For many of us, Children’s films bring back nostalgic memories of our carefree and enjoyable childhood. With a great variety of characters, plot, and themes – they’ve got something for everyone. It is often this nostalgic fondness of these memories that lead us to allow our children to watch new films because they’re seemingly harmless, comedic entertainment. If we’re told of the potential harmful impact of passively consuming such popular films, we tell them to ‘Let it go’ and let the children enjoy their childhood. What we fail to realise is that it is these same forms of entertainment that play an influence on our children’s values and notions of right and wrong.
Popular media undoubtedly has a powerful impact on various aspects of our lives. From the way we dress, the characteristics we idolise, and the sort of humour we employ – popular media, explicitly or implicitly, has definitely been an influencing factor. While we all can acknowledge this, we may underestimate its extent. One researcher has gone as far as to say that the cultural authority and legitimacy of children’s films in teaching values and ideals is comparable to avenues of learning such as public schools, family and religious institutions. Notions of normality that are reinforced in these films often contradict reality, let alone Islamic values. Due to the normalcy surrounding the unrealistic narratives of romance and body image – Islamic principles are often seen to be incompatible with modern society. Flirtatious behaviour and inappropriate interactions with the opposite gender are not seen as problematic, and relationships that ensue are romanticised as an ideal union. While these films arguably are also embedded with positive messages, we must not turn a blind eye to the negative elements.
These films portray principles and heroines which point to the standards of beauty and idealities that our children adopt. Their definitions of beauty revolve around slim, hourglass figures with significant amounts of makeup. Such standards of beauty are mostly coupled with goodness while the less attractive/’ugly’ characters are embodiments of evil. Elsa, Disney’s princess from Frozen, caught attention as an outlier whose journey of empowerment was not reliant upon a love interest. While her dress and demeanour was conservative towards the beginning of the film, her transformation to a free and powerful individual during the song ‘Let it go’ is accompanied by her sexualised skimpy and revealing attire. The association between individuality and empowerment is linked to a beautified and sexualised character.
A closer look at these children’s films portrayal of its heroines and suggestive content can also reveal interesting trends, mirroring that of changing cultural perspectives. While earlier Disney princesses such as Rupenzal, Cinderella and Belle were typically portrayed as beautiful, domestic, ‘damsel in distress’, more recent figures or remakes of these movies such as Merida from Brave, Elsa and Anna from Frozen, and Moana are more free spirited and empowered individuals.
Anchored in societal trends, these depictions of idealised characters promote notions of empowerment that aren’t based on the unchanging and divine Prophetic model. Furthermore, as society becomes increasingly liberated in their sexual values, we can see an increase in suggestive content relative to only a decade ago. Where films in the past would have at most one or two suggestive scenes, films today are raising the bar with the amount of suggestive innuendo that is allowed for a PG rated film.
While it may be unrealistic to suggest a complete dissociation with all forms of popular culture, it is definitely imperative for us to be conscious of what we allow ourselves and our families to consume. We are not alone in this suggestion – there are many initiatives and groups of concerned parents who carefully monitor the content of films and have created parental guides and reviews. A greater awareness of the influence of media and the dissemination of specific messages is needed and should be discussed with our children. Our efforts to raise our children upon Islamic guidelines and in line with the Prophetic model may be hindered by passively engaging with what we considered to be harmless entertainment.
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