Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 3 May 2015

'A Little Princess'

Back in the 1970s, when I was a child, princesses came in two varieties. There were the fairy-tale ones in books, whose royal status unaccountably enabled them to spin frogs into gold or identify stray vegetables in their bedding, and then there was the real-life home-grown version, an energetic outdoor type with a no-nonsense style and an HGV licence who was not above telling intrusive photographers to "Naff awf!"

Even her wedding, that ultimate opportunity for frills, furbelows and fantasy trimmings, was relatively devoid of story-book razzmatazz; as she walked up the aisle to the sound of trumpets, it would not have been a surprise to learn that, under the severe lines of her dress, she was wearing comfortable boots and possibly even a pair of jodhpurs. The fairy-tale stuff, it was clear, had no place in the real world.

Then, in the early nineties, an insidious invasion began. As new parents, we started receiving mailshots advertising toys, lurid home furnishings and videos with such slogans as "Disney was part of your childhood, now make it part of your baby's too".

It was all rather odd; beyond 'Disney Time' television programmes and rare trips to the cinema, Disney had been conspicuously absent from both of our childhoods and those of our friends. Unless we were very unusual, this was a startlingly cynical attempt to rewrite history in an attempt to drum up trade for the soon-to-be-opened EuroDisney Resort.

A key part of this mass marketing strategy was the 'Disney Princess' - a concept designed to sell merchandise, costumes, makeovers and, above all, the idea that this bedizened, doe-eyed fantasy figure in a long dress was a role model for little girls to aspire to on a daily basis.

Mothers who should have more sense have bought wholesale into this culture of all-things-pink-and-sparkly, indulging their daughters in ways that must have Disney's accountants rubbing their hands in glee - from the toothbrush and cereal bowl to the ballet bag, lunchbox and duvet cover, the stamp of the Disney princess brand can pervade a child's life from dawn to dusk.

Along with the glittery trappings goes a more sinister element - a sense of entitlement and imperious self-importance all too familiar to many teachers. Self-styled 'princesses' expect special treatment and, all too often, the material indulgence is symptomatic of undue deference to the child's wishes on the part of working parents too tired, busy or absent to argue. It's the perfect way to turn potentially sensible young women into appearance-obsessed chronic consumers with an inflated idea of their own abilities.

The apotheosis of this hideous cultural infiltration must surely be the official birthday party merchandise, a pink plethora of branded sparkly banners, tableware, 'chair bows', confetti, 'table sprinkles', tiaras and wands to celebrate the 'special day' in a fashion that Liberace would have dismissed as nauseatingly over the top. (There is a certain amusing irony that my source is the Middletons' website, which offers 'Gorgeous partyware to suit all little princesses' *.)

It remains to be seen whether the media will try to cast the latest addition to the royal family in the same mould by virtue of her paternal heritage or whether she will be seen as something separate. Her older brother's much-imitated appurtenances being more in the style of Ernest Shepard than Walt Disney, it will be interesting to see whether there is a rush on the part of new mothers to abandon the plastic glitz in favour of a classier image, re-evaluating the role in the eyes of the next generation.



*If they really believe this, the Palace staff might be advised to stock up on popcorn when the child's birthday approaches a few years hence; I suspect the paternal relatives may not be entirely in agreement.
http://www.partypieces.co.uk/disney-princess-sparkle-party.html (for those of a strong stomach).

4 comments:

  1. Going to steal and link straight away. Shall come back later to comment.

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  2. Ow gawd, all these little princesses are becoming so common these days.

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  3. Actually, I've come back to carry out more theft:

    The apotheosis of this hideous cultural infiltration must surely be the official birthday party merchandise, a pink plethora of branded sparkly banners, tableware, 'chair bows', confetti, 'table sprinkles', tiaras and wands to celebrate the 'special day' in a fashion that Liberace would have dismissed as nauseatingly over the top. (There is a certain amusing irony that my source is the Middleton's website, which offers 'Gorgeous partyware to suit all little princesses' *.)

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  4. JH, you're welcome - though I thought the previous paragraph would more tempting, given your previous pieces on feminism.

    Demetrius, it's an oddly inclusive culture which ecompasses both the £100 - £1,000 makeovers at Harrods' Disney Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and women brawling over Princess Elsa lip balms in Poundworld.

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