Thursday, July 3, 2014

Eating Their Own

Sarah Boxer, writing at The Atlantic, through convoluted twists and turns, and a limited review of children's animation, decided that there is some sexist plot to remove mothers from children's animated movies. She concludes:
Quite simply, mothers are killed in today’s kids’ movies so the fathers can take over. (Of course, there are exceptions; in Lilo and Stitch, for instance, both of Lilo’s parents die and it’s her big sister who becomes the surrogate parent.) The old fairy-tale, family-romance movies that pitted poor motherless children against horrible vengeful stepmothers are a thing of the past. Now plucky children and their plucky fathers join forces to make their way in a motherless world. The orphan plot of yore seems to have morphed, over the past decade, into the buddy plot of today. Roll over, Freud: in a neat reversal of the Oedipus complex, the mother is killed so that the children can have the father to themselves. Sure, women and girls may come and go, even participate in the adventure, but mothers? Not allowed. And you know what? It looks like fun!
Apparently, this is a plot of The Patriarchy. Unfortunately for Boxer, there is no way to link this to conservatives. Hollywood is a bastion of liberals. So she stops, never taking the next step of where this sexism arises from or why.

However, there are more than a few holes in her theory. As many of the commentators to her article point out, losing a mother is very traumatic for a child, so by having the hero an orphan (or at least motherless) is a way to emotionally engage the young audience. (Sorry Boxer, but these movies aren't made for your consumption).

To a certain extent, Boxer exhibits an ignorance of history. There is a reason that so many fairy tale characters lack mothers (remember all the infamous step-mothers)--prior to white patriarchy medicine, it was not uncommon for mothers to die in childbirth. But that would be to concede something to the male patriarchy, so Boxer must ignore it.

Another factor she fails to consider is that these movies are generally intended to be adventures. No bicycle helmets, climbing trees or cliffs, or other activities where the child might skin a knee or bruise an ego. Not exactly helicopter mom approved.

And, of course, Boxer has been selective in her selection of movies. She grudgingly admits that the Toy Story movies are an exception. I just watched Monsters v. Aliens with my kids the other day--the main character's parents are both healthy and well at the ending. Boxer uses Despicable Me as an example, but I don't remember any reference to why the children were put up for adoption--that is, we don't know if their parents died or simply weren't able to care for them. Frozen has both parents die--there is no father figure that the characters bond with. Planet 51 doesn't follow here theory. Monsters, Inc. doesn't. The first two Shrek didn't follow her plot line. And these are just the movies I can think of off the top of my head.

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