To be a Disney princess, you’ve got to pay to play (credit: Chang Lee/NYT)
The problem with parents these days is that they seem to lack confidence that they can create vivid and exciting activities for their children. So they turn to the Disneys and Wiggles and Baby Einsteins of the world in order to find ‘manufactured realities’ for children. Whatever happened to taking your child to the Nutcracker, watching the Wizard of Oz or just make believe play at home?
In this blog, I have a pet peeve (or should I say, detestation) for the American marketing megalith. I’ve blogged gleefully here about Ford’s dismal promotion for its new Escape SUV hybrid vehicle and Bristol Myers Squibb loathesomely self-serving advertising touting the company’s ‘extraordinary contribution’ to battling AIDS in Africa. But the New York Times’ A Finishing School for All, Disney Style has got me on the warpath over this Disney depradation. The article announces the [re]opening of the New York City flagship World of Disney store on Fifth Avenue.
Our little girls must be leading an awfully deprived life to need Disney to step in and turn them into princesses (for a price). Here’s what the girls get for their money:
Katarina Berberich and 15 other young girls sipped tea and were tutored on the four qualities every princess worthy of a tiara with snap-on plastic jewels possesses: intelligence, grace, thoughtfulness and honesty.
“They let us, like, sing and dance like a princess and gave us jewels and stuff,” said Katarina of the hourlong program.
Even Katarina’s maid in waiting, her stepmother gets to enjoy a second childhood: “I already have a crown at home and a dress,” said Dona, 31, with a giggle. “I’m going to be Cinderella.” Wasn’t the whole point about Cinderella that the old sisters wanted to wear the slippers and marry the prince but couldn’t? I guess no one told Dona about that nor did they tell her about wicked stepmothers.
And don’t you just love those four virtues dreamed up by some marketing flack: intelligence, grace, thoughtfulness and honesty. Don’t know about you, but I don’t need to pay someone $80 to teach my daughter about what a girl should be (my wife is expecting twins this November, one of whom is a girl).
All this girl stuff sure adds up:
Becoming a princess, particularly one who shops on Fifth Avenue, isn’t cheap. Cinderella’s Princess Court costs $75 if registering online or $80 by phone. Build-your-own crowns, which can be bought separately, cost an average of $24. Bracelets and necklaces are $6 to $8 each, with attachable charms an additional $4. (The store also sells lots of other nonprincess items, like T-shirts and jackets, New York-inspired products, pet accessories, candy and games and action figures for boys.) And mothers who might not be so easily placated by a Velcro tiara can buy cashmere sweaters for $340 or scarves for $260.
The article gives us a glimpse into the marketing strategy behind Disney’s new New York City flagship store:
The company expects not only to tap into the fantasies of children, particularly preteen girls who have embraced the Disney princess phenomenon with gusto, but also their parents’. (Indeed, when Katarina got a hug from Cinderella, Dona turned almost wistful at the notion of getting one, too. “I would have really liked that,” she said with a sigh.)
Isn’t that pathetic? This woman seems to want to regain a childhood she either had and misses or never had to begin with. Whatever the reason, all I can say it UGH!
The New York Times article quotes the ambisexual cultural pontificator, Camille Paglia, on the retailing phenomenon:
Paglia believes the stores convey a kind of retrograde femininity. “This new phenomenon is obviously a cultural turn back to the pre-1960’s sense of formality and manners,” she said. “It is a reaction to the hypersexualized environment where young women are expected to dress like strippers or whores. That should not be the standard for a 10-year-old girl.”
I’d agree with her in saying that this is a cultural retrogression to an earlier age of supposed “innocence.” But I don’t think it’s a “reaction” to the hypersexualization of young girls. I think it’s part and parcel of it. Society teaches women that they must be either whores or princesses (or sometimes both alternately). The Disney tea parties teach young girls to be perfect epitomes of femininity. On the other hand, the doll makers (see accompanying image) are teaching them to be (or at least dress like) whores. For more on this subject, read my post on the sexualization of girls’ dolls.
In case you’re wondering what’s in it for Mickey, the author reminds us of the favorable bottom line:
It is a lucrative business. The Disney princess line, which includes costumes, tiaras and other accessories based on Disney’s heroines like Cinderella and Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” are expected to bring in $2 billion in retail sales this year. It also has spawned the My Disney Girls Perfectly Princess Tea Party at the Grand Floridian hotel in Walt Disney World where a child and adult are served brunch, hear music and get a doll and tiara for a royal sum of $200. And in Japan, 20,000 mothers and daughters this year paid $150 each to attend Disney princess seminars were they learned table manners.
If you can’t provide a real childhood for your daughter, then you sure can buy one for her.