As part of a series about “the Disney effect,” in part one, I looked at whether Disney’s focus on princesses is creating unrealistic gender norms for young girls. How will watching princesses in gowns and tiaras affect a generation of young girls who are taught to expect nothing less than the royal treatment?
Beyond the obvious concerns with setting up young girls to expect Prince Charming to solve their problems, even the decidedly more modern Princess Sofia has a bevy of servants attending to her every need. Does any Disney character engage in daily tasks like pouring a bowl of cereal or taking out the trash? Through the Disney effect, children are learning to desire and even demand the trappings of wealth and prestige served up to them on a silver platter. But with wealth inequality on the rise, that may be slipping further and further away.
It was recently reported that even the most famous royals in the world, Princess Kate and Prince William are spending beyond their means, perhaps in an effort to keep up appearances. Their four-day Maldives vacation came with a $10,000 price tag. News stories like this rightfully raise the hackles of average citizens who are struggling from paycheck to paycheck to afford basic needs.
Also, within the past few weeks, there has been quite a bit of coverage of the working poor living in the shadows of Disney’s castles and $100 price tags.
Much like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath who moved across the country to California hoping to find plentiful jobs in the sunshine as I wrote about in a previous post, modern-day families move to Florida hoping to find service industry jobs in the country’s biggest single-site employer, Disney World. Upwards of 62,000 people work in Disney World, but most earn Florida’s minimum wage, $8.03.
Here’s an insightful quote from a recent article by Saki Knafo, called “Homeless Children on the Highway to Disneyworld,” about the families who live just out of reach from the happiest place on earth:
“People who advocate for hotel families speak of them as the new face of poverty in America. They say that the hotel is to the modern American family what the city shelter was to the homeless adult of the 1980s and the migrant camp was to the refugees of the Oklahoma dust storms. Every state in the country has hotels with families in them, but it’s hard to think of a place more emblematic of the disillusionment at the heart of the American economy than the row of $149-per-week accommodations pointing the way to the fairytale opulence of Cinderella’s Castle.”
As the message that families cannot survive on minimum wage jobs resounds throughout our country, and the notion that some of the world’s most famous companies are actually allowing their low-wage workers to receive governmental supplements in lieu of raises, perhaps we can turn up the volume on the poverty discussion.
This might be the year that income inequality gets on the national agenda. The acute disparity is beginning to seep into our consciousness like never before. The irony of workers barely able to scrape by forced to create a sense of magic and joy for visitors should not be lost on any of us. A similar story of the children living outside Disneyland was poignantly depicted in the 2010 documentary, Homeless: the Motel Kids of Orange County.
But the teachable moment of contrast between children growing up in motels as their counterparts indulge in princess makeovers ranging in cost from $54-$194 is an important one. Disney is a special part of childhood, and nothing can take that away from its legions of followers. However, casting a critical eye on some of the concepts and policies in place in the Magic Kingdom is well overdue.