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A Response to the Response: Elsa and Introversion

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Roughly twenty-four hours ago, I posted a blog entry titled “Anna” and “Elsa”: The New “Extrovert” and “Introvert,” in which I explained how I felt that Disney’s Frozen expertly portrayed both extroversion and introversion with its two primary characters, Anna and Elsa.  A few hours later, fellow RSP member Shoumik wrote a response to my post, disagreeing with several points I made about Elsa and introversion with well articulated and well researched arguments.

First of all, I’d just like to say how happy that response made me.  Regularly Scheduled Programming isn’t about yelling whatever opinion we have and positing it as infallible truth; it’s about opening discourse and having meaningful discussions about the things we love.  I feel like Shoumik’s response takes an important step in illustrating this ethos, especially considering that for the most part, we at RSP tend to all agree with each other on most things.

With that said, I’d like to address the arguments that Shoumik made in his post.  I wasn’t originally going to make this it’s own separate blog post, but as I began writing this in the comments section on Shoumik’s response, it grew quickly out of hand.  I apologize if this is a bit lengthy, just bear with me.   Once again, this post will contain spoilers for Disney’s Frozen, so you’ve been warned.

As I said before, Shoumik’s primary issue with my original post had to do with my section on introversion, specifically with regards to my thoughts on the negative portrayal of isolation in early Disney films. So in order to better understand my point about isolation, let’s look at the typical reasons why Disney characters are isolated:

A) They are being confined in some way. (Quasimodo, Rapuzel, Genie)

B) They are a villain (Ursula, Scar, The Evil Queen)

C) They are a social outcast. (Quasimodo again, Young Hercules, The Beast)

I think we can all agree that, from the audience’s perspective, all of these things would be considered bad, or at least undesirable.

How many of these loners would you lend $20 to? Exactly.

How many of these loners would you lend $20 to? Exactly.

Now, if I’m reading Shoumik correctly here…

“So I would argue that Disney hasn’t actually been portraying isolation as a negative thing. It’s more of a by-product of many of their characters being confined or trapped against their own will.“

…what he’s saying is that Disney is pointing to these other factors (confinement, villainy, social exclusion etc.) as the “real” problems.  Characters with these problems don’t have it bad because they are isolated; they have it bad because they have these problems.

And I don’t disagree with him.  To my knowledge, Disney has never outwardly portrayed isolation as a bad thing in itself.  Confined characters like the Genie aren’t sad because they’re isolated, they’re sad because they can’t be free. Villainous characters aren’t evil because they’re isolated; they’re evil because they’re evil.  We don’t feel bad for social outcasts characters because they’re isolated, we feel bad for them because the world judges them unfairly.  The isolation isn’t the cause of the characters problems; it is (as Shoumik says) merely a “by-product” of those problems.

However, the point that I am trying to make in my original post is that isolated characters are never portrayed positively in Disney movies.  Characters in isolation are always either evil or sad, even if it isn’t their isolation that’s makes them this way.  Disney may not be saying outright that being isolated is bad, but they are at least forming an association between isolation and negativity. When they make literally all of their isolated characters either sad or evil, they are reinforcing the idea that being alone is necessarily a negative experience. And this is problematic for introverts, because it impresses them with the idea that they are somehow wrong for being happy when they’re alone.

Feminists have pointed out a nearly identical trend in regard to the portrayal of female characters in media.  In much the same way that isolation isn’t the “real” reason why solitary characters are sad in Disney movies, gender isn’t the “real” reason why female characters are often portrayed as weak in media.  Princess Peach isn’t seen as weak because she’s a woman; she’s seen as weak because Bowser keeps kidnapping her.  Mary Jane isn’t seen as a nuisance because she’s a woman; she’s seen as a nuisance because she keeps falling off of buildings and Spider-man has to keep saving her.  We didn’t purposely exclude women from our military unit because they’re women; it’s just that the men were better soldiers.  These mediums may not be saying outright that women are weak, but by constantly portraying women in dis-empowering situations, they are creating an association between women and weakness and reinforcing the false idea that women are weak, and I think we can all agree that that’s problematic.  It’s the same exact issue with isolation in Disney movies.  By making all of its isolated character’s either sad or evil, Disney is creating an association between isolation and negativity and reinforcing the false idea that being alone is necessarily bad.

Love ya, Anita. The Feminism episode of RSP is coming soon I swear.

Love ya, Anita. The Feminism episode of RSP is coming soon I swear.

This is why having a character like Elsa is so important for introverts.  I agree with Shoumik when he says that Elsa’s “real” problem is that “she’s scared of hurting [others] and exposing herself to rejection, fear and hatred” and that the “real” reason she’s happy during “Let it Go” is because she’s finally free of her self imposed repression.  Elsa’s not happy because she’s alone, she’s happy because she’s free.  That’s totally undeniable.  But what makes Elsa special, and what makes Frozen such landmark for introverts, is that she addresses her “real” problem by making introverted decisions, and she’s neither vilified or saddened by them.

Even if you’re not willing to believe that Elsa is an introvert (which I still do, but whateva),  she still performs the same actions that an introvert would if they were in her shoes: she removes herself from social interaction and decides that she’ll be happier if she’s alone.  Granted, she makes the decision based on the fear of accidentally freezing everyone to death rather than, say, the social discomfort that a “normal” introvert would feel at a party, but the results are the same.   I would argue that Elsa’s fear when she is fleeing the coronation ball is analogous, or at least similar to, the discomfort that introverts feel when surrounded by large amounts of people.  The shots we get from Elsa’s point of view when she rapidly and nervously looks into the faces of the people surrounding her seem to indicate this. So even though she is motivated by the fear of injuring her guests, and not necessarily the emotional anxiety that introverts feel when in large groups, the actions she takes and the decisions she makes as a result of that fear are certainly ones that introverts can recognize and identify with.

And what makes Frozen unique among Disney movies, is that it normalizes these decisions.  It doesn’t claim that wanting to be isolated from others (for whatever reason) is“bad,” “evil,” or even “wrong.”  During “Let it Go” and during the scene when Anna comes to the ice palace (before informing Elsa of the eternal winter) we can clearly see that Elsa isn’t made depressed or villainous by her decision. In fact, she’s happier and more friendly towards her sister than she ever was in Arendelle. And what’s even more surprising is that Anna doesn’t vilify her sister for her decision either(as Nala does to Simba in The Lion King). It’s treated as a completely viable, and completely normal means to happiness.

Even if the isolation itself doesn't make Elsa happy THE DECISION to isolate herself does.

Elsa at her most zen.  Even if the isolation itself doesn’t make Elsa happy, the decision to isolate herself has lead to her happiness..

Even if Elsa’s happiness doesn’t stem from her isolation, she at least provides us with an example of a character that is both happy and isolated, which is a figure that introverts can identify with. Tying this back to my feminism analogy: Strong female characters like Anna and Elsa are not strong because they are women, but they show that it’s possible to be strong and also a woman.  They give women a realistic image to identify with.  It’s the same exact thing with happiness, isolation, and introverts.

These are all points that I tried to make in my original post, but for the sake of word economy, I chose not to extrapolate as much I probably should have.  Clearly, I should have gone into much greater detail in explaining how isolation fits into my understanding of introversion.  I hope this response clarifies my previous post, and I hope that RSP continues to generate discussion in the same way that these posts have.

-Andrew

Fuck it

1 Comment

  1. Shoumik Shoumik

    Yay for non-frothing back and forth discussion! I think you make a lot of good points in this, especially about how a choices in characterization and plot devices can have legitimate (perhaps) unintended implications.

    But to bring up another point I didn’t really get around to in my post, the character arc of breaking free of repression, creating a personal form of self-expression and the eventual acceptance of the aberrant behaviour by society (favorite example: Ratatouille) is such an integral part of children’s movies in the US that I can’t help think that’s what they were going for with Elsa.

    And yes, we need to do that Feminism in Video Games/Geek Culture podcast.

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