Approx Reading Time: 9 Minutes
I often feel lonely at Walt Disney World, even if it’s so jam-packed I can smell the perspiration, sunblock, and body odors of pasty northerners who’ve come way too far to stand in lines, walk, and infantilize themselves. I’ve been many times with family, mostly out of obligation. It’s sort of a strange, disembodied feeling when you realize no one else around you sees what you see.
It’s like a cultural wasteland, a mausoleum of potential culture, harvested just before it propagated itself in its natural way, embalmed, and monetized as an exhibit. Disney’s Magic Kingdom does it for certain folktales, Epcot does it for national cultures.
One can certainly have a good time. The food and wine festivals, though overpriced and packed like sardine cans, often do have some interesting flavors. Nothing original, though.
I didn’t always see it this way. Steadily, as my exposure to Disney increases and I think through its themes, my contempt for what it actually does to culture has also increased. I was lucky that I never watched that much of it when I was younger. Internalizing the themes blinds you to their actual effect. I don’t think it’s so simple as to say it is culture by capitalism – there’s something more sinister at work.
The problem with modern storytelling – and Disney is one of the worst about this – is that it no longer appeals to the nature of man or reality to design its stories. It fabricates nature and reality and guards these inventions using the fiction status of the story. This is a subtle nuance that can be lost in the fact that the story is fiction, but it is as drastic as the difference between someone being a woman by virtue of birth vs claiming to be a woman after having “transitioned.”
Stories that lack even the accoutrements of nature have a revolutionary quality in this regard. They distort nature, rather than strengthening it, and lead to further distortions.
Disney is certainly not the first to do this, but when art becomes a vehicle for propaganda and not an expression in itself, tied to a specific people or a specific culture, it becomes the art dictating to life rather than art imaging and reflecting life.
One example is Beauty and the Beast. It’s a bridge movie that takes you from patriarchy to matriarchy by blending concepts of both.
Belle is not a real protagonist. She isn’t actually seeking anything except to read and encourage her dunderheaded father. She’s not a natural woman, in that she does not express any wishes or any higher vision for her life. She doesn’t desire a family, a husband (much less a particular kind of husband), status, or even money.
She has no flaws, because there is no nature within her to corrupt. She’s unreal. She has no influence on the actual events of the plot except twice. She receives nothing but praise, and the flow of the plot removes her agency from affecting the world around her. Her mere presence is all that is needed to authenticate her “princess-ness”, a common theme of Disney – all women are princesses by default, as long as they are “kind.” Her presence leads Gaston to his death. Her presence is Beast’s salvation and perfection, quite literally so at the end.
The movie is partly about how the perfect woman, Belle, is perfect because she exists and doesn’t participate in normal pair-matching activities and behaviors. She reads books instead, but allows a deformed, morally compromised man to redeem himself by freeing her to do what she wants. She volunteers to be imprisoned on her father’s behalf, but this is less of an act of virtue in context and more a woman accepting a sort of evil stranglehold in which patriarchy has placed her.
Granted, Beast imprisoned her in the first place which is something to address later, but the important feature of their initial meeting and interaction is that Beast relinquishes any authority over her. She is either totally free from male influence, or Beast cannot be eventually saved. This act sets the stage for the inversion at the end.
The reason Belle is so passive is because the movie is still operating in a somewhat patriarchal mold in the beginning; she is powerless to influence any events in her life. If she was able to change things, she wouldn’t need the Beast, whose lone virtue is freeing her from the various patriarchies she is oppressed by. But this is meant to suddenly change at the end of the movie, where Beast is proven to actually need her, completing the inversion from patriarchy to matriarchy, which is Beast’s redemption.
Gaston and Beast
Gaston and Beast are unnatural mixtures of incel and chad. No one as chad as Gaston cares the least bit for a woman like Belle, especially to use all his social capital to force her to marry him. He’s had the discipline and strength to rise to the top of a hierarchy; those traits are extremely rare with men who coerce women into sex or marriage, who must learn how to be a social leader and manage the needs of people who rely on them. There’s never just one 500 lb gorilla, even in the smallest villages – he has to prove himself to other men. There are also usually a huge surplus of highly attractive women who pursue the same few men – this is the case in nearly all societies.
The cartoon movie is somewhat more honest in this regard than the recent live-action movie (which to be honest I have refused to watch), where Gaston’s other pursuers are actually attractive blondes who are mocked for what the kids call these days “pick me” behaviors, whereas in the live action version they are extremely homely compared to Emma Watson’s effortless femininity. The live action version seems to downplay any feminine beauty ideal, a theme which is becoming alarmingly more common. It seems we’re only allowed to have highly attractive cartoons or hypersexualized adults – nothing in-between – lest we offend the beached whales that visit the parks and purchase the merchandise.
Belle is a poor match for Gaston, one that doesn’t happen in our world. Belle’s attractive form feels artificial because it belies her habits. Very few women are top 5% attractive without putting in the work, and by putting in the work by at least dressing or learning how to take care of their hair. This effort they put into the little things of appearance on a daily basis creates the subtle cues of sexuality that lead to an increase in status.
There is an inherent contradiction in a bookish library girl and a top rank male even crossing social paths. There is no reason for there to be magnetism between them. Belle and Gaston would never cross paths in our world if a naturally attractive woman did what Belle does. Belle is a gender studies major from a mildly conservative midwest family, Gaston is a D1 starting college quarterback. Those cheerleaders you see in college sports aren’t stupid, they’re attractive, intelligent, and athletic, and they are far more desired than a bookworm.
Belle doesn’t even match Gaston’s stated goals of marrying. He wants a trophy wife, and lots of young men to succeed him, which will not hinder his other activities. His desires don’t make that much sense to be attached to just one woman in particular, and he really isn’t that taken with her appearance by his actions and statements – she’s forbidden fruit because she rejects him. Men aren’t that attracted to women who resist them, and the persistent man who finally gets the girl is very much the exception and not the rule.
There’s also a mild denigration of the stated desire for children rather than just a romantic relationship in the subtext of the movie, but that’s for another time.
such a woman so far out of Gaston’s mold simply wouldn’t register on his radar. The movie tries to paint him as obsessed with pride and power, so one woman rejecting him is enough to send him into a deluded mega-focus on acquiring what he wants by coercion.
Gaston is a caricature of alpha males, demonizing them as hiding the rapist within, when in fact Gaston would have nexted Belle and found five women as attractive waiting to replace her. “The alpha, you see, secretly hides his insecurities, that’s why he’s so powerful and so manly and has conquered so much of life. He did all of that because he’s secretly weak.”
Meanwhile, Beast is supposed to be a foil to this by being helpless and incompetent without his army of servants. His one redeeming factor is that he worships Belle, and by worshiping her, he even becomes physically desirable to her. This is part of the fairy tale – a total fantasy about how attraction works.
Beast locks Belle in his castle because he has a secret curse that confines him to himself. He’s an incel. Most men who are actual incels imagine themselves secret heroes, just waiting for the right opportunity to prove they’re better than the cage to which they’ve confined themselves. Some of them learn that real internal change reflects on the outside, and find their way out of this.
But until then, “the world just doesn’t appreciate how good they are” is the subtext of their internal thoughtlife. These types get desperate and either default to porn addictions or whatever woman drags them to the altar. They usually take the easiest route in front of them. Those with mild social skills or some small amount of natural ability are the most likely to use physical violence or coercion to get sex with a woman, since the only real success they’ve ever had did not require their self-cultivation and struggle.
“But you see, Beast is actually a secret hero, because he gives up his coercion and lets Belle be completely free” (by subtext, to be with a man she genuinely has attractive impulses for). Beast is a “nice guy” with a bunch of red flags. The message to a little girl is “don’t look at accomplishments or substance, find a man who is secretly a hero and lets you be totally free.” This is completely contrary to what is in either a man’s best interest or a woman’s best interests (or desires) when dating, and a recipe for total when it happens in real life.
Men don’t rise to the occasion because of a relationship with a woman. They actually sink to their lowest level of virtue, because women instinctively test men to see how authentic they are – and this is a good and natural thing, within proper reason. Within a certain amount of time, women will see a man at their worst and know his mettle, and their decisions in this regard mean a lot more than their words. A man can be inspired by feminine virtues or strengths to become better – in other words, not rising to an occasion but changing the internal constitution because he recognized what virtue is and what he is supposed to be. But this is a far cry from being saved by the woman’s presence.
Beast’s final fulfillment is in dying for Belle and making her the center of his world, but in a deranged way that corrupts the Christian version of this theme. Beast doesn’t die gratuitously and act magnanimously to save undeserving sinners or a woman who is flawed – he doesn’t even actually beat Gaston, though he was capable of it. He lets his guard down and gets shivved rather than adequately dealing with the threat in front of him. Even to the end, he’s incompetent and lacks virtue, but for one exception. He learned to worship Belle, the fake ideal of woman, and it saves him.
There are also no good male figures in the film. Belle’s Father is incompetent, Gaston & the psychologist are oppressive and deceitful, the villagers are stupid and don’t appreciate Belle. This is part of the structure – all of the men only exist insofar as they support Belle as an idealization. The movie starts typically patriarchal (though a mockery of it), and proves itself to establish a matriarchy by the end.
The story could honestly be retold very well, if a skilled Catholic took a shot at it. Here’s my very amateurish summary attempt:
Gaston, a naturally strong but deceitful leader rises to mayorship of a small village. The people start to uncover his evil and his attempts to coerce a beautiful woman into marriage, who happens to be pursuing writing to help support her father, who is infirmed, has quirky ideas, but also wisdom and intelligence that Belle learns to lean on and admire.
Her father, in an attempt to help Belle who is struggling to provide for the two of them, tries a difficult journey to acquire funds that would change their lives, and ends up imprisoned in the Beast’s castle on suspicion of theft. The Beast is a man who once ran a small set of kingdoms but lost it because he could not control his greed and desire for pleasure, and received a curse which rendered his face incredibly ugly and lost control of his kingdom, but he has still not quite hit rock bottom. The rose still features prominently. Belle follows after her father, and her offer to free her father by being imprisoned herself strikes Beast to his core. Beast releases them both together and quickly after conversation with Belle, and begins to change his daily activities. He returns to his military training schedule, begins to treat his servants well, and begins to write daily about his goals of accomplishment, and how he is going to one day become the king he should have always been. As a part of this, he desires to be ready for a queen who would be so loyal to him as this woman was to her father, despite his appearance. He rebuilds trust with the few left to him and repairs his one remaining castle, and begins to assemble more men to his small fiefdom.
Time passes. Things continue to go poorly for her father. Beast’s kindness to a passing group of travelers sparks a conversation that there are bad things happening in a nearby village – superstition and skullduggery, with the people under the oppression of Gaston, who has sought and received outside help from financiers and magnates in bigger cities to support his rule. Beast goes with men to investigate, learning of certain horrors being committed, and Gaston unites multiple villages against him, using Beast’s popularly known history against him, claiming he is the one who sent bands of thieves and murderers into the village. Belle follows the villagers after hearing what is to happen, and Beast retreats to his castle, where he and the few servants he has left are hunkering down for what is most likely a suicide defense mission.
Belle comes upon Gaston and Beast battling in single combat, and Gaston wounds Beast only by trickery when Gaston wins, cutting a deal to leave and take his men with him. Belle pulls a weapon from a nearby set of armor and finishes Gaston from behind. The rose activates, saving Beast’s life and restoring his face. The rose only activates and breaks the curse when someone else is inspired to love him.
In this version, Belle actually has a role and agency, and genuine virtue, and a higher status than in the original. Beast is imperfect, but his genuine virtue and competence shine. His value is not merely in elevating Belle but protecting people who are genuinely oppressed. Belle’s feminine virtues fill him with inspiration that catalyzes his real resurrection – the choice within to be virtuous and lead, despite what one has done in the past or the time one has wasted on vanity.
It would also be a story worthwhile for men and women, not just over validated middle-class women.
Written by Ari Rechovah. Twitter at: https://twitter.com/arirechovah