My friend Kathryn recently posted a lengthy essay on her blog about her concerns that Disney’s hit animated movie Frozen contains a subtext that pushes an homosexual ideology that is contrary to the beliefs of many of the religious families who enjoyed it.
In response she has been widely ridiculed and derided, often by people who presumably share her LDS beliefs. Apparently they have convinced themselves that expressing concern about subversive messages in popular entertainment is an inexcusable sin, but that the normalization of sinful behavior is tolerable.
When I saw Frozen, I too noticed that the film could be interpreted as an allegory for homosexual struggle for normalization. And it did concern me.
At the same time, my view is that good art contains archetypes and motifs that can be applied to many different aspects of human experience.
J.R.R. Tolkien was annoyed by the many people who took his fictional stories and said that they were symbolic or allegorical of specific events or political agendas. He explained that his works were not allegorical, but exhibited “applicability” to a wide range of experiences, events, and beliefs.
Frozen can certainly be successfully applied as an allegory for homosexual struggle. The authors may or may not have had that in mind when they wrote it. But Frozen is good enough art to rise above a specific allegorical meaning. It demonstrates broad applicability to many different human experiences. That is why it appeals to so many people.
For example, it could be applied as an allegory for certain kinds of struggles with abusive family dynamics and escape from abuse.
Some have also noticed that it has applications for families that deal with autism or mental illness.
Authorial intent matters. But good art also rises above its author’s intent and takes on a kind of life and meaning of its own too, through “applicability“.
I think it is wise to be wary of the messages delivered through popular entertainment. Personally I have found many troubling messages in movies and television, including in Disney’s movies like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin, to name a few.
For example, the lyrics to Aladdin‘s award winning song “A Whole New World” can be interpreted as a very sexual song. The Little Mermaid seems to encourage rebellion against parents, and implies that one can make a deal with the devil and win in the end. Beauty and the Beast perpetuates negative perceptions of masculinity and men– i.e. once the Beast ceases to be a beast, he is emasculated and never speaks a word.
So Kathryn’s application of the motifs in Frozen as an allegory for a homosexual struggle is a completely valid interpretation.
As I said, Frozen is good enough art that it can be legitimately applied to many different types of human experience. Kathryn’s application is one of them. It is not the only one, but there is nothing wrong with making parents aware of this application as they consider the entertainment in their homes and discuss it with their children.
After all, there are legitimate reasons to believe that entertainment media is used to influence culture to push ideas and political agendas contrary to morality and religious teachings.
If you doubt that this is true, check out this in-depth article from 2012 about how Hollywood pushes a liberal agenda. The author, Jonathan Chait, is himself very liberal, but still recognizes the truth:
Chait explains: “For the most part, your television is not consciously attempting to alter your political beliefs. It is mainly transmitting an ethos in which greed is not only bad but the main wellspring of evil, authority figures of all kinds are often untrustworthy, sexual freedom is absolute, and social equality of all kinds is paramount. Within the moral universe of this culture, the merits of these values are self-evident. But to the large bloc of America that does not share this ethos, it looks like a smug, self-perpetuating collusion against them.”
Martha Bayles at the conservative Claremont Institute demonstrates the power of popular entertainment to mold moral and political views in her fascinating 2011 look at the origins and history of Soap Operas and Telenovelas throughout the world:
Bayles says: “Sabido and his colleagues at Televisa, Mexico’s largest commercial TV channel, believed in cooperating with sponsors and the government to create socially beneficial programming that was also profitable. [...] Sabido developed a method in which a drama is built around a government-approved cause—adult literacy, gender equality, child development, family planning—and the characters are divided into three groups: true believers, scoffers, and doubters (who just happen to resemble the program’s target demographic). At the end, the true believers and converted doubters are rewarded, the scoffers are rebuked, and a prominent citizen appears in the role of Aesop reiterating the moral of the story.”
Both of these articles may be lengthy, but they are well worth your time to read carefully and consider, especially since they represent voices from opposite sides of the political spectrum.
These articles demonstrate that expressing concern about ideological messages in Frozen is neither paranoid nor conspiracy minded and that those who are trying to shame Kathryn for drawing attention to the way in which Frozen can be interpreted should back off and try to see that she has legitimate concerns, even if they do not choose to interpret the film in the same way that she does.
Not only that, but they might also entertain the possibility that the reason why they have reacted to Kathryn’s interpretation with such vitriol or dismissal is that their own views have been influenced and molded by the popular entertainment they have consumed, which seeks to delegitimize views such as that expressed by Kathryn.
As I said earlier, Kathryn’s interpretation is a legitimate application of the motifs presented in Frozen. But the film also exhibits other applications as well. For example, Gene Fant, at the blog of the venerable First Things blog, suggests that Frozen can be interpreted with many Christian motifs:
“As Frozen ’s climax unfolds, however, the solution is neither a kiss nor a pursuit of the heart. It’s a semi-prophetic, selfless act that ends up requiring one character’s sacrificial death . [...] I was dumbfounded by the movie’s final twenty or so minutes. It was an astoundingly clear parable of the Christian Gospel, perhaps even superior to that of the Stone Table scene in the first Narnia film in terms of simplicity and clarity. [...] I would be remiss if I did not assert that a Christ-less Gospel is a defective and incomplete Gospel; stories like Frozen do not bring an understanding sufficient for salvation, of course…”
Steven D. Greydanus at the National Catholic Register, who also raised concerns about gay-themes in Frozen, disagrees with the extent of Fant’s Christian interpretation of Frozen:
“If the imagery is interpreted allegorically, and specifically soteriologically — as intended in Andersen, and suggested by the film’s theological enthusiasts — the difficulties increase. Not that the filmmakers are beholden to follow the specific symbolism in Andersen’s tale. But it’s strained and unconvincing to impose an allegorical Christian reading on a story and then ignore the symbols that most obviously resonate with the Gospel story, that were originally created for precisely this purpose.”
These debates about the various interpretations of Frozen speak well of its artistic merit.
But the dismissal of Katheryn’s interpretation and concerns about the ways in which the film can be interpreted speaks poorly of those who have ridiculed and dismissed her concerns. Looking for gay-themes in literature and art is a common academic exercise in universities everywhere. Kathryn has essentially provided a “queer reading” of Frozen. Chances are that English undergraduates everywhere have already come to the exact same conclusions that she has and submitted term papers about it to professors who will give them a cursory reading and award them an A grade. Had Kathryn written her analysis approvingly instead of as a warning to religious parents, our cultural referees would have given her an A too.
So she is derided not because her interpretation is wrong, but because she is critical of a movie that so many people love.
Some of the discomfort Kathryn and others have with the film, and most especially with the character Elsa and her song “Let It Go” may be legitimately derived from how the film was developed.
Elsa was originally supposed to be the villain in the film. The song “Let It Go” was the first song that they composed and it was meant to be the villain’s signature song. After the song was written they decided to rework the screenplay to completely change Elsa from the villain into a sympathetic character struggling with fear of powers she did not know how to control.
But the lyrics to “Let It Go” still retain somewhat of a villain’s perspective, in which Elsa advocates abandoning self-control, right and wrong, and indulging herself even if her actions hurt others.
That is a message that most parents would find problematic. And it is reasonable for parents to be concerned about their children belting out lyrics that advocate such things.
So it makes sense that “Let It Go” would raise red flags for reasonable people with moral sensibilities.
All parents should be critical of the media that they permit their families to consume. Being active rather than passive consumers of entertainment is a virtue, not a vice.
A responsible parent should acknowledge the different ways in which Frozen might be interpreted, including its application as an potential allegory for homosexual struggle, and discuss them as appropriate with their children.
For example, I would expect that after watching the film with their children, a circumspect parent would sit down with them and discuss the lyrics to “Let It Go“. What do the words of the song mean? Is what Elsa saying and doing good? Should we indulge our appetites and passions without regard for right and wrong as Elsa says she is doing in her song? What are the consequences of Elsa’s decisions for others? For herself?
While your at it, you might want to talk with your children about whether Anna should have punched Hans in the face after he was already defeated.
Critical thinking is not a skill that is often successfully taught in our public schools system. Being able to analyze the applications and interpretations of art and literature is a valuable skill that should be encouraged rather than discouraged. I applaud Kathryn for being a critical consumer of entertainment and passionately standing up for what she believes.
It’s fine to disagree with her interpretation. But those who have balked at her thoughts and treated her as crazy or paranoid should reconsider their reactions and consider offering an apology. And perhaps they should reconsider their own uncritical consumption of popular entertainment as well.