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Fine ArtIdeas/Commentary

Disney Princesses Gone Mild

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?

  • David Loomis

    Well said!

  • Inkan1969

    So called “rule 34” versions of cartoon and comic book characters have existed long before the term, “rule 34,” existed; they’ve existed just about forever. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this kind of art.

  • jhalpernkitcat

    I personally prefer the “twisted” Disney princess theme where the characters get dark re-imaginings, my favorite being a rather dark fan comic called “The Little Crooked Tale” which is becoming more and more intriguing with every chapter.
    Usually, unless they’re tasteful and well drawn, “sexy” Disney princesses don’t do much for me. At least, with “Twisted” there are more options open for being wonderfully creative.

  • jonhanson

    Unoriginal? Sure. But here you are writing about it and here we are reading about it, so mission accomplished on the part of Dillon Boy.

    It feels like every day I see links popping up for updated versions of Disney princesses. They’re like the magic words when it comes to getting your art shared.

  • SarahJesness

    Agreed. And it’s not just Disney Princesses; really, it’s not new to take something with a squeaky-clean image and make a “shocking” version. Maybe it’s just because I live on the internet, or from watching crap TV, but shock value stuff got old for me a loooong time ago. Sexualized Disney Princesses and other things are a dime a dozen. A well-done creepy/dark parody might catch my attention, but it’s easier and lazier to just draw them naked.

  • Matthew

    What makes it even worse is that it’s almost always the females who get subjected to this treatment, never the males.

    • SarahJesness

      There is a lot of sexy fanart of animated dudes, but they don’t get so much attention because they aren’t really as prominent as the Disney princesses nor do they have the same image. It doesn’t have the same shock value to someone who was never exposed to such imagery before. I suppose a contributing factor could be that people have a hard time acknowledging that women have a sex drive and want to look at these things, but mostly the first thing.