The princess paradigm: If we stop buying it, they’ll stop making it

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Who is in charge of what you buy? I’m being rhetorical, of course, because the answer is: You are. Yet it seems to be a question that must be asked, for we appear to forget the answer unless asked directly. This is the first important point of the case I’m trying to make here: We are in complete charge of how our own money is spent.

The corporate world doesn’t want you to consciously acknowledge this, however. They want to maintain their subconscious grip to manipulate and persuade you into buying whatever they tell you to buy.

We are unfailingly gullible when it comes to what we are told and by whom. We want to believe what we hear and read, especially when it seems as though we are given that information by a reliable source. But we still have preferences. We still have intrinsic human needs and wants and desires percolating beneath the surface of our conscious thoughts.

It’s like two worlds existing side-by-side: the corporate world, which behaves as though its hold on your decision-making ability is complete and unchangeable, and our subconscious inner world, which silently nudges us toward higher forms of thought and action. The corporate world thinks it’s doing the driving, when really it’s only able to affect the quality of the road surface, not the destination. Our higher selves are doing all the driving, make no mistake.

I say this because there are so many voices out there trying to tell you how the world is doomed and why you should subscribe to their prophecies. But they don’t understand the power of a social evolution that has been in process since long before they were even born and will continue long after they’re gone. They think they have control over the rules of the game. And they want you to believe it, too.

The evidence of our social progress is most easily seen when looking at the types of things we buy.

Business has an obligation to produce products that you will actually purchase. It needs to know your preferences so it can adapt to them. It spends billions of dollars on demographic studies just so that it understands the wants and desires — and, most importantly, the fears — of its human market base: you. It takes that data and then makes the things that you will want to buy.

My favorite example is Disney. Not blaming Disney for establishing the patriarchal system that subjugates the rights of women, they did, however, participate in perpetuating it. Looking at a long line of princesses portrayed in their films, one can see a trend that has educated young girls and women to believe that they should uphold a particular standard of physical beauty and reliance upon men as their saviors. There are multiple studies pointing to how damaging this has been for young girls around the world, especially in countries not predominantly white.But the Walt Disney Company, like all of the corporate world, knows which side of their bread is buttered. Beginning in the late 1980s, their princesses slowly began to evolve toward more equitable and modern ideas about womanhood. That change did not occur because someone in a boardroom proposed that Disney begin using its cultural influence to empower women. Disney did not institute this change from their own moral compass. They were responding to the consumer.

There is still a long way to go, of course. What seemed modern in 1989 about Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” having an independent mind and desires and defying her male authority figures seems less so today when we consider that she also had far less dialogue then the male characters, despite her being the title role. And she still got married in the end.

Disney’s earliest princesses were all domestic damsels-in-distress. Eventually, they became more openly rebellious and ambitious, but still typically “needed” a man to complete them as women. Today, these female characters are free-spirited and independent, often not relying at all on men or romance to neatly tie up a story for its happy ending. That is a good sign.

It’s true that these earlier Disney princesses are embedded in the eternal canon of classic family films. Their effects will be felt for a long time to come. But now that they are balanced with more empowered female characters, it allows for a healthy dialogue between parents and children about the issue of gender equality. Eventually, the styles of those older characters will seem passé.

I point this out to reassure you. We are not sliding backward. We are moving forward at a pace so rapid that the old energies scarcely know what to do about it or how to contain it. They will not be successful. They want to go back to the old days when people knew their place, when governments could be trusted, and cigarettes were recommended by doctors.

But those days are gone. Good riddance. Welcome to the New Age, warts and all. The transition is a rough road, made more so by those who would slow down our progress. But the destination remains a kingdom so beautiful we can hardly imagine it. Be at peace.

Wil Darcangelo, M.Div., is the minister at First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and of First Church of Christ, Unitarian, in Lancaster. He is also the founding director of the Tribe Mentorship Project. Email wildarcangelo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.