroy all things good in the process.”

Stitch: “Right. So?”

Lilo: “Try a bite of this O’hana. It’s a fruit that I got off the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and Love and Loss.”

Stitch: [Gobbles it up, recognizes his emptiness.] “More!”

Lilo: “The only way you can ever have it again is to leave the Garden of Manly Men. Families require order and you can’t keep them together if you run around creating chaos in every aspect of your life. You must get in touch with your inner Alan Alda, your inner Oprah, your inner girl!”

Stitch: “This?”

Lilo: “No, that’s outer! None of those dangly things that you keep poking out and then retracting. Inner!”

Lilo puts her hand on his heart, morphs into Jennifer Connelly from A Beautiful Mind and says, “I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible.”

You get the picture. Men have to sacrifice their wild nature in order to stay rooted in relationships. Women act as gatekeepers of the knowledge that families and order are good things, because men certainly wouldn’t know enough about it to learn it from each other. So Lilo offers her knowledge of O’hana and Stitch gives up intergalactic conquest so he can be part of the O’hana.

The Only Hope

Boys are violent. Men are violent. Hulk smash. If their skills at destroying things and places and people become better and better, then the ultimate success is to destroy everything — the world, the universe, themselves. Who wants that kind of success? Succeeding as a man in the terms we’ve been given means failing to survive.

Women succeed throughout the movie because they are traditionally stuck with the job of raising families. They come to understand order and embody order. They can help men succeed by helping them move away from chaos, move away from wild masculinity, move toward family and order.

Notice that Stitch was not captured by the Galactic Federation forces in the end. He escaped from them repeatedly and finally gave himself up because it seemed best for the people he cared about. Their violent defensive tactics could not have stopped him from destroying the universe. Only Lilo’s efforts at changing his mind and changing his identity saved the universe.

You can tell that identity is important to Stitch and the others because in the final confrontation between all the aliens and humans, the Grand Councilwoman calls our little blue hero by the original name that Jumba gave him, “Experiment 6-2-6.” He interrupts the argument to correct her: “My name Stitch.” The name that Lilo gave him. Hoping for some redeeming quality in the monster so she won’t have to banish him, the Grand Councilwoman asks with feeling, “Who are you?”

Stitch’s reply almost sounds like he’s ignoring her. “This is my family,” he says. “I found it all on my own. It’s little and broken, but still good.”

Yeah, get a tissue. Finished? He might as well have said, “My family is my identity.” The other junk about his family is a projection of how he feels about himself: “I found myself all on my own. I’m little and broken, but still good.”


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