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5 min read

Disney: 100 years of waiting for Prince Charming

Reflecting on the Disney centenary, Lauren Windle finds herself dis-enchanted with Prince Charming and reflecting on what might be a better kind of attraction.

Lauren Windle is an author, journalist, presenter and public speaker.

A plastic wind-up Snow White toy stands to the right of the photo, with hands clasped waiting
Photo by King Lip on Unsplash.

Picture the scene: you’re outside running an errand; maybe you’re taking the bins out or cleaning your car in the street. The sun is blazing and you’re in a great mood. Bolstered by the good weather, you start to sing to yourself. Maybe you’ve got Spotify on or the car radio’s playing. Just as you’re getting your groove on to Gaga, someone comes up behind you, about a foot away and joins in with the song . . . Startled, you stop singing and swing round to see the other half of your unsolicited duet.  

The other person also stops and says: ‘Hello, did I frighten you?’ Clearly concerned, you back away towards your house. The person continues: ‘Wait, wait, please don’t run away.’ As you dash through the front door and slam it behind you, you hear your uninvited singing partner pick up the song where the two of you left off in an attempt to serenade you as you flee. 

They never made a Snow White 2. Maybe that’s because watching the slow and agonizing breakdown of a relationship that was entered into prematurely isn’t very ‘Disney’. 

Menacing, right? No one’s stopping to swap numbers with the creepy crooner. Except this is the exact interaction between Snow White and Prince Charming in the Disney film (1937). Word for word. I sat through it to check. Did she call the police? Was she embarrassed and uncomfortable with his invasion of her personal space? Did she drop a message to the other princesses to tell them to watch out for the crackpot future king? None of the above. The next time we hear her speak about the prince, Snow White is talking to the seven dwarfs and explaining that she’s ‘in love with him’, he’s ‘the only one’ for her and ‘there’s nobody like him anywhere at all’. Those are actual quotes.  

When the prince and Snow White are finally reunited, she is woken from her unconsciousness by his kiss and he leads her away, wordlessly, into the sunset. In the whole film Snow White doesn’t say a word directly to the prince. 

They never made a Snow White 2. Maybe that’s because watching the slow and agonizing breakdown of a relationship that was entered into prematurely isn’t very ‘Disney’. I, for one, would pay to watch as Snow White grows to realize that marrying someone who looms up on young women and breaks into song isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; and as the prince gets fed up with all the woodland creatures leaving their droppings as they traipse through the house to help with all the various daily chores. 

Now this is key so listen up: there is no ‘the one’ and you do not have a ‘soulmate’. 

The relationships we saw as children to model our hopes and dreams on were fundamentally flawed and Disney was at the heart of what I will be calling from here on in ‘The Great Deception’. In our treasured childhood films feelings of love didn’t grow from a deep and mutual understanding of who the other was. It was an encounter that sparked love at first sight, followed by some questionable courtship practices. It’s a sinister day in the magical kingdom when you realise Belle was a hostage with Stockholm syndrome; Ariel changed her species and gave up her voice in order to gain favour with the prince; and Sleeping Beauty was given a non-consensual kiss while unconscious. 

We know all these are fairy stories, but the material we surround ourselves with has a tendency to stick, no matter how impervious we believe ourselves to be. Somewhere between Cinderella’s pre-midnight Waltz and Aladdin and Jasmine’s market stall encounter we fell for the idea that instant attraction is preferable to that which builds and develops more slowly over a longer period of time. The reality is that some of the best, most fulfilling relationships don’t kick off with irrepressible feelings of chemistry. In some cases, that chemistry wanes over time and in others it develops with greater engagement. 

That said, those of us who are conscious that a pretty face or a banging body aren’t all they’re cracked up to be when contributing to a lifetime-length relationship, do forget that attraction is still important. The best depiction of a healthy attraction I’ve heard is Will van der Hart’s on The Dating Course. He compares a relationship to a church candle – one of those fat pillar ones. The attraction is the wick; you need it to get the thing going. But if you’re all wick, you’ll burn out quickly. The wax is the substance, the friendship, the deeper understanding of each other, the experiences you share. But if you’re all wax, you can’t get the flame going. However, if you have both, you’ve got a candle that will burn brightly and for a long time. 

Another glug of Kool-Aid that Snow White had guzzled down was this idea of ‘the one’. Now this is key so listen up: there is no ‘the one’ and you do not have a ‘soulmate’. Neither of those things exist. Mr/Mrs Right is not out there. Get on with your life. 

The entertainment conglomerate has done its best in recent years to repent for the generations of young girls with unrealistic romantic expectations. 

Back in the ancient days of Athens, Plato shared some questionable insight into the origin of humans. Turns out, way back when, people had four legs, four arms and a head with two faces. Zeus, despite being king of the gods, was afraid of what these eight-appendaged, double-faced people could do, so he split them down the middle. Humans, now incomplete, walked the earth pining for their other half, throwing their arms around each other and intertwining their bodies in an attempt to grow together. In summary, the idea of a missing person to complete you is not founded on any scientific or biblical truth. It’s misinformation from Plato and Jerry Maguire. It is not a great premise to build your life and expectations on. It’s a waste of time. 

What someone should have told Walt was that there are a number of people Snow White would meet in her life who would be a suitable marriage partner for her. She would have a different but fulfilling life with each. A person would become ‘the one’ when she chose to commit to them, because she would be making a promise to them to eliminate all others from the equation. Leaving just one. 

The entertainment conglomerate has done its best in recent years to repent for the generations of young girls with unrealistic romantic expectations. They’ve produced a slew of powerful and sassy women, out for adventure with no love interest in sight; see Moana and Raya and the Last Dragon. But for myself and my millennial peers, the stage has already been set. If he doesn’t rock up on a valiant steed, quite frankly, we’re not interested. 

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Politics
10 min read

‘Let your yeah be yeah’: when style supplants substance

The frustrating language of politics.

Roger is a Baptist minister, author and Senior Research Fellow at Spurgeon’s College in London. 

Rishi Sunak
Campaign slogans.
Newzeepk, X.

You know what it’s like. A catchy piece of music is going round and round in your head. You can’t stop it. You don’t know where it came from. And, if you did originally like it, you find yourself quickly going off it.  

Some call it ‘sticky music’, while others have labelled the phenomenon as ‘stuck song syndrome’. I prefer the more evocative ‘earworm’ as it ably expresses the experience of something both invasive and undesirable. 

On this occasion the tune was accompanied by its refrain, ‘Let your yeah be yeah, and your no be no, now’. Round and round and round it went. It’s not a song I know well, and I couldn’t even remember who sang it.  

Thankfully a quick google identified it as a top 10 single from 1971 by the Jamaican reggae trio, The Pioneers. Unfortunately, discovering that did not make it go away. 

It was not rocket science to understand what was going on inside my head. It was the first week after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had called the election and the campaigning had begun in earnest.  

Now it’s not that my instant reaction was to do a ‘Brenda from Bristol’. Brenda, you will remember, became an internet sensation in 2017 for her memorable outburst when Teresa May called a snap election. She exclaimed, ‘You must be joking, not another one!’ No, I’m to be found more at the aficionado end of the political spectrum. 

Still, I have been finding myself increasingly exasperated over recent years. I don’t think my irritation is just about getting older and becoming more grumpy. But I do find myself frustrated by what politicians do with language and the words they choose to use. I’m annoyed by the strategies they adopt as they justify themselves and the rhetorical devices they surreptitiously employ to bolster an argument. 

Inside I find a deep longing for people to say what they mean and mean what they say. Is it too much to ask? Of course, there’s the root in my psyche, ‘let your yeah be yeah, and your no be no, now’. 

It’s not that this is some kind of naïve desire for politics to become what it never can be - some kind of genteel, educated, middle-class debating society.  

The very nature of democracy has passionate argument at its very heart. We don’t wrangle over what we agree on and hold in common. Democracy obliges our leaders to be in a mindset of perpetual persuasion towards us. 

No, for me, the nub of the problem is when emotive words are chosen to make a point that the substance of an argument can’t. Or, when rhetorical sleight of hand is deployed on an unsuspecting audience, much like the misdirection of a magician in creating the illusion of magic. 

Style supplants content and soundbites replace substance that has depth and an evidential basis. 

This is nothing new. It has been a part of our public life in the West since the classical era of Aristotle, Plato and Cicero. It was the English rhetorician Ralph Lever who, in the sixteenth century, attempted to translate the key concepts of Aristotelian logic into English in his The Arte of Reason, rightly termed, Witcraft. That is, ‘witcraft’ – the art, skill or craft of the mind, NOT ‘witchcraft’: though some might see that as an apt descriptor of the dark arts that classical rhetoric can enable. 

Aristotle, however, was clear in his understanding that the function of rhetorical skills was not to persuade in and of themselves, but rather to make available the means of persuasion. The substance of an argument was always to be more important than the manner in which it was communicated. 

It is hardly a revelation that the world of contemporary comms has been birthed in a brave new world of technology. As the American media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman pointed out, the advent of TV introduced entertainment as the defining principle of communication and what it takes to hold our attention. 

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business was Postman’s 1985 era-defining commentary of how things have changed. Gone are the 2-hour long political ‘stump’ speeches and hour-long church sermons. Style supplants content and soundbites replace substance that has depth and an evidential basis. 

The speed of the internet, the ubiquity of social media and the omniscience of the algorithms have only served to distil and intensify the phenomena that Postman was concerned about. That recent history has witnessed the success that has accompanied the media experience and understanding of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, only serves to underline the prescience of Postman’s observations.  

The ability to cut through the surrounding cacophony, engage an audience and then hold their attention long enough to communicate something of value is challenging to the nth degree. This has merely served to ramp up the intensity, exaggeration and immediacy of political speech. To impact us it must evoke an emotional response. In this anxiety and fear are the most effective drivers. 

Former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was quite clear in his assessment that ‘a week is a long time in politics’. We might now consider a day, or even an hour, to be the operative chronological measure. The news cycle can turn very quickly indeed. 

Yet the underlying dynamics of communication remain. Rhetoric remains supreme. Political machines have become the masters of ‘spin’ and of the art of gaming the opportunities, language and positioning presented by contemporary media. 

As voters we should always be highly sensitive to what’s being communicated when a speaker talks about ‘us and them’, ‘ours and theirs’, ‘we and they’.

All this is in a context in which it is estimated that those in middle age have consumed an average of 30-40,000 hours of TV and some 250,000 advertisements. Britain is a media savvy society. Yet for all of this sophistication in media consumption, I remain fearful of how aware my fellow citizens are of the techniques that inform contemporary political messaging. 

The former Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States, Newt Gingrich, provides a helpful case study. Back in 1994 he produced a notorious memo to Republican candidates for Congress entitled ‘Language: A Key Mechanism of Control’.  

Following extensive testing in focus groups and scrutiny by PR specialists he highlighted around 200 words for Republicans to memorise and use. There were positive words to associate with their own programme and negative ones to use against their opponents.  

The positive words he advocated included: 

opportunity… control… truth… moral… courage… reform… prosperity… children… family… we/us/our… liberty… principle(d)… success… empower(ment)… peace… rights… choice/choose… fair…  

By contrast, when addressing their opponents: 

decay… failure … collapse(ing)… crisis… urgent(cy)… destructive… sick… pathetic… lie… they/them… betray… consequences… hypocrisy… threaten… waste… corruption… incompetent… taxes… disgrace… cynicism… machine… 

Careful choice of words can then be layered with other strategies to construct a highly sophisticated political message.  

At a most basic level come the ever popular ‘guilt by association’ and its twin sibling ‘virtue by connexion’. Are migrants portrayed as ‘sponging off the benefits system’ or ‘filling recruitment shortfalls in the NHS, social care and industry’? Is British culture under threat of being overwhelmed or enriched by cultural diversity? 

Integral to this use of language are the various methods of ‘virtue signalling’ to a particular audience and the infamous ‘dog-whistle’ subjects and phrases to call them to heel. Tropes and labelling also play their part. On labelling, the nineteenth century statesman John Morley powerfully denigrated the practice by suggesting that it saved ‘talkative people the trouble of thinking’.   

As voters we should always be highly sensitive to what’s being communicated when a speaker talks about ‘us and them’, ‘ours and theirs’, ‘we and they’. By implication who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’? We should be aware too when more general arguments are made that leave us, as listeners, to fill in the blanks. This hidden rhetorical manoeuvre gets us ‘onside’ by leading us to intuitively believe that the speaker agrees with us. Along the way they haven’t defined what ‘responsible government’, or ‘critical priorities’ or ‘British values’ actually are. Instead, they have left for us to supply our own definition, ensuring our agreement and support. 

To these can be added the ever more common practice of ‘gaslighting’, where information or events are manipulated to get people to doubt their own judgment, perception and sense of reality. And then there’s my favourite that the Urban Dictionary defines as a ‘Schrodinger’s douchebag’. Especially popular among populist politicians, this is where an outrageous statement is made and the speaker waits for the audience to respond. Only retrospectively do they declare whether they meant what they said or were only ‘just joking’. 

It's perhaps no surprise that Rhetorical Political Analysis is actually a thing. Academics study it and political journalists use it to sniff out any hint of obfuscation. Depressingly, in the media, this frequently descends into an unholy game of ‘bait and trap’. Politicians, for their part, then become much more guarded as they seek to side-step a ‘gotcha’ move, whether merited or not. 

… the truth will set you free’, he said. Free from the ducking and diving around our half-truths and fabrications.

So where does that leave the aspiration of ‘Let your yeah be yeah, and your no be no, now’? It may be surprising to some that The Pioneers’ song about a troubled love affair is directly quoting Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. But Jesus’ focus is not about romance here. 

What he is talking about is truthfulness, authenticity and integrity. Say what you mean and mean what you say. For Jesus, truth and truthfulness was at the very centre of his own identity. Indeed, in Christian theology Jesus is the ‘word made flesh’, the ‘exact representation’ of who God is and what he is like. Jesus then advocates what he embodies: an alignment and integration of who we are, with what we say and what we do. 

This has to be the foundation for authenticity and integrity. These are the very principles that are so highly prized in the political arena, and yet so quickly abandoned in the maelstrom of the conflicting demands of public life.  

Jesus advocated living a truthful life, not least because of its liberating outcomes, ‘… the truth will set you free’, he said. Free from the ducking and diving around our half-truths and fabrications. Free from the fear of being found out or the implications of the ever-deepening holes to be dug. Free to be ourselves and have all the bits of our lives fit together as one. 

This has to be the principle to live by, the standard to benchmark, the way of life to aspire to. It’s no coincidence that integrity and honesty are two of the seven Nolan principles that inform the UK government’s Committee on Standards in Public Life

But the fact is we know the world to be a complicated place. We are not always the people we long to be. In the church’s liturgy the prayer of confession calls out our challenges. We miss the mark ‘through negligence, through weakness, [and] through our own deliberate fault.’ 

The reality is that, while we aspire to be the best that we can be, we also need to be alive to alternative realities. Our political processes can throw up flawed actors, bad actors and nefarious actors. They present very differently, yet we must always read through what is being communicated to access what is being said. 

Life is complicated. There are many different ways to legitimately tackle the issues that we face as a country. Always there are trade-offs. Frequently the future turns out to be different to what has been predicted. Ultimately there are too many variables. 

The 2024 General Election has proven to be refreshingly different. Neither Rishi Sunak nor Keir Starmer are as natural or charismatic in front of a camera as some of their predecessors.  

It rained on the Prime Minister when he announced the election without an umbrella and the day after took him to the Belfast shipyard where the Titanic was built. Such gaffes are reassuringly human. Labour’s tragically cack-handed approach to Diane Abbott and whether she could stand for election as MP for Hackney North & Stoke Newington where she faithfully served for 37 years is in a similar vein. 

Yet, through it all it is worth noting Laura Kuenssberg’s comments for the BBC. 

Both leaders inspire unusual loyalty among their teams. They are often praised by those who work with them as being warmer than they appear on camera: staffers describe them as decent family men, who take their jobs incredibly seriously and work incredibly hard. 

I find this remarkably encouraging. In the meantime, that song keeps going round in my head. 

‘Let your yeah be yeah, and your no be no, now’.  

Please make it stop.