Tinkerbell and the great propaganda machine

By Siouxsie Wiles 17/11/2010 22


I recently took my 4 year old daughter to see Disney’s Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue at the cinema. It was just after the NZ Skeptics annual conference which due to a lack of alternative arrangements she had been forced to attend (to be fair she had spent most of it sat at the back watching movies on a portable DVD player…). Anyway, as she had been so good I thought she deserved a treat.

So back to the movie. For those who may not have had the pleasure, it centres around a little girl who believes in fairies. She manages to befriend one (Tinkerbell) who explains to her how fairies are responsible for pretty much everything around us: they paint the wings of butterflies, pollinate all the flowers and are even responsible for the seasons. In fact, there is a scene in which the young girl mentions the real cause of the seasons and Tinkerbell laughs and replies ‘that’s what we fairies want you to believe’. Anyway back to the plot. The young girl’s father is a scientist who seems to study butterflies. We’ll come back to that in a minute. In a nutshell, he manages to capture one of the fairies and the others have to rescue her before he gets her to London’s Natural History Museum and reveals the existence of fairies to the scientific establishment.

I had the impression that it was going to be some sort of buddy movie, you know, working together to rescue their friend, blah blah blah. Oh, how wrong could I have been? Anyway, back to the young girl’s father, the scientist. Obviously he is white and male, so that’s the first stereotype box ticked. To be fair he wasn’t wearing a lab coat so perhaps Disney should get a point for that. He is however, completely driven by the importance of his work (another box ticked?). So driven that he completely ignores his young child (there is no mother in the film so the impression is that he is a solo parent) while obsessing over his butterflies. He is annoyed that his daughter believes in fairies (cue lots of yelling along the lines of ‘show me your evidence’). He gives her a journal and asks her to start documenting the natural wonders around them. Naturally she fills it with nonsense about fairies. He gets angry and they have an argument, blah blah blah. Then he captures a fairy and realises how closed minded he has been.

The real message of the film, and one repeated so often I felt we were being bludgeoned over the head by it, is: you don’t need to understand, you just need to believe. I’ll repeat that: you don’t need to understand, you just need to believe. I came out of the cinema feeling like I had been punched. Now call me a conspiracy theorist, but I am a firm believer that science is under sustained attack by extremely powerful and well funded lobby groups. Creationism vs evolution, fossil fuel guzzlers vs climate change. But Disney? The more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense. While lobbying governments is obviously a very important tactic, influencing the next generation is potentially a more powerful strategy.

I feel like the scales have been lifted from my eyes! In fact, I can’t believe I was so naive not have seen it before. I am thankful that my daughter is only four and seems not to have grasped the film’s take home message. She also has parents who will counter all that nonsense. But what of older children who will have taken that message on board. And what if they have no one to give them a reality check? It’s almost too scary to contemplate.


22 Responses to “Tinkerbell and the great propaganda machine”

  • Thus the selling power of that book ‘The Secret’ – it reinforces (& feeds upon) the idea that if you want something hard enough, you’ll get it (& it’s all your fault for not wanting hard enough, if you don’t).

  • You mean if I really really believe something hard enough (eyes tightly closes, fingers crossed) it will happen?
    I wish.. I wish… I wish …. I wish….
    Opens eyes – damn all the woo pushers are still here 🙂

    Alison, the Secret is just laziness. I think it is important to want what you want in life with a passion – the trick is one has to get off ones arse and do things to actually make it happen. Unfortunately these types of book leave that step out.

    It’s surprising how many tv programmes and movies reinforce the whole “so long as you believe (in yourself) everything will be alright” philosophy. It bugs the hell out of me, as most of the time I succeed it involves practice, preparation and planning.

  • >you don’t need to understand, you just need to believe

    That was the theme of George W Bush’s presidency and, it appears, for Obama’s presidency “Change you can believe in”. The USA is a foreign country.

  • The ‘so long as you believe in yourselt’ mantra is also quite harmful in some circumstances. You see it quite often from the cancer-cure woo-peddlers: if you’d really believed (ie did everything the woo-artist said) then you’d be cured, so it’s totally your fault if you’re still sick because you obviously just didn’t believe hard enough.
    That attitude toally sucks.

  • You could argue that the more people who are lured into trap of corporate-sponsored woolliness, the greater the opening for those left who are actually able to question and explore the world around them. But probably a good idea to keep some limit on the amount of codswallop to which one’s own offspring are subjected 🙂

  • Its interesting to see Siouxsie that you are a ‘true believer’ in evolution, an illogical, irrational ,philosophy grounded in atheism, materialism and naturalism and increasingly under severe attach due to discoveries particularly in the area of bio-chemistry and DNA research. From human experience we know that specific coded information like DNA always comes from an intelligent source, belief in ‘the goo through the zoo to you theory’ now takes a very large leap of blind faith considering we now know that every biological bio-chemical machine wreaks of design which cannot be explained in a step-wise Darwinian process as they are invariable irreducibly complex devices. Siouxsie I suggest you get educated on inteligent design which is not creationism in any shape or form but serious scientific debate about the latest evidence for the origins of life. Most of those guys are ex-darwinists because they realized their former ‘belief’ didn’t match up with the scientific data.

    • Thanks for your comment, Graham. I think we shall have to agree to disagree. How do ‘we’ know that “specific coded information like DNA always comes from an intelligent source”? The only case I am aware of is Craig Venter and his synthetic bacterial genome. And he may act like a deity but I’m not aware of him claiming to be one.

  • > we now know that every biological bio-chemical machine wreaks of design which cannot be explained in a step-wise Darwinian process as they are invariable irreducibly complex devices

    This is absolute rubbish. Lets see you name such a biological process.

    And while you’re at it, try using a spellchecker.

  • Graham Fox wrote:

    inteligent design which is not creationism in any shape or form

    ID (“Intelligent Design”) is creationism renamed in an attempt to skirt around legal rulings on creationism in schools in the USA.

  • To clarify, I wasn’t expressing an opinion but presenting a statement, as concisely as I could. The Wedge document and discussions on-line at the time this was “leaked” are where mot of this comes from for me. ID presents old arguments in new clothes, avoiding the word ‘creationism’ and references ‘G-d’ to work around the legal rulings in an effort to continue trying to place creationism in schools. (In the USA; I have no idea what the legal rulings here are.)

  • I’ve just read some tweets that brought your article back to mind:

    AdamRutherford Adam Rutherford
    The hideous anti-science rhetoric of the new Disney Tinkerbell film is only just mitigated by F1 daughter’s joy @ being in the cinema. Sigh.

    AdamRutherford Adam Rutherford
    “you don’t gave to understand, you just have to believe”: Tinkerbell, said on steps of NHM. Tragic to expose children to this. Sigh.

    AdamRutherford Adam Rutherford
    .@quizeye Santa is fine, they grow out of that. Tinkerbell’s message is an instruction to be stupid.

  • When I was four, there was a fairy down a hole at the bottom of the garden.

    But I did not for one moment believe it was true, even though my favorite book was Peter Pan.

  • BTW, the comments from “radiolog tech,” Ermina Herron” and “Gala Creitz” are spam.

    Spammers nowadays get past your system by actually posting their comments. They are not bots.

  • Not to mention all the real science in the movie series, like surface area and light refraction, frost and plants, and simple motor construction. Heaven also forbid our daughters receive the message that girls can solve problems in creative collaborative ways with real tools and building materials. Why, those could all lead to further exploration and *gasp* EXPERIMENTS. Whatever shall we do. /sarcasm