There’s no question that everyone loves a good family-oriented animated film. That’s why I agreed to watch a Disney film with my four year old brother last night. I asked him to choose between Cars, Toy Story, and Finding Nemo. He excitedly shrieked “NEMO!!” into my eardrum. Who could blame him? I fricking love Nemo too. In case you’ve been living under a rock and hate happiness, Finding Nemo is a tale of a father’s unending love and his dedication towards finding his only son. Although the story is set underwater and involves an array of deep sea marine life, the Disney-created fantasy world closely mirrors our own. The story follows the tale of a clownfish and his only son. In a flashback at the beginning of the movie, Marlin’s wife is seen guarding her precious hatchlings from an impending predator and ends up paying the ultimate price–her life. Marlin stumbles upon the gruesome discovery and realizes all his unborn children are killed–except one. The distressed father names him Nemo and rears him up himself. As I glanced over at my little brother and saw his face gleaming with joy, I instantly remembered Colin Dickey’s short essay on “The Sex Lives of Sea Creatures”. I felt an odd sense of uneasiness as I saw how much my little brother reveled in the cartoon knowing that this movie antagonized the brutal truth. This movie is a first-hand account of how the film industry manipulates and disregards the laws of nature in favor of reinforcing human heterosexual norms.
Clownfish are a gender fluid species. Simply put, all clownfish are born male and slowly transform to female whenever necessary. Male clownfish, not the female, guard their eggs and have also been known to eat their disabled young. Not only does this mean that Marlin definitely would have gone full Cronus and ate Nemo, but this also means that Marlin, not his wife should have perished. Instead, Disney opted to play up the stereotypical “mother’s love” ploy and attribute a nurturing and protective spirit to Marlin’s wife. In addition, Dickey states that “Marlin, being the largest remaining male clownﬁsh, would have done what any good father would have done: he would’ve changed his sex, becoming the dominant female… That would leave Nemo, formerly Marlin’s son, as the remaining male in the anemone, and once he was ﬁnally found, he’d be ready to assume the role of the new mate, becoming his former dad’s new husband”.
Disney’s goal of reinforcing hetero-normative behavior onto other non-human organisms doesn’t stop there…Halberstam’s reflection in “Animating Revolt and Revolting Animation” delves deeper into more examples of flawed family films. Halberstam offers up a review of March of the Penguins, and proceeds to list off a long list of egregious film errors. Halberstam states that the movie “trains its attention on only a fraction of the story of penguin communities because its gaze remains so obstinately trained upon the comforting spectacle of “the couple”, “the family unit”, “love”, “loss”, and heterosexual reproduction…the focus on heterosexual reproduction is misleading and mistaken and ultimately it blots out a far more compelling story about cooperation, collectivity and non-heterosexual nonreproductive behaviors”. Halberstam draws upon the fact that penguins are only monogamous for a year after mating and often abandon their youth after a successful first year of life.
These specific examples of forced heterosexuality onto nature demands an answer to why we feel a deep-seated desire to hold other organisms to our own societal barriers and constructs? What may be normal for us, is not normal nor applicable to other organisms. No matter how much we try to anthropomorphize other non-human organisms and sway ourselves into believing that these creatures play by our own rules, we will only be deluding ourselves. Non human organism are not anything like us when it comes to sex. Sure they communicate, usually have family units, and display an awareness of self, but these are just the basic outlines for complex life. There are only a handful of monogamous, strictly heterosexual species in nature. We are among the last of a dying breed. Sex is a normal part of life, yet we try to suppress our urges, guilt ourselves into abstinence, and abstain from an excess of sexual encounters. Monogamy is deemed desirable in our society, whereas sexual fluidity and openness is taboo. We shame others for embracing their sexual identities because we are insecure and afraid of unnatural obscenities. Although we love to display humans in the media as strictly heterosexual, we know this is not the standard for everyone. Bisexuality, pan-sexuality, queer, gay, transgender, and straight orientations are fluid in nature–there isn’t a ruling standard. We refuse to believe that these concepts are natural. Instead we believe that these obscure sexualities are anything but natural–in fact, they’re unnatural. Ironically, nature itself doesn’t agree with us and our definition of “natural”. The desire to hold other organisms to our own flawed logic allows us to prove ourselves right and continue to perpetuate a slew of unnatural social constructs designed to limit ourselves from transgressing boundaries we can’t yet comprehend nor understand.
My little brother would never have known that somewhere in the ocean two male clownfishes were mating…and I’m sure my parents would not appreciate it if I tried to explain the real truth to him. Kids usually receive a strict regimen to help reinforce hetero-normative and heterosexual behaviors from their own families. Any information that they take in while growing up helps shape their sexual identity. This is the reasoning why TV shows, children’s films, and media tend to portray specific heterosexual behaviors and values. These instilled societal values display our own hopes and desires for the rising generation. We don’t give children a choice to choose their own sexual identity, instead we stuff them full of hetero-sexual ideals and then allow them to “decide” when they’re adults. But it’s not really much of a decision when you’ll be cast out for fulfilling anything substandard toward the ideal normal heterosexual behaviors. It’s easy to see that we’re shifting towards a new era and transforming our initial ideas towards sex and normalcy. But until we can learn to accept the fact that we need to evolve alongside nature, I think I’ll decide which movie we will watch next time…