Gay Subtext in Frozen and Other Disney Films: Whose Agenda is It, Anyway?
Earlier this week, Mormon mother Kathryn Skaggs wrote an article accusing the newest Disney film, Frozen, of being part of “liberal advocacy to normalize homosexuality in society”. Skaggs goes on to draw parallels between the main character, Elsa, and the struggles of the modern day gay individual. Both, according to her, deal with oppression and other consequences of being different. However, what Skaggs is most alarmed by isn’t necessarily Frozen itself, but rather Hollywood’s attempt to sneak liberal messages past the attention of conservative parents, in a form that will easily convert their impressionable children.
Similar accusations were made throughout the 1980’s, during a movement now known as the Satanic Panic. After the publication of The Satan Seller by Mike Warnke, a pastor and self-proclaimed ex-Satanist, many believed demonic messages were being transmitted to the youth of America through cartoons, toys, and board games. In the film Deception of a Generation, paster Gary Greenwald took his sights off rock music to focus on criticizing children’s programming like “Scooby-Doo” and “He-Man, Masters of the Universe”. The movement has since began focusing more on criminal activity which is blamed on Satan worshipping, but Skaggs’ article proves there are still parents who believe sinister subtext still exists.
What Skaggs and her historical counterparts don’t seem to understand is that subtext rarely works on children. In one sense, there are subtle emotional nuances a child can understand. For example, when Elsa looks off into space, with even a slight frown, they can tell she is sad. If they don’t see it somewhere in her expression, or her isolation, the music itself will remind them of other sad scenes, and they might even start crying. That is subtle, but not what Skaggs would have us believe is really going on.
Symbolism and philosophical rhetoric are two highly complicated aspects of Western film. Very few people would guess Wizard of Oz is based on a novel with a populist political subtext. However, the movie only slightly relies on the source material, opting for colorful set pieces and extravagant dance numbers. As a result, there is little reason for any child to watch the film thinking “the working man deserves his day”, since what is essentially an allegory (the novel) is repurposed to tell a simpler story (the film) about appreciating where you come from. And yet, a person who has previous knowledge of the book will be able to see past the musical tropes and pick out a couple of the original author’s ideas. Subtext itself is not subliminal messaging, but an inside knowledge of what something is doing beyond the first layer of content.
In the same way, there are traces of Frozen which could mean something to a gay person who believes he or she is being ostracized, but it would be completely coincidental. Unless Frozen directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee were to admit to this intent, all we have to go on is the surface value of Frozen: an entertaining animated adventure about loving yourself and loving those that accept you for who you are. Any innuendo put upon the story does not qualify as subtext just because it can be twisted to promote some other political agenda.
Another question is how liberal media’s seduction of the innocent would make for willing political activists. Most upstanding adults who understand their children’s programming contains a hidden agenda would not support it even if they agree with the message. Liberal or conservative parents alike enjoy authentic morality in the media for their children, and any attempt at “sneaking something” under their collective radars does nothing to gain their trust or convince them to raise their children with a different set of values.
Likewise, any child made aware of a secret message being aimed at them, while initially loving the novelty of the clandestine content, will eventually lose interest. There is a period which we all noticed something different about Jessica Rabbit or felt our cheeks turn pink at the swearing in Transformers: The Movie. Pretty soon, however, these adult themes became something that was a common part of adult material, and the special inside knowledge became old hat. Likewise, those of us who took the exciting environmental advice of “Captain Planet” to heart would soon forget how important his monologues once seemed, and the same goes for coded thematic material. What Skaggs believes to be a secret agenda would be no more appealing to a child over the years then the dozen anti-bullying, self-esteem boosting children’s programming normally promotes. And until a child grows up, there is as much threat of their voting for gay marriage to be legal as it is for them to buy a Prius or solar panels.
The ones benefitting the most from gay subtext in Frozen, or demonic subtext in He-Man, are the ones doing the accusing. Whether it’s Gary Greenwald in 1984 claiming God told him cartoons were demonic, or Mormon bloggers today reading into Disney movies, both receive undue attention neither truly deserve. The reality is that there is a strange security to believing you see the truth when no one else does. And yet, as Elsa discovers, isolating yourself for too long can prove to be a dangerous thing. As she creates her own castle in the sky, many extreme conservatives are erecting ivory towers to protect their loved ones from societal normality for the sake of feeling self-empowered. Skaggs and thousands of moms like her could use another look at Frozen: it may give them the courage to admit their true power lies not in their cold-hearted isolationism, but in sharing the universal messages of love and acceptance we all too often take for granted.
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