Atlantis: The Lost Empire (media review)

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2001

Directors: Gary TrousdaleKirk Wise

A Look a Gender in Children’s Cinema

            Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Disney, 2001, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise) is not original by Disney’s standards, race and gender cartoon archetypes or many of the other characteristics that indicate the typical genre conventions of children’s cinema. Instead, it shows its uniqueness by not falling prey to the whole formula used by other directors to produce a moneymaking movie that kids nag their parents to see and that adults plop their kids in front of as a baby-sitter. Atlantis is not the break-through, progressive movie that questions industry habits or societal norms, but it does put race relations, semi-non-traditional protagonists and the importance of education and cultural preservation at the forefront of its storyline.

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge the elements that make Atlantis an average film in the genre. Like a laundry list, certain aspects also seen in numerous other kids’ movies can be checked off: the film explores the demise of a royal family, the female lead is a princess, the female lead is hetero-sexual, almost all the female characters are hyper-sexualized, the male protagonist must save the royal family and its people after being begged by the female lead, the female lead’s mother disappears/dies when she is a little girl (thus she has never had a ‘proper’ role model), the male protagonist lost both his parents at an early age, the male protagonist is white and hetero-sexual, the male protagonist is more knowledgeable than the female lead (about her own culture, she is illiterate and only he can translate the written word of her people), the female lead is gawked at openly by several male characters (with and without her knowledge), the male protagonist’s goal is to fulfill a dream of his grandfather’s (i.e. patriarchal pride, almost all of the characters are trying to fulfill a dream of their fathers’), there is a clearly defined bad guy (who is a “foreigner” – with a twist), there is a fight / violent scene in which the male protagonist must save the female lead who is in danger and cannot help herself and, last, but not least,  the male protagonist and the female lead wind up together by the end of the movie. For most of Disney’s films and other producers and distributors of children’s cinema, it can practically be assumed that this list is handed off to the scriptwriter prior to the completion of the story in order to fill the standard format. Even with the fields of gender studies and children’s psychology consistently publishing work on the topic, few things have changed.

As for the aspects of the film that are atypical, there are many, but perhaps not enough to clean the slate and wipe away the stereotypes it is also laden with. Nonetheless, these differences need to be discussed for their importance in making Atlantis one of Disney’s more “conscious” movies. To start off, characters of multiple ethnicities, nationalities and backgrounds are featured in speaking roles (including Hispanic, French, Italian, African-American, Southern-American and, of course, Atlantian – each has a special talent or skill that makes them invaluable to the plot), both of the supporting female characters are more technologically advanced than rest of the male characters, one of supporting female characters holds military rank and is addressed with her title throughout (and the film is set in 1914) and there is an appreciation for a foreign culture, not just a foreign love interest.

from julvett.deviantart.com

from julvett.deviantart.com

Although several gender-related observations have been already pointed out, these dynamics are more influential with the context of the whole film. While watching, I could not help but to question the choices of the “binary” and wonder why the film-makers did not choose to perhaps explore an alternate caste for the Atlantians, maybe one with no gender or at least with more than two. Additionally, even though Atlantis is described as being far below sea level in a secret “cave,” the women are clothed in tight dresses and bikini tops as if they were influenced by Summer Sale commercials in the modern-day West. Apparently practicality was lost on this lost civilization, at least according to Disney.

As explored in the course article, “Hetero-Romantic Love and Heterosexiness in Children’s G-rated Films” (Martin and Kazyak), hetero-romance plays a role in uniting the main characters, but, thankfully, is not the goal of the movie. It plays a minor part post-climax as closure to the audience to assure the future of Atlantis (and to suggest a sequel). To further the affair, the female lead has to flaunt her wears and the male protagonist has to prove his worth through intellect. The classic innocent vixen trope is displayed when the female lead undresses to go swimming and the male protagonist’s eyes bulge slightly as he trips over his words. “Do you swim?” she says. “Uh, pretty girl, uh, uh, I meant, pretty good,” he replies. This odd idea of the woman being aware and unaware of her appeal at the same time is tricky and sometimes hard to recognize. It is an elusive look or a flirtatious action, often followed by a sincere comment to diffuse her sexual awareness, but increase his, which is acceptable.

Examining the male protagonist more closely, we notice that he does not fit the bill of the normal, masculine hero. He is scrawny and academic and made fun of for both traits. “You are a scholar, no less?” the female lead inquires. “With your diminished physique and large forehead you are suited for nothing else!” He is not set on finding a maiden or damsel in distress, instead he is hopeful in his hunt for history and heritage. His adventure is one of identity. His tools are education, dedication and empathy. Nonetheless, while his uniqueness begins the adventure, it is brute force, fast action and violent combat that saves the day. One moment he doubts his ability to lead and the next he is leading makeshift troops into a fiery battle to save the female lead, who, by this point in the story, is literally an object.

As the climax begins to ramp up, the female lead, for one reason or another, transforms into a holy statue, a glowing figurine frozen by a mystical crystal that binds her community. She is not a woman, definitely not a person, but a representation of the female form. The “bad guys” kidnap her in this state to bring her back to the modern world to sell her as an artifact. In other words, her autonomy is lost when she sacrifices herself and identity for her culture. She cannot have it all.

from tk-the-tiger on tumblr

from tk-the-tiger on tumblr

Caricatures in certain cases, when used in clever ways, can explain a cultural identity, understanding or phenomena that only parody can. By utilizing a stereotype to prove an idea about how such a generalization came to being so widely accepted, a lesson is learned and a comedy is often played out. On the other end, when a formula of tropes is repeated over and over without active commentary, such as in children’s movies where the target audience is obviously not media, politically or gender literate, lessons are learned lacking realistic dialogue to balance the digested material. This is the weary consequence of reusing the same story and characters in a loop with no responsibility for the messages being created, interpreted and internalized.

-Darragh

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Listen Up!

ADV 2151 – Assignment 2 - Women & Media PSA

I made this in about five minutes for a Visual Communication and Anthropology class. It’s simple to be a media creator and a media critic at the same time. Very little skill is needed except the ability to recognize your power as an individual to make change.

Phoebe Bachman: Women Making Activist Art in Public Spaces

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Phoebe Bachman, a Sculpture student at Tyler School of Art, presented her project Women Making Activist Art in Public Spaces this evening at Temple Contemporary. While it was a presentation of her research, we were encouraged to interact with her displays via post-it notes or underlining sections of the typed documents. In addition to listening, the audience engaged in discussion and Q & A with Phoebe and one another. I wasn’t the only one with a raised eyebrow when one woman remarked that her boyfriend hated the word ‘feminist.’ But that comment sparked a further discussion: what does it mean to say you are a feminist? Do you act as a free agent, individually? Or do you have to see yourself as part of an organization, a larger context….does feminism imply a collective? There aren’t perfect answers, but the evidence around us suggested that wonderful reactions can occur when feminists come together.

Small gestures. Changing one other person’s day. I was touched by that moment in Phoebe’s presentation, that particular phrase. The connections that she establishes are so immediate and open. People respond, and that means she’s getting through our barriers. She’s mentoring us, as she was mentored by the women activist artists she studies. For a moment we were all a community aware of itself, and she made that possible. I’m grateful to have felt like a part of it.

Read more about Phoebe’s work:

http://wmaaps.blogspot.com/

-Nicole

Media Review–“Accessory”

Jordyn Taylor

Confessions of a Shopaholic

2009

“Fashion defines women” is certainly not a new concept, but I was surprised to learn that by tracking fashion trends, you can track the modernization process of a society. To put this into practice, I’ll do my best to gain some sort of insight into our society by breaking down the messages in “Accessory.” I am indebted to Professor Susan Hiner for her excellent talk on fashion and modernity given at Tyler School of Art, which inspired and provided the background for this post.

Oh, our love affair with inanimate objects.

No, really, she is about to make out with that mannequin. Do woman (wealthy, white) have so much agency that they can afford to love their luxury accessories instead of- or more than- other people?  Clearly, pleasure is tied up in the acquisition and display of “brand name” objects. Now take a moment to appreciate this image.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the handbag did not always carry the meaning we assign to it today. In fact, circa 1801 handbags were seen as ridiculous alternatives to pockets, which were hidden underneath the dress. A handbag, in contrast to the secrecy of the pocket, was promiscuous. The women carrying a handbag openly was immediately “classed down”  as vulgar, letting it all hang out. Unless her bag was a sewing bag, because in that case it announced her prowess at home economics and thus potential wifely qualities. Needlework was acceptable, it showed a woman’s moral fiber. Virtuous needlework would keep a woman from the idle vanity of handbags.

Jump forward to the 1880s. Department stores have entered the scene, trampled small businesses underfoot. We can see all too clearly the developing gendered economy, reflected in the literature of the time. Women, as consumers, are idiots. They drive men to bankruptcy. And who is to blame for this trouble? The humble handbag. Because woman get irrational over them. In fact, it’s almost like your wife or fiancee is having an adulterous relationship with these huge stores full of fashion. Isn’t it? Check out 2:52 in the video again. Stores are seduction machines.

Well, the adultery never stopped. By the 1900s, women had moved into the public sphere of activities. Their defiant use of fashion accessories allowed them to transgress traditional  boundaries that associated women with privacy and the home. Where does that leave us today? The bigger the better! In the video, our girl dances in front of bags larger than she is. Designer bags are now symbols of wealth and status, to a much greater degree than they were in the past.

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See? We’ll even fight for them! How can we go out into the world without an accessory that proclaims our power and marks us as better than the competition?

“He’s my latest accessory. Was he on sale?”

We’re at the point now that we use relationships in the same way we use designer labels: to boost our status. To give us another reason to feel good about ourselves, in the public street and online, through photos and status updates, anywhere. It’s a kind of power trip to be able to claim someone as “your significant other.” “Accessory” is a bit interesting in that it is the women who are making this statement of power, quite blatantly listing men as objects in their collections. I would not call it empowering, however. It comes at the expensive of dehumanizing men, even to the point that men are bought and sold like the shoes and bags. That’s no kind of progress.

We tend to think that quantity makes up for quality. If we own a lot of bags, or boyfriends, our quality of life will increase. Are these things just tools, or are they some fundamental part of our egos? And at that rate,  I wonder at what point does ownership transfer? When do we stop owning our accessories, and they start to own us?

fourj

~Nicole