Sunday, October 2, 2011


I realize it's been awhile since we discussed Welling's Ecoporn text, but there was something that really struck me about our childhood development as ecoporn consumers. Before reading this piece, I never would've considered the relations between Disney movies like "The Lion King" or "The Little Mermaid" and ecopornography, but now there seems to be a definite correlation. In the same way that pornography warps our perception of the relationship betweens humans and sexuality, Disney movies warp children's mind and create a false and overly-friendly view of human-animal relationships. They're "made up of highly idealized, anthropomorphized views of landscapes and nonhuman animals" (Welling, 57). The movies, by giving animals voices and personalities, familiarize kids with animal-humans, a perverted perception that is never found in nature.

I would consider any film involving talking animals to be considered ecoporn for the obvious reason that animals can't communicate, especially in terms of human communication. And if children grow up seeing animals, which are turned into tropes of good and evil, smart and dumb, and cute and ugly by just their appearance, talk with words they understand how will this affect their view of nature as the children grow up?

The Lion King in particular comes to mind as it uses all of the tropes I just stated. Children watching this get a highly unrealistic view of nature as a place where, just like in the human world, good trumps evil and good morals thrive. This is humans injecting trying to teach kids lessons by using anthropomorphized animals at nature's expense. There are no morals in the animal kingdom. Monkey don't ritualize baby lions atop altar rocks. And certainly animals don;t consider the implications of their actions when trying to survive. Disney goes beyond even it's own movies and creates theme parks of childecopornography. Rides that send you through the jungle and connect nature with fun, doing the real essence and dichotomy of nature a serious injustice. "Central Florida should be revisualized as The Lion King, complete with a fourteen-story concrete Tree of Life" (62). The "revisualization" creates the perception that this concrete tree is actually nature, and that children can adventure on it and even have fun without any consequences, where in the real world they'd be quickly turned into prey. Can you see the problem?

Other Disney films like The Little Mermaid and The Jungle Book go beyond The Lion King in warping animal-human perspectives by including humans into the films. This creates a false reality where one can live with wolves and be chums with a bear, cute and enjoyable in the way Disney portrays this lifestyle but utterly unrealistic and detrimental to children's views of nature. Can't the real essence of nature be preserved? Can't children be taught to appreciate nature and animals for what they are without Disney's anthropomorphized characters and lessons? If they can't we will all grow up seeing seeing nature as this fun, fluffy thing tailored to human relationships, human morals, and human problems. Children need to realize the true animal dichotomy, the fissure between humans and nature, and in a sense fear nature as it deserves or at least recognize the differences. We can't continue to consume Disney childecopornography and relate nature in terms of ourselves.


  1. I can grasp the point you're making, but I don't entirely agree with your notion that, for instance, Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park threatens to disable people's concept of the predator. If anything, with its on-staff wildlife professionals within the two nature preserves maintained by Disney (one within Animal Kingdom itself and a second operating outside Orlando), I would say guests are afforded plenty of educational opportunities to learn how things really are, even though Disney's business is fantasy.

    As for Disney films such as The Lion King: While it may fit Welling's idea of ecoporn, the purpose of these films are not to document, but to tell a fictional story. They are allegories told with nature and wildlife, conveying human lessons and morals, but this is nothing new. Aesop's fables were doing the same thing in Ancient Greece. People are amused because they know these characters AREN'T human; at the same time, they are able to relate emotionally because characters like Simba reflect human traits (sorrow, guilt, irresponsibility) rather than directly take on traits. Often these stories could be told with human characters (not always; for example, Bambi wouldn't work) but the primary Disney audience is children, who usually require an extra layer of interest. Let's face it; if you sit a seven-year-old down to watch a drama/comedy about a man searching for his lost son, the kid would quickly get bored. But set the same story in the ocean with lots of colorful fish performing antics (that are, due to Pixar's devotion to research, high accurate)? The kid will be riveted, and so will his parents.

    I can see why people worry about this - and they do, constantly. Researchers sued Disney studios for defamation of character because of their depiction of hyenas in The Lion King. I think people take umbrage at how Disney portrays nature or history because of their global range of influence. I really doubt, however, that Disney has the power or the intent to override education. The company credo is simply to entertain families with good stories and characters people can become fond of, and all of Disney's success trickles out of that. So far, it hasn't stopped working.

  2. When I first read the Ecoporn article, the one problem I had with it was that some movies which would definitely 'count' as ecoporn- and yes, I think that all of the aforementioned Disney movies fit into that category- could also be said to instill nature-positive feelings in its audiences. And isn't it a good thing to show kids images of and stories about humans living in harmony with nature and respecting animals, even if it's in a super unrealistic manner?

    But we can't forget that Disney is evil. It's a megacorporation that has no problem exploiting others: Disney is the one of the biggest partners of one of the biggest porn companies in the US, Disney is notorious for outsourcing to sweatshops all over the world, Disney doesn't have a very good track record with racism, with homophobia, with ANYTHING related to women. Disney wants (and gets) money more than anything, and especially more than morals. If ecoporn is what sells- and according to Welling it certainly is- then DUH Disney has their hands in it! Because Disney would have its huge four-fingered gloved mouse-hands in anything that makes money, whether it's a heartwarming story about a family of lions or a huge piece of concrete in the shape of a tree.

  3. The guests do in fact learn a lot about nature, and I'm not trying to propose that no educational good can come from Disney's projections of nature, just that the way they are projecting nature (huge concrete trees, fake wildlife scenes (think the Rainforest Cafe)) skews our perception of the dynamic within nature (humans vs nature, prey vs predator, etc) and doesn't quite do the true value of nature justice. How can you "preserve" nature (on theses nature preserves) without removing the real qualities it possesses? How can one see animals through a fence or a moving buggy and be expected to understand how nature really works? They can't, and nature preserves like Disney's remove all predator/prey dynamics, because they create an environment in which humans can interact with nature in a way that humans were never meant to interact with nature. In the real african jungles, the lone human would be coveted as prey, while in preserves humans are but the learned and safe viewer. The overarching point here is that you can't preserve nature (especially in the way that Disney does it) without first perverting it. And perverting nature doesn't do it justice.

    Notice that I'm not proposing any alternatives, because I don't know of any. I just don't think this projection of nature is fair to the nature dichotomy.

    I understand what you're saying about encouraging children's attention through anthropomorphized animal characters, but my point is that Disney's implementation of nature at the same time exploits it by creating an unreal world with unreal human-animal characters. Why must we sacrifice nature's values for the entertainment of children? Is there another, better way to do this? I'm not sure. And yes the Lion King hyenas also came to mind.

    I'm not quite sure I agree that portrayals of human-nature harmony is a good thing if the harmony is non-realistic, for the fact that it's not real and thus perverts real nature. Because humans don't live in harmony with nature, not anymore at least? Maybe Disney should come out with a realistic depiction of the way humans "harmonize" with nature these days, a film where the protagonist tree-cutters and pipe-layers destroy ecosystems for human gain yet save a few lucky members of each species for Disney's own grand nature preserves! Maybe this would be a more beneficial educational experience for children. I just don't like the idea of unrealistic projections in terms of nature. Nature doesn't need to be taught anthropomorphized; it needs to be taught as is, naturally.

    I really appreciate both of your thought-provoking comments. I think you two are more learned on the issue than I am.


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