The Sexist

Disney’s Closeted Gay Agenda

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Yesterday, Jezebel pointed to a recent study which argued that Disney films were guilty of "elevating heterosexuality" with their butterfly-laden, musical-accompanied girl-meets-boy match-ups:

"Characters in love are surrounded by music, flowers, candles, magic, fire, balloons, fancy dresses, dim lights, dancing and elaborate dinners," the researchers observed. "Fireflies, butterflies, sunsets, wind and the beauty and power of nature often provide the setting for-and a link to the naturalness of-hetero-romantic love."

The hetero-romanticism, Jezebel reasoned, could help teach young viewers that "heterosexuality is normal, and homosexuality is abnormal, unusual and unexpected." But as any grown-up fan of the Disney canon knows, these heterosexual love stories are often accompanied by an obvious undercurrent of homoeroticism. Disney has written its fair share of gay characters into its animated and live-action history—it just has yet to write them out of the closet.

Gary Marsh, president of entertainment for the Disney Channel, hedged the gay question last year. "There have been characters on Disney Channel who I think people have thought were gay," he said. "That's for the audience to interpret. . . . What we're about is telling a great story, a relevant story, a story that addresses the needs, concerns, dreams, and aspirations and hopes of much of our audience."

To me, Marsh's "gay is in the eye of the beholder" argument is an acknowledgment of Disney's willingness to slip homosexual characters into its casts—while leaving out any actual homosexuality. Defining gay characters by their mannerisms, wardrobes, and after-school interests instead of by the people that they love is extremely problematic, of course—characters end up either being straight, or caricatures of gayness. Viewers are left searching for gay stereotypes—and lack of overt heterosexuality—to hone in on any could-be gays in the House of Mouse.

A slew of Disney characters have been plagued by rumors of closeted homosexuality over the years. Beauty and the Beast's fussy clock-man Cogsworth has been ridiculed for his notable disinterest in Belle and strange loyalty to the Beast. The tortured bromance between Toy Story's Woody and Buzz has inspired some raised eyebrows–and Brokeback Mountain comparisons. The close quarters shared by the Seven Dwarfs is a bit suspicious, no? And Aladdin villain Jafar gives off enough of a gay vibe to inspire the following Aladdin-Jaffar fantasy spoof:

Even characters who don't immediately register on an adult viewer's gaydar have often been recast to satisfy gay male fantasy:

And some characters, like the lisping manicurist manatee who dotes on Sally Field's sea queen in The Little Mermaid III, appear to just be very stereotypically out—if only direct-to-DVD.

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And then, there is High School Musical. The gay rumors swirling around Disney's live-action monster franchise have often centered on Ryan (Lucas Gabreel), a musical theater performer with a love of audacious hats,  jazz hands, and—other boys? Ryan is stuck with a pseudo-heterosexual plotline in the third film, when he is pressured into asking a girl to prom. Still, nobody is really buying it. (In the Disney stage adaptation of the popular films, it should be noted, Ryan is really, truly, out-of-the-closet gay).

But the controversy over the sexual orientation of the Ryan character only serves to obscure the homosexual undertones that weave throughout the entirity of High School Musical. Open your eyes, people: Every character in this movie is gay.

High School Musical is the story of basketball player Troy (Zac Efron) and academic decathelete Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), who must overcome the social pressures of their peer groups to—you guessed it—"come out" as who they truly are. In this homosexual allegory, Troy and Gabriella don't yearn to come out as homosexuals—just as strangely natural musical theater performers. Yes, even the film's stand-in for homosexuality is an after-school activity long associated with homosexuality.

Troy and Gabriella aren't the only students with hidden interests just yearning to break free of societal pressures. One of Troy's teammates, for example, eventually reveals himself as a cooking enthusiast with a specialty in crème brûlée. By the time the mini crème brûlée dishes get pulled out of the athletic bag, Disney is really piling on the homosexual coding.

Then, there are the students in the film who don't claim to have a hidden other-life they desperately wish to share with the world. These students are the most oppressed of all. Although these characters castize Troy and Gabriella for attempting to follow their hearts—they also appear to have some deep-seeded secrets of their own.

Take, oh, High School Musical's entire basketball team, for instance, which repeatedly mocks Troy for his interest in musical theater. In this scene, Troy chides himself to "get his head in the game" and refocus his energy on basketball, not singing and dancing.

Roll the tape:

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As you can see, the same high school basketball team that ridicules Troy for singing and dancing does not actually play basketball at all. Rather, they appear to believe they are playing basketball while they are, in fact, singing and dancing. When Troy bursts out of the (musical theater) closet, these boys are so deeply repressed, so far back in the closet themselves, that they can't realize they've been gay musical theater aficionados all along.

I'm not sure what sort of message Disney is trying to send with this one. The film encourages teens to "come out" as their true selves, and is is packed with clear homosexual undertones. However, it repeatedly attempts to deny actually showing the most difficult—and obvious—teen "coming out" scenario: coming out as gay.

Maybe Disney wants to recognize how difficult it can be to be a gay teenager, but in a format that its religious-conservative base can still stomach. Maybe Disney wants to recognize homosexuality while still discouraging homosexual behavior. Or Maybe Disney itself needs to do a little soul-searching. It's possible that Disney doesn't just realize how gay its movies can be.

Comments

  1. #1

    this shit is just dumb (not your article). The reasoning behind the idea that a positive portrayal of hetero relationships somehow paints non-hetero relationships as strange, and possibly evil is flawed, and vaguely retarded (we can say that now right?).

  2. #2

    The essential message here is that Disney and a large segment of society still regard gay men and women as second-class citizens - or worse. That is the salient point of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance (of himself and by others). More information on the book is available at http://www.eloquentbooks.com/BrokenSaint.html. (Given Disney's current stance on this sort of subject matter, you can bet they'll never opt to make my book into a movie!)

    Mark Zamen, author

  3. #3

    You had a few good points in your article, but you began to dig too deep with High School Musical and you focused on it a bit too much.

    High School Musical is not an allegory for homosexuals. It can relate to us and help inspire us, if that's how we choose to view it, but the writers intended for it to be just as it was: A story where the characters struggle to do what they truly want against social pressures. Although homosexuality is among the list, there are other interests a kid might have in high school that his or her friends might make fun of them for it. Homosexuality is not the only thing to make a kid feel left out or want to change themselves to be accepted and liked.

    I would have liked to hear more about Ling King's Scar, and the fact that Disney portrays homosexuals, more often than not, as old, bitter and lonely men. We're all destined to die alone, it seems! ;)

  4. #4

    Oh calm down sir jackass poster #1.

    It's called HUMOR. I highly doubt they're being hardcore serious with this. and even if they were, suck it up and grow a pair.

  5. #5

    This is as stupid,as an article i read about disney being sexist.They think all the girls are sluts,(i don't) you beliesve their gay.(which I don't)Apparently they want all the girls to be gay feminists,(because it's hard to believe that girls like pink,kiss boys,and sneak out)and all the boys should be soft,not cheat,not act like average boys do.and you see them as gay.thank god theirs people like me,(who lived a life with seeing things like some episode actually happen)and see it as normal,without sexualizing them.

  6. #6

    It amazes me when people put children,teens and sex,in the forfront of their mind

  7. #7

    I believe that not all the characters are gay, not even potrayed gay. It is just because we choose to see it that way. Disney maybe homophobic, but who are we to judge? I, a gay man don't judge them or would hate them if they were homophobic. Since this country is mostly about freedom of speech, allow them to say or show what ever they like. Some may not like it, but it is the truth.

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