Culture Clips: The Influence of the ‘Princess Industrial Complex’

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If you haven’t noticed, there are princesses everywhere these days. Disney princesses, that is. There’s the classic trio (Aurora, Cinderella and Snow White), the so-called Disney Renaissance princesses (Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Mulan). Then we have the millennial members of this hallowed animated court: Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Anna, Elsa and Moana.

That’s a lot of royalty.

Peggy Orenstein, author of the 2011 book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, dubs it the “princess industrial complex.” In a new interview with USA Today, Orenstein said that this ever-expanding princess culture contributes to girls’ “self-objectification” and “self-sexualization” later on in their lives—an assertion that new research (also summarized in USA Today) seems to reinforce. Orenstein says that princess culture primes young girls for “the next phase, which is what I call the Kardashianization of girlhood.”

In a separate article for the fashion website Women’s Wear Daily, writer Rachel Strugatz connects a similar set of dots, albeit with a different group of influential real-life “princesses”: the Kardashian women. Strugatz suggests that Millennials and Boomers (GenXers were curiously absent from her assessment) chasing that famous family’s features have contributed to an “explosion in the popularity of noninvasive cosmetic procedures.”

But while some Millennials may be focused on their looks more than ever, their attitudes toward marriage as a generational whole are as blasé as ever, says Bloomberg contributor Ben Steverman in his article, “Young Americans Are Killing Marriage.”

One factor correlating with lower rates of marriage among Millennials is cohabitation, which has increasingly been viewed as a substitute for matrimony or as a stepping stone to it. But despite more favorable cultural views on living together sans wedding vows, University of Virginia sociology professor Bradford Wilcox recently released a study that shows cohabitating couples (in the United States as well as 16 European countries) provide a much less stable environment for raising children.

In an extensive interview with Christianity Today, Wilcox summarized his research findings: “In the vast majority of countries that we looked at in Europe, at all education levels, people who are married when they have kids are markedly more stable than people who are cohabiting when they have their kids. Generally speaking, the least educated married families in Europe enjoy more stability than the most educated cohabiting families. That’s not what I would have guessed. … We looked at changes in cohabitation levels and family stability across the globe and found in general that as cohabitation increased, the odds that kids would be living with two biological parents in a given country decreased over time.”

Elsewhere in the news this week, Fox News reports that Carl’s Jr. will no longer be running risqué commercials featuring models and celebrities in bikinis.

Google, meanwhile, is trying to teach its AI software to recognize offensive content. Elsewhere in the same New York Times article, writer Daisuke Wakabayashi notes that YouTube users now watch a staggering billion hours of content on the video site each day. Likewise, the total number of videos archived on YouTube is also estimated to be around a billion, with about 400 hours of new content being uploaded every minute.

But as big as those numbers are, some are wondering if another tech company, online retail juggernaut Amazon, will become the first company with a market valuation of a cool trillion dollars. Though the Seattle-based company’s market valuation currently trails tech icons Apple, Google and Microsoft, some business experts believe that Amazon has more potential for significant growth and could outpace everyone in the race to trillion-dollar market capitalization.

In contrast, another well-known brand’s sales are sagging a bit these days: Marvel Comics. The company’s vice president of sales, David Gabriel, thinks that the recent decline is due to Marvel’s attempts to increase diversity in its comics, including a female Thor, a biracial Spider-Man and a Muslim teenage girl as Ms. Marvel.

Gabriel told icv2.com, “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.  I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales. We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against.”

Several video game stories popped up this week, too. For adults of a certain age who fondly remember the arcades of their youth, there’s a renaissance of sorts pairing vintage games and microbrew beers in establishments that have been dubbed barcades. And speaking of vintage games, new research indicates that playing the classic game Tetris, of all things, can reduce flashbacks for those involved in traumatic events if victims play the game within six hours of the incident. (Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.)

Finally, another new study suggests that video games aren’t addictive, even as the site virtual-addiction.com gives folks a list of behaviors to watch for if you think you or someone you know might be addicted to the internet.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

charitysplace 9 months ago
Too many princesses, huh?

Guess it's awesome timing that the new Anne Shirley is coming to Neflix. ;)
Julienne Dy 9 months ago
I'll admit I'm HORRIBLY biased about this issue because the princess mythology is pretty near and dear to my heart, but I think that the biggest issue about the princess culture isn't the fact that it exists.  I think the biggest issue is how it's approached.  I mean, during college, one of the lessons that I learned from church was that princesses were girls who go after God's heart and find value in being His children, so no, I don't think encouraging girls to be princesses is inherently bad.  I will admit the princess culture has caused problems for a lot of girls, which is why it's important for them and their parents to take time to critically think about what it REALLY means to be a princess.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Posted by Peggy Carter

I think Disney Princesses, like almost anything, can be used for good or bad. My mom didn't let my sisters and me watch Pocahontas or Mulan and didn't approve of the Little Mermaid (I've only ever watched it a couple times.) Body image can sometimes be an issue as well.

But especially in the old Disney movies, the princesses were role models and heroines, in that they never tried to run away or rebel, but submitted to injustice. That was another thing I didn't like about the new Beauty & the Beast - Belle trying to escape from the tower after she promises the Beast she'll stay.

The only thing that I don't like is the generic "happily ever after" ending. No matter the circumstance, it always changes for the better, and things always turns out okay. It's been a hard lesson to learn (as silly as it sounds) that life just doesn't turn out that way, that we may never be happy, or life get better, or circumstances change.

Aside from that though, I'd say Disney is amazing and seldom fails to impress me.
Julienne Dy 9 months ago
I just realized something.  The only two princesses that I liked out the the Disney Renaissance era were Belle and Mulan.  I had and still have issues with the other three.  Pocahontas (the movie not the character) was horribly historically inaccurate and rather obviously biased towards the Powhatan tribe.  Plus, the romantic element felt forced and cheesy in a bad way.  I'm rather ambivalent about Jasmine.  On one hand, she's disrespectful, selfish, temperamental, and a bit haughty.  On the other hand, she learns to accept her responsibilities, shows loyalty and love to her father and friends, and has a strong sense of justice.  Lastly, I REALLY don't like Ariel.  She's everything I don't like about Jasmine except more so, and she's also A LOT more foolish and impulsive than Jasmine, yet she somehow gets rewarded for being all those things.  Why?!
Anonymous 9 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

The amount of praise The Little Mermaid gets has always baffled me. I mean, what's the moral of that movie anyway? Rebellion?
Andrew Gilbertson 9 months ago
Plus they turned the first Christian convert in North America into a pagan that communes with nature spirits and actively converts others into her beliefs, which is a little insulting.

I completely agree with your views on all five of the Disney Princesses.
Alex Clark 9 months ago
Not entirely unsurprising.  Disney probably wanted to give Native Americans a movie that could be "their" movie, and which reflected their culture beliefs as being beautiful and and worthy of respect.  So they have John Smith learning all about what she believes instead of the other way around.  "Moana" seems to be a similar kind of thing but for Polynesian people
Julienne Dy 9 months ago
I think the biggest reason why I liked Mulan was because I grew up in a semi-traditional Chinese American family.  I say "semi-traditional" because my family converted to Christianity when I was 8 and because my mom was less authoritarian and more understanding of her kids' thoughts and feelings than traditional Chinese parents.  Anyway, I don't know enough about Chinese culture to point out what the movie got wrong, but I do know from experience that filial piety is a pretty big deal in Chinese culture, and I'm glad to say that the movie definitely got that part right.
B Evans 9 months ago
I'm surprised you weren't allowed to watch Mulan - she goes to war to save her father, not to rebel. Most parents wouldn't object to such behavior. I disagree that submission to injustice is a good trait to cultivate. As Ecclesiastes, says, there is a time to speak and a time to keep silent. Having examples of both helps to give girls a balance and reminds them of the need for both approaches.
Julienne Dy 8 months ago
So, it's like what they said in Hidden Figures, "There's more than one way to achieve something."  Also, regarding Mulan, I think some parents were a little off-put by the presence of ancestor worship in the movie.  I know from experience that ancestor worship was and probably still is a big part of Chinese culture.
Inkfeather1 . 8 months ago
Not standing up to injustice is a terrible idea. If no one did, we'd still have slavery, women wouldn't be allowed to vote, and many other bad things. If you don't stand up, you contribute to the problem.
Julienne Dy 8 months ago
I don't think that Peggy Carter meant submitting to injustice in general is a good idea.  I think she was talking about submitting to personal injustice meaning that the classic trio didn't use the fact that their lives weren't fair as an excuse to act like whiny brats (I'm looking at you, Ariel).
Inkfeather1 . 8 months ago
Well, I still think personal or not it's rarely a good idea to submit to an injustice. But I definitely agree that it's not an excuse to just be whiny. Really, I have issues with all the  Disney princesses (except Belle). They're all whiny or bland. Fables is a much better representation of classic fairy tales in my opinion. (And I just realized my original post was a reply to the wrong person. Oops -_-)
Anonymous 8 months ago
Posted by Peggy Carter

You're right, Julienne Dy. I didn't in any way mean to imply that standing up to injustice is a bad thing - I was only pointing out that, like you said, the princesses "didn't use the fact that their lives weren't fair as an excuse to act like whiny brats." 

And, actually, I'm really not sure about Mulan - now that I think about it, maybe I would've been allowed to watch it if I asked - but I was never interested and my parents never pressed it. But from what I hear, it wasn't as good as the other older Disney movies anyway.
Anonymous 9 months ago
As far as the super hero thing goes, I love Marvel movies but have never delved into the comic books. However, as a movie fan, I can say that I would be very annoyed (outraged is too strong a word, but it's close) to have my favorite characters swap gender, race, etc.

I'm a girl, and I love seeing strong female characters, be they in real life, the movies, books -- or comic books.

But I also love Captain America. And to a lesser extent, all the other Marvel heroes and heroines. Messing with and changing the established characters is just annoying, and actually, I think, insulting. Do women and minorities want to see characters they've grown up with changed to reflect them, as a sort of afterthought? Myself, I would much rather see Marvel create new, racially diverse characters. New tough women. New African American heroes. Not say "Oh, we're sorry. We want you girls and women to buy our comic books, so we'll gender-swap Thor instead of putting in the effort to create a great female character."

I'll take the original Thor, please. Or better yet, Captain America.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

EXACTLY! I find it irritating when people not only do this in the comics, but also in the movies.

Please don't think that I'm racist when I say that they shouldn't have gotten a black man to play the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four reboot. I just don't get the point of changing a character's race and/or gender just to be more diverse. Don't change a beloved character; instead, make a new one.

As an example, DC could've been more diverse by making Hal Jordan's Green Lantern black. They didn't do this though, and instead made a new character: John Stewart. In doing so, they made a character that gained equal (if not more) love and respect as the original (John is personally my favorite Green Lantern). This is the way how diversity should be done in comics and in pop culture in general.
Airship Prodigy 9 months ago
I totally agree. While I'm personally not a fan of John Stewart, I agree that this is a beautiful example of how to make a universe more diverse.
SJamison 9 months ago
And yet, when DC decided to permanently replace Hal Jordan, they didn't pick John Stewart, but a completely new white guy in Kyle Rayner.  (And  a few years later retconned in that his Irish-named father was actually part-Hispanic, ala the "I had a Cherokee great-grandma"  thing celebrities pull out when they need not to be vanilla.)
Alex Clark 9 months ago
There;s also the problem though of whether or not a brand new character can gain ground and become popular enough to stand on the same level as the classic established characters.  And it seems like viewers mostly just want to see the classic heroes and villains, rather than a bunch of new characters.  So it ends up being an intractable problem; change the existing characters to be more diverse and risk the anger of the fans, or introduce brand new characters and risk them not doing as well financially and possibly having their "diversity" blamed for their failure. 
Anonymous 9 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

I recently worked on an English paper for my college class about why people should get married and instead of living together, and the research I discovered was actually pretty fascinating. There are so many insecurities that a couple might feel when they're living together instead of being married; as a married couple, you wouldn't have to put up with the fear of your partner leaving you one day for someone else.

As for that Disney Princess research, I'm personally not surprised at all. I think that a lot of the princesses by Disney do make for great role models (Belle and Rapunzel specifically). Others, however, not so much; Jasmine's choice of clothing is definitely not something that a role model for others should be wearing.

As for Marvel Comics, I don't think the main reason is because Marvel is trying to be more diverse. Rather, I think that DC is stealing some of the more casual fans thanks to their Rebirth. For good reason to; the Rebirth has been a great start to those fresh to the comic lore as well as an awesome continuation for the more hard core fans. I've been reading the comics myself, and in short, they're AWESOME!
Anonymous 9 months ago
Posted by Peggy Carter

I totally agree about Marvel and DC. I really liked the first few Marvel movies - the first Captain America (which is pretty obvious from my alias:), Thor 1 & 2 but now they're getting less enjoyable to me - way too much fighting, plot holes etc.
I think Wonder Woman looks interesting, and maybe even Justice League. I'm still on the fence about the Flash movie, mostly because I'm such a fan of the TV series.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

As a hardcore DC fan, I think that DC really dropped the ball with their TV shows.

See, unlike with the movies, DC is currently kicking Marvel's butt on the television screen. So why not incorporate the TV shows into the movies?  Then you'll have a built in audience who will be excited to see Stephen Amell's Green Arrow and Grant Gustin's Flash team up with Ben Affleck's Batman and the other movie heroes. Alas, DC didn't do this, and it's a massively missed opportunity.

Still pumped for Wonder Woman and Justice League though.
Andrew Gilbertson 9 months ago
I just wish that the series would stop being so explicit with the cohabitation, premarital sex, and (in Supergirl particularly), blatant and needless (and frequently clumsy) politics. But honestly, I think they've done themselves a favor keeping the shows and movies separate... the movies are crashing and burning so hard, but at least they won't take the TV universe down with them! :-)   as much as its content is making me increasingly uncomfortable, I'd still rather see the shows continue independent of the movies' success or failure (especially because the quality of each show seems to vary so wildly from season to season, so that I have the maybe-naive hope that the content issues or slumps that plague this season of each show will fall off in the next season a bit).
Andrew Gilbertson 9 months ago
Arrrrg. It's that same toxic discussion that always happens in comics, now coming from the top. It's not that people don't want female characters or diversity inc asting- they don't want their favorite, iconic characters replaced. They don't care about 'Spider-man, the costume (no matter who's inside it),' they care about Peter Parker, the character that they've gotten to know over decades. You introduce a new Spider-man as a replacement, there's going to be an automatic resentment from Peter Parker fans. Same with Thor, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, or any other legacy character (especially ones appearing in immensely-popular movies currently!)

And of course, those of us that have been around the comics block KNOW that those legacy characters will be back before long- but the comics industry keeps trying to sell these changes to the gullible as if they are permanent replacements to characters they've grown attached to, and then try to blame flagging sales on people not wanting diversity. No, that's not it- they just want it to coexist alongside the characters they care about rather than bumping them off the page for a few years.