Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Beauty and the Beast- Justified Domestic Abuse?

The Disney company has been, throughout the years, a parental figure of sorts to many children- growing up, the songs, characters, and the life lessons were pivotal in molding our perception of the world, and the fantasy that existed between the fabric of reality. While we cherish the wisdom that Disney has created through its entertainment, there are some questionable scenes and plots that may give us the wrong idea about reality, and the way that certain situations should be handled. We may enjoy Disney for its entertainment, but under the surface, Disney sometimes deals with and manipulates touchy subjects that can be negatively interpreted because we are generally unaware of its connotations. 

Beauty and the Beast, for instance, is a perfect example of Disney's misuse of a serious situation, and the potential consequences for misinterpreting their message. In Mickey Mouse Monopoly, a movie about the controversial nature of Disney and it's control over entertainment and media, the narrator criticizes Beauty and the Beasts as a reinforcement agent for domestic abuse, and suggests that the message justifies abuse as a means of achieving goals. In the movie, the Beast aggressively locks Bell in a room, exclaiming that she will be locked in there without food or water until she complies with his demands. She is scared, crying at the aggressive and demanding nature of Beast, but that does not stop him from subjecting her to his dominance. Although the Beast clearly shows signs of violence and abuse (starvation is certainly a form of abuse), Bell seems to look past his deep seeded violence and insecurity, and recognizes the pure beauty and essence that encompasses his being. She begins to fall in love with the Beast, and realizes that the relationship that they once had no longer exists, as she is able to discover the true nature of his character.

While this sounds good and dandy, this relationship clearly parallels the relationship that victims of abuse face with their abusers. In many situations, victims of domestic abuse justify the abuse that they receive from their abusers by blaming themselves for the abuse or taking blame away from their abuser by blaming the abuse on a character flaw that their abuser possesses. In this case, Bell is absolving her abuser of blame by viewing the abuse as an anomaly in his character, and that she should look past the incident because it was meaningless. It more cases than not, this situation is very real, and occurs frequently between abusers and victims, and creates a dialogue that justifies this behavior. In "Mickey Mouse Monopoly", the narrators interview children who have dealt with abuse in their life after watching Beauty and the Beast, and their responses disturbingly suggest that the Beasts behavior should be forgiven because there is Beauty behind his aggression. This kind of response proves that movies are capable of socializing children, and can negatively impact the way that we understand gender relationships. Today, domestic abuse is one of the most prevalent issues facing married women and children, and not surprisingly men are responsible for most of the domestic abuse that is reported in the United States. If we are to address issues of domestic abuse, it is important to recognize that the way we portray abuse in the media can have an impact on the way that we translate domestic abuse in the real world.

I am not suggesting that Disney supports domestic abuse, but that this an example of how the fantasy world we so often cherish can accidentally portray certain situations in the wrong light. It may be easy to dismiss this critique- "I watched Beauty and the Beast, and I don't abuse people"- but I encourage you to think about the impact that this could have on other people, and how it can be translated as a story of abuse and aggression. While we not be obviously affected by the story, we are not always in control of our subconscious and prejudices, and the way that we view abuse may be altered by the perception we were provided at a young age. 

I am sure this is controversial, so feedback and criticism are always welcome! 


  1. I'd like to critique your spelling of the name of the female protagonist in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Isn't it "Belle," not "Bell?" Sorry to nitpick, I just really liked that movie.

    I absolutely agree that the media has the potential to dramatically impact the ideas held by the population. Advertisements blatantly exploit this fact. And I believe someone's already posted about the detrimental effects that media (Cosmo magazine) can have on people's self-image. So are you saying that Disney should be held to a higher standard, specifically because it targets children? If so, I'd also have to agree, because we are most impressionable at a young age.

    I actually forgot about (blacked-out?) this scene, but the physical restrictions set on Belle directly relate to those set on Rapunzel in Disney's Tangled. Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are also rendered helpless during their movies, by evil and jealous witches.

    I'd like to think that Disney is trying to expose its audience to a variety of forms of abuse, so the children will know what to look out for, but I fear their effects may not have been so well thought out.

  2. Wow, out of all the critiques of Disney movies, I think this post hits the issue right on the spot. I definitely see how the idea of domestic abuse being okay if "deep down, they don't mean it," is communicated in the Beauty and the Beast. And heck, if you would have asked me right before reading this post if the Beast was justified since he was truly a good prince stuck in a frustratingly ugly body and low on patience, I probably would have said yes. Its the "end justifies the means" concept; since Belle ultimately frees the Beast and all is happily ever after, then the abuse is easily forgiven.
    However, this shouldn't be applied in reality because reality tends to not have happy ever after endings. How would you know when the abuse will definitely stop? There is no way of knowing, but I fear people get stuck in domestic abusive relationships because they cling on too long to that hope that the significant other "will change." Its a physically and psychologically dangerous situation to be in.
    I also agree with xoxo,GossipGirl about how Disney may have been trying to help children be exposed to this type of violence so they know what to look out for and avoid. Still, Disney may have gone about this the wrong way, failing at the "avoidance" part of the plan.

    Oh and haha, xoxo,GossipGirl about being a grammar nazi. :P

  3. Alex, I can see what you are saying here. It's strange how a movie that I liked watching as a child can be a symbol of Stockholm Syndrome. In these types of situations, the victim propels the abuses just as much as the abuser. However, I feel it may be the Stockholm Syndrome that be influencing Beauty and the Beast, not the Beauty and the Beast influencing children to abuse their partners when they grow up. It's kind of how in Cinderella is an exampled of how Stepmothers treat their stepdaughters. The domestic abuse is part of who we are as society, sadly.
    You make a good point about how this can affect our subconscious as a society, but we have to realize that there are a multitude of influences more powerful than a Disney movie. If a son sees that his father treats his mother badly, than he will most likely treat his partner badly. Chances that the boy's father watched Beauty and the Beast for his domestic abuse are slim to none. And in no way does this invalidate your point, but it's something that we have to consider.
    I don't believe that Disney would want to show domestic abuse in a positive light, but to some it could have. That why I feel that it important to emphasize to children the ability to separate fact from fiction.

  4. Wow I've never actually looked at Beauty and the Beast in this light before. I always thought that the underlying message was that people aren't always as they seem and it just takes a little bit of patience and care to realize that. But now that you've mentioned that, I can't believe I missed it. I think it all comes down to how long and how much effort you put into finding this person's inner beauty. Like let.vasq said, holding on too long thinking things will change can be dangerous. But the idea of holding out for someone shouldn't be completely brushed off. I think that is a particularly strong and positive message to send out to kids.

  5. I think the really interesting thing about Disney movies is that they always have some deeper meaning. I always thought that Beauty and the Beast was about finding inner beauty, but you may very well be right in saying that it portrays domestic abuse. However, I think the way in which it is portrayed doesn't support domestic abuse at all. The Beast learns from Belle, changes his old ways and turns into a respectable, decent (and not to mention attractive) man, to reflect the change coming over him. I think that rather than providing an example of domestic abuse, Beauty and the Beast provides an example of a situation where a man maybe originally had abusive, coldhearted tendencies, but was changed, and in the end gives up that life for a much better, happier one.

  6. While there are positive things to be said about this relationship, and there are things that we can learn about Beauty in the Beast that can be beneficial to the development of children and our relationships with one another, the line between what is positive and what is negative is extremely fine- too fine when we consider the audience involved. I can't disagree with any of the claims made, because they are valid, but I do believe that the distinction between the positive and the negative symbols involved in the movie are too closely intertwined to be appropriate. If one scene can be interpreted in such antagonistic ways, isn't that dangerous?

  7. There is no partner abuse in Beauty and the Beast because Belle is the Beast's prisoner, not his partner. Things only change between them when Belle escapes from the castle and the Beast chases after her to protect her, and risks his life to save her. After that, he is no longer abusive and makes a concerted effort to control his temper. That is a defining moment of the movie - when he starts to do things unselfishly for her and commits to changing himself. And no, the message there isn't 'if you love a man you can change him from an abuser to a good person'. There are two reasons the Beast starts to change and neither of them are 'Belle's constant unwavering caring attitude and faith in him despite his abuse': First, because Belle is the only person in his life whose opinion has ever mattered to him (since she is the only one who can break the spell), he is forced to reflect on the way he behaves and try to modify it. Second, Belle is literally running away to escape him and get away from him forever (ie, NOT hanging round changing him) when he decides he is willing to fight wild wolves and possibly die to save her. His motives are clearly mixed, but that's the moment you know that he's starting to care for her and that something is changing about him - right as Belle is LEAVING. In other words, it's HIS developing love for HER that changes him. Also, when he starts to love her he stops being possessive and controlling as a direct consequence of his love, telling her that she may leave the castle. There is no indication in the film that if a man loves a woman he will try to control or possess her; in fact, the opposite message is clearly conveyed by juxtaposing the reformed Beast with Gaston, the villain who wants to force Belle to be his trophy wife. This isn't Twilight: the whole point of the movie is that the Beast is doomed to be alone, to be physically a beast forever, unless he stops being an abuser. I don't know how that can be seen to 'normalise partner abuse'.


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