Absent Mothers in Online Media

The question that appears to be discussed most online is why mothers are absent, and in particular why they are absent in the output of the Disney corporation (see, for example, Mommy Naya 2009, Mullins 2014, Amidi 2014, Blevins 2015, Morris n. d.). A very popular theory, which resurfaced again in online media following the publication of an interview with Disney producer Don Hahn (Radloff 2014), is that the lack of mothers is due to Walt Disney’s supposed guilt for accidentally killing his own mother. Other commentators point to socio-economic factors in the US, such as that more women have been able to divorce their husbands and take the children with them after World War II (Danae Cassandra, qtd in Wilson 2010).1 Yet others suggest that mothers are removed so that fathers and children can form a closer bond (Boxer 2014, Wilson 2010).

Another explanation is offered in Emily Heller’s cartoon If Disney Princesses Had Mothers, in which she shows how the stories of, for example, Ariel, Jasmine, and Belle would end before they started, if the mothers were present to calm down overreacting fathers and give sound relationship advice (2015). Heller suggests that the dead mother is simply a plot device that creates a conflict which needs to be resolved. Or, as Hahn also notes in his interview, she is ‘a story shorthand’ (Radloff 2014). The quickest way to make a character grow up is to kill his or her parents, he claims.2

These different attempts at answering the question why can be boiled down to four different causes for the use of the dead/absent mother- trope: the biography of the author; period-specific historical and/or socio-cultural conditions; the power and influence of a mother, which will hinder the narrative; and the lack of mothers in fairy tales, which form the basis of many animated films. Generally, these explanations tend to present the dead/absent mother-trope as an isolated phenomenon. Just as some commentators claim that dead mothers only occur in Disney films, ignoring the fact that the trope is also used in films by, for example, sony, DreamWorks, and Twentieth Century Fox, others appear to assume that the trope is unique to the Us, or the post-war period, or children’s literature, or fairy tales. However, as is evident from the work of the contributors to this volume, the dead/absent mother-trope is not an isolated phenomenon, but a recurring feature through the centuries.

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