It’s not a DVD, it’s a Disney DVD! I’ve always found Disney’s brand entrenchment to be almost too bizarre for words. It’s like they’re operating out of a Machiavellian psychology handbook that was printed 150 years ago: as if redundancy alone can hypnotize people into believing in your corporation’s self image.

For a company that owns the golden goose of the American cultural imagination—our beloved imagery that honors and inculcates compulsory heterosexuality, fear of strong mothers, etc.—Disney seems awfully insecure. One might think that having the power to change our copyright laws at their core would assuage their fears, but even that proves to be insufficiently calming. In many ways, Disney reminds me of the pornographic industry: if smut peddlers were half as rich as they claim to be, they wouldn’t have a quarter of the time to brag about how rich they are and how much they are protecting the free-speech of the rest of us.

Disney is similar with all the phony threats they make about taking their own products off the market, like a spoiled child taking his ball and running home. Who does that? “No, we’re not going to sell you Sleeping Beauty right now, we don’t like to make money all of the time, only some of the time! We’re that rich!”

After popping in Bridge to Terabithia, one is greeted by another Disney Innovation: “Disney Fast Play.”

What is it? In reality, it’s a way for you to let your kids use the DVD player without letting them ever touch the remote control with their greasy mitts. In the mind of Disney, it’s the best thing since the last thing since sliced bread: a way for you to get right on with the movie, instead of having to use a menu to disable the advertisements.

That, of course, happens after they spend 30 seconds telling you how cool and special Disney Fast Play is with a masculine voice just brimming with sincerity and gravitas. If you don’t touch the remote during this period, all of the advertisements for other Disney DVDs will then start up automatically (just like on every other non Disney DVD lacking Disney Fast Play) so your youngsters can watch them every single day and grow up to be loyal consumers who brag about watching the Super Bowl “for the commercials.”

Bridge to Terabithia: I’m not sure if it was ever a children’s story. For an enduring book that has been taught in countless classrooms, it has always lacked a target demographic. Too sad and tragic for kids, too fanciful for many young teens preferring their secreted copies of Go Ask Alice, it’s really always been for adults and our own nostalgia: something we foist on kids for their own good, even though the benefit is entirely ours. Then they get to repeat the same process. Katherine Paterson’s Terabithia will outlast the cockroach because of that.

In order to sell it as a movie though, Disney had to misrepresent it as some sort of Lord of the Rings retread, creating a trailer that blended every special effects shot (none that impressive) in the film into an altogether different product.

It’s not the only thing different though.

In the magical world of Disney, having Leslie look like she’s about to strip for a Suicide Girls’ shoot is preferable to having her look like, well, a boy.

Some of her daily costumes for school would make twenty-something club kids jealous.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with a girl of that age dressing like that, nor is there any fault in AnnaSophia Robb’s performance. But it’s adults who are crafting the character and her image in a world where other adults have exploited the iconography of that image in very misogynist ways. I find that irresponsible. It’s also sexist:

There are a variety of ways to show someone as an inescapable outsider. For Disney, dressing her up in curiously-pristine “punky” clothes (that just happen to be out of some dirty-old-man fantasy) somehow seems like a safer bet than allowing some sort of gender amorphism.

Yes, I know, shame on Disney, buncha conservative creeps.

Well, it’s not just them. Liberals, fibbing that some sort of sexual revolution has transpired, swear up and down that celebrated rock stars and movie vixens are the definition of “androgynous,” not the perpetually ugly and sexless “Pat” of Saturday Night Live skits.

Everyone has somehow agreed that David Bowie’s eyeliner changed the world and that Angelina Jolie is somehow butch: Play a character that is wacky enough, or be wacky enough in real life, and all the dudes out there automatically stopped downloading her nudie clips on Mr. because she’s somehow macho now. As the agreed upon story goes, her masculinity repels all the straight-laced plebian men out there—guys who don’t have a clue about the magical world of gender transcendence—as their heterosexuality just can’t stomach her after that. Right. Hey, whatever Judith Halberstam says.

These are the same people, in a sense, who kept The Gendercator (a story about a lesbian who wakes up in a surgical future where she has to pick being a straight man or a straight woman) out of theaters for being “transphobic.”

A seven year old boy threatens to cut off his penis? Offer to have a doctor do it for him, allow the child to live as a her, and celebrate her experience on CNN. A new world—full of hope and caring—we live in, is it not?

OTOH, it’s better to have a pop-tart Leslie Burke in Bridge to Terabithia than one who resembles a tomboy in more ways than her tree climbing ability.

Finally, conservatives and libertines can agree on something.

The one thing I loved, adored, about the movie was the running. Not the early race where Leslie wipes the floor with the entire class of boys (and I weep for her feet in those Chuck Taylors, canvas high tops are not exactly the first choice of sprinters), nor the surreal dash towards the end of the film as they fly across their world of Terabithia.

Instead, I enjoyed the more mundane kind of running: Jess and Leslie just getting from Point A to Point B (not that either point mattered) the way that kids have to, lacking more ferocious sorts of transportation. There’s a joy in it, one you don’t see replicated too often among adults.

That probably holds especially true for heterosexuals. If there’s one thing that men do, it’s fuck up women’s workout routines. Not that having a “workout routine” is the healthiest way to go through life—move, or not, because you want to!—but it’s the menfolk out there who use “cardio” as a word for everything that’s not bench pressing and “protein” for anything that’s not beer.

When they “tag along” on girlfriend’s workout, it’s always disastrous, especially if they happen upon other males (sometimes me) along the way. All of a sudden, women find themselves trailing behind their boyfriend or husband in 400 meter dashes (so much for that aerobic cardio work) just so boytoy can have a chance at alpha status. The idea: be the fastest person on the track for one or two laps and then go home happy, not more fit.

Once, I saw a man, failing at that, collect his “partner” and retire with her back to their tinted SUV parked behind the school. They came out after about fifteen minutes and returned to the track just as I was leaving, his manhood fully intact.

You get to see a lot of things there. It makes for some of the best people watching in town: if only because little league is the only thing that gets white people off of their own damn lawns in the summer. I don’t get to see those people, mind you, they’re a pitch over on one of the diamonds. Mostly, I get to watch how they treat their castoffs.

All the kids that daddy isn’t beating up umpires over.

They’re the ones who are left to wander about on their own: future Leslies and Jesses. Every so often they get screamed at, hollered at from afar, but between such episodes of—I guess you could call it “parenting”—they get to stand tall and pronounce themselves queens of the port-a-pit or bury each other like pirates in the shallow beaches of the long-jump run.

Watching Bridge to Terabithia, I was reminded of two older kids (about the age of Leslie and Jess) that I saw walking the track not long ago as a sibling’s baseball game lingered on into the evening. They weren’t running, but just ambling about: our society’s value system weighs on us all so heavily that I was tempted to say they were “killing time,” as if their conversation was actually less important than the baseball game they were forced to wait on.

The girl was a hand and a half taller than the boy. I often wonder about how many women relish, looking back, those few short seasons when they tower over their male peers. Not all females get to experience that, of course, but for those who do, I’d imagine it’s both nerve wracking and a bit glorious.

All the books for adolescents printed (whether by well meaning liberals or conservatives like Dr. James Dobson; I myself was saddled with the latter) probably describe that nervousness as a state of being “awkward.” From memory, I think they defined awkward thusly: pre-teen girls are clumsy flamingos constantly in danger of toppling over in the wind.

Of course, all of that Disney (and Harlequin) imagery of tiny women fitting into the massive arms of men (Tinkerbelle being the logical conclusion of that fantasy), being swept up and carried over thresholds, I’d imagine that being too large to imagine oneself performing the female-role in such theatrics is an awkward place to inhabit. To say the very-fucking-least.

I don’t want to presume to think that the two kids walking together were a couple. But I’d imagine that for heterosexual women, memories of that “awkward” time are especially conflicting.

I’m always amazed in online personal ads how often straight women set minimum heights for prospective partners, whether it’s done subtly in number-ranges off to the side or overtly in their introduction, with a “be over five-eight or else!” It’s not even exceptionally tall women who do this. One would think that a woman who is five-one (or even five-seven!) could reliably meet men larger than her without the risk of looking like a jerk. White people, after all, seldom request to date only other whites: we are able to accomplish that goal without going to any trouble or admitting to a fetish.

White people as a class might play it safe in personal ads but safety isn’t sexy when it comes to women as a class. Indeed, I might think that a woman is being an ass for requesting a taller man (especially when she claims to be a progressive of any sort) but I’m also reminded that I certainly meet and exceed her requirement. Statistically speaking, most men are thusly reminded: even the ones who would think it only natural that a woman would prefer a larger partner and wouldn’t think less of her for being blunt about that desire.

“Be over five-eight or else!” might be a jerk-faced thing to say, but ultimately, it’s sexy. And it’s for men’s benefit, even though men’s rights activists might cite that as a form of discrimination.

Indeed, the bully of Bridge to Terabithia is a seventh grade girl, Janice Avery. She towers over the other students and is transformed into a forest troll in the imaginations of Jess and Leslie. While she is redeemed by the end of the story as a gentle soul, she is never beautiful: her redemption is tied up in her being rejected by a popular boy. She’s still a troll, a giant monster, even if one friendly to the protagonist.

In patriarchal sexuality, risk is its own reward as danger is the principal ingredient in what women are expected to find erotic. Likewise, males are expected to get a sexual charge out of having the potential to do wrong: even those of us who behave ourselves find it advantageous to be around women who remind us of that power, and so “petite” women have come to symbolize all that is beautiful. Of course, one must point out that some men run the other direction, dominatrix fetishes and what have you, but male power (and the money that undergirds it) reminds us that such dalliances are merely games.

While Bridge to Terabithia might have a male protagonist and a twist that might sour female readers, the story is probably more beloved by women than men. Women, after all, are the ones who have been teaching the book to two generations of students.

Beyond women just being more literate than men in general, one could surmise that, especially for straight women, Terabithia presents an escape from the world of Tinkerbelles in outstretched palms, a place where a Leslie can run stride for stride with her Jess.


And that’s not bad in a Disney movie.