A recent blog post on the Guardian brings up a common misconception: that sexualizing Disney characters is somehow daring or cutting edge. Granted, there is plenty of room for parody or re-imagining. Disney was hardly alone in supporting the white-bread image of the typical American family, while carving out their own special niche in the Disney Princess. Disney continues to perpetuate these stereotypes to this day, with only minor adjustments. But artists have been daring and transgressive toward Disney characters for three-quarters of a century or so without any significant result. The Princess keeps her crown, and the artists gain a pinch of notoriety, which quickly fades. Keith Haring’s mashup of Andy Warhol and Mickey Mouse is more disturbing than any tarted-up Princess.
As Jonathan Jones points out in his Guardian piece, artists continue to reimagine Disney Princesses in a myriad of ways, from the pornographic on up. He labels these “satires,” though how AleXsandro Palombo’s Cinderella or Pocahontas with a disability is satirical remains a mystery to me. A prosthetic leg leaves their smile undimmed; you can almost hear a song coming on.
As for graffiti artist James Dillon Wright (aka Dillon Boy), his Dirtyland series of “pornographic” Disney Princesses (nsfw link) is almost innocent in its softcore teases. Snow White, Jasmine, and others pose in coy, barely revealing poses, spray painted by the artist onto equally tame girlie magazine covers dating from fifty years or more ago. If you’re shocked by the occasional nipple, perhaps this is the art for you.
Disney characters have been sexualized for ages, from Tijuana Bibles (cheaply produced pornographic comix made from the 1930s onward) to Wally Wood’s infamous poster on the occasion of Walt Disney’s death, The Disneyland Memorial Orgy (nsfw link). Comic strip characters and animated stars are easy targets: there are Tijuana Bibles featuring Snow White, Popeye, and even Nancy and Sluggo! Dillon Boy himself admits “I’m not doing anything that hasn’t been done before…” which is rather obvious. If his job is to shock, he’s a bit behind the times. And taking the clean, modest idea of the Disney Princess and making it into today’s hypersexualized stereotype – isn’t that just trading one harmful oversimplification for another?