Monday, July 12, 2010

Offensive Stereotypes in Toy Story 3

I already spoke a bit about what I liked and what I found to be a masterful guilt-trip in Toy Story 3. Here are some of the other things I find problematic:

The toys are basically slaves that glorify slavery. They can run away (at their great peril) or continue to serve at the whim of their owner (child) without the ability to ever express their needs, wants, or feelings. And yet, they are "Good Slaves" in that they are devoted to serving and all they really want is the chance to be loved as they are and played with. Their first loyalty is always to their owner, and though they notice most everything going on around them, they can comment only among themselves (except under rare and dangerous circumstances). Some owners are bad to them and dismember them, torture them, play with them inappropriately due to immaturity, and though the toys feel terror (and possibly pain), they are powerless to express themselves or change the situation.

The "Spanish Mode" Buzz Lightyear is a horrifically over-the-top stereotype. He becomes an ardent and devoted lover, dances the tango, speaks in a lower, more gravelly (sexy) voice, swivels his hips, and is so much his own cliche that a single rose appears from nowhere in order to be held in the teeth of his lady of choice.

Barbie and Ken: Though soppily emotional, Barbie is given some brains, which is nice. Her guile seems to come naturally, but her straight intelligence is seen only in a single moment when it comes across as comic. Barbie outwits Ken, which would be an encouraging turn of events if Ken weren't coded as so feminine (and possibly gay) that it upholds the social hierarchy whereby a feminine woman trumps a feminine man. At one point Ken is called a "pink-noser," he is very into clothes, and writes in a "girly" manner that is temporarily mistaken as Barbie's writing. I would have no problem with his alternative gender-presentation if it weren't also being held up to a certain amount of ridicule.

As for the rest of the gender dynamics, the co-alphas (or alpha and sub-alpha?) of the toys are both gendered masculine (Woody and Buzz), and the rest of the characters are either gendered masculine or neuter other than the sidekick cowgirl (I forget her name), and Mrs. Potato Head. Barbie is outside their group, but still responds to orders given by the alphas. Also, the alphas are the most strongly cis-gendered, while the rest of the toys are given more quirky/gender-transgressive (and enjoyable to me) personality traits, like the (masculine) T-Rex that is always afraid and worried.

And finally, I take issue with the fact that the big bad guy, the teddy bear, spoke in a southern accent, activating the set of southern stereotypes. Apparently if someone speaks with a southern accent, they are more friendly seeming to your face, more likely to betray you behind your back, more likely to say nasty things in a friendly tone of voice, and more likely to be power-mad or to have rigged the system with boss politics. I think they only left out ignorant, but they did include wrong-minded.

I know that stories work off a certain amount of stock material, but still. I have problems with the use of these stereotypes and find them offensive.

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