Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Carousel of Progress sexism analyzed

Surely most visitors to the Carousel of Progress notice how the family's father (John) is all sorts of sexist to his wife, Sarah. Here is a short list of ways he is disrespectful to her in today's show:

  • 1900: He assumes it's appropriate for her to spend all her time washing, canning, and cleaning
  • 1920: He passively-aggressively tells the dog not to interrupt while Sarah is interrupting (and otherwise assumes Sarah is just doing her job sewing on the hot porch while he relaxes indoors)
  • 1940: He laughs off Sarah's irritation that the food mixer was ruined by the paint-mixing project, and that she has to wallpaper the rumpus room all by herself

Sounds pretty sexist, eh? The thing is, you have to know the attraction's history to understand what the sexism is there for. There are a couple of things at play:

The attraction was originally meant to unspool in 20 year increments, culminating in 1960
The ride debuted at the 1964-1965 World's Fair, so it was perfectly logical for the four scenes to take place in 20 year increments: 1900, 1920, 1940, and 1960. What was significant about the 1960s? It was women's liberation! The ride showed casual/ingrained sexism in the first three segments precisely to show how much things had advanced by the 1960s! The sexism, in other words, was very much an ingrained part of the ride's message. In the 1960s scene, the Mother held her own, and even put the Father in his place a few times. It gave the ride a kind of symmetry that made sense.

The attraction has been re-recorded and updated twice since its original version
There have been updates to the attraction, renaming the mother (Katie vs. Sarah) and changing the specific phrases here and there. Most significantly, the 1990s update created a finale scene supposedly set around the turn of the NEXT century (2000 or so), and so it postulate a world of visor-based video games and laserdiscs (yeah, it got a few things wrong).

Think about the functional effect of the updates, though. We jump from 1940 not to 1960, but to 2000. That's a huge jump. The family is essentially intact, though perhaps far younger than they should be for a forty-year jump.

There is no longer the context of women's liberation, though. The year 2000 (to say nothing of 2013) isn't really associated with equal women's rights, because, duh, that movement happened forty years ago.

So the ride jumps from male sexism to a fully integrated household of 2000 with no further word on sexism. I'm not suggesting that's a weakness of the script. To call attention to the sexism now would be a worse mistake. But it does point out that the sexism of the first several scenes is highly out of place, since there isn't a context-setting 1960s scene to balance it all out.

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.