If you haven’t already heard the commotion, Disneyland’s Snow White ride has stirred up “cancel culture” controversy and a flood of side-splitting memes. What’s everyone so upset about? Apparently when Prince Charming from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) kissed Snow White to wake her from her enchanted sleep, he did so without her consent. Some critics say that could encourage date rape.
I could probably write a short book detailing the many problems with such thinking.
Instead, let’s start with what critics have right: It’s essential that a woman give a man consent to touch or kiss her.
Can we all just agree that sexual assault is a prolific issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly—in a world where one in four girls, and one in two women is sexually assaulted during her lifetime? Thank you and amen.
Believe it or not, I won’t argue about whether the prince should have kissed Snow White without consent in this scenario. (Personally, if I were stuck in an enchanted sleep, I’d definitely go for the un-consented kiss rather than being stuck in a glass box until I rot.) But in this debate, it’s particularly odd that Disneyland’s critics have missed one key fact: Snow White did give the prince consent to kiss her.
Clear away the fog of chronological snobbery
If we look at dated films and books through a modern lens, we can become overly confused with ethical problems that aren’t actually there. When the story fails to fulfill our current cultural moral standards, we assume the story is immoral and cry for its “cancelation.” This feeds what C. S. Lewis coined “chronological snobbery,” the idea that past things are intrinsically inferior to present things.
In this film, our modern mirror clouds us from beholding the true nature of the relationship between Prince Charming and Snow White at the story’s beginning.
In Walt Disney’s Snow White film, the future lovers first meet when Snow White sings into a well. At first, she is startled by the prince’s sudden appearance, and she runs into the castle. After overcoming her shock and embarrassment over her tattered dress, Snow White walks onto the balcony. There she flutters her lashes as the prince serenades her from below. In the prince’s song, he proclaims that Snow White is his “one love.” Then a dove lands on her hand, and she pecks a kiss to its beak. That same dove then flies to the prince, and relays the kiss to him.
During that era of Disney, such brief, romantic interactions were sufficient not only to kiss, but to fall in love. If Snow White had not been under the thumb of her evil stepmother, she could have married the prince right then and there.
It’s these stereotypical moments of love-at-first-sight that future Disney films critique, such as when Frozen’s heroine Elsa tells her sister Anna that she couldn’t marry a man she’d just met. This was a fair criticism, and one that appropriately described modern sensibilities without cancelling the past.
In Disney’s fairy-tale film language, Snow White consented
The prince’s song proclaiming his love, and Snow White’s unspoken acceptance, is sufficient consent for his kiss at the end of the movie.
Because in 1937, people would have understood that this interaction implied the prince and Snow White were in love and in a relationship. At that time, it was common for movies to employ the same storytelling devices used in fairy tales—flat characters and quick plots. Storytellers used these to spin tales with morals, not to draw you into a deep knowledge of characters or worlds as we do today.
If you add the dove serving to relay Snow White’s kiss to Prince Charming, we see her giving him more than just consent, but a kiss of sorts. This sets the foundation for his consensual kiss at the movie’s end. We can safely refer to this kiss as consensual, because a man no longer needs to ask permission from his fiancée or girlfriend to kiss her every time. She grants him permission based on their existing romantic relationship—even if she happens to be asleep (enchanted or otherwise).
Respect a story’s intentions before you try to ‘cancel’ it
God desires his people to read Scripture while keeping the original author and audience in mind. That way, we can understand the true meaning of the text.
Errors of poor hermeneutics have led previous Christians to use Scripture for defending popular errors in their contemporary ages, such as slavery. This led to slavery’s growth in the west as well as defamations of the Bible and God himself.
Similarly, we must watch old films and read classic literature with respect to their original authors and audience. To do this, we may need to do some extra research and critical thinking. Yet when our society becomes obsessed with “cancelling” anything they deem offensive, we should cling all the more to critical thinking, logic, and objective moral truth.