In the “DisHollywood” show at La Luz de Jesus Gallery, artist, José Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros presents a variety of Disney-centric themes that push the envelope and push Mickey Mouse’s oversized buttons. Some of his ideas are a continuation of explorations seen in his past work. We all know Disney and most of us grew up blindly consuming their brand of storytelling. Disney as a brand and company tends to be very sanitized. In addition, they are quite secretive and guarded. Walt really didn’t like certain groups of people. The current key holders of the kingdom are very protective of the fact that he was a flawed human and have literally placed him on a reverential pedestal. The Disney brand has been bound and determined to maintain an idealized image standard and expect a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” type of policy mentality when it comes to questionable events that have occurred in the company’s storied past. They play it super safe and attempt to micromanage everything from behind the castle walls. I love that this show proposes that even “good” Disney characters probably have some differences, secrets or demons that they face in their off hours out of fear of what frozen Uncle Walt might think.
Cartoon characters, particularly Disney’s, are celebrities in their own right. I should know because I worked as a costume character performer at the parks on both coasts. Sometimes, the person in the male character costume is a woman. And, sometimes the female characters are portrayed by men- I portrayed the Queen of Hearts from “Alice in Wonderland” on my last day. I think a lot of parents may not realize this, or if they do, they choose not to over-think the situation. They definitely don’t share what they’ve figured out to their kids.
The general public holds celebrities, across the board, to a higher standard as assumed role models for young people. There is also the expectation that the public persona should match the private persona. Most times, they are quite different. That shatters our micro-view of them, which is purely based on p.r. spin. More than ever celebrities are proudly sharing their private lives on their terms. “That's So Raven” star, Raven-Symonè just came out. Some people have not responded positively to this news.
All this ties back to the concept José has continued to examine- Disney characters engaging in same sex lip locks. With gay marriage being a hot topic in the press, the same sex kiss paintings that he’s created have taken on a much bigger context. Same sex couples are no longer as taboo and shocking, yet some people can’t accept the simple act of kissing.
Seeing the G-Rated fairy tale romance re-imagined in this way is a very timely commentary on our society’s changing perspective on what living “happily ever after” can mean. Not only women are looking for their Prince Charming. Not only men are hoping to find the owner of the lost glass slipper. At this rate though, he will soon run out of recognizable characters to do this with. Hence, Pop Grandma Madonna has been brought into the mix referencing her MTV Awards Britney Spears tonsil hockey display.
In one painting, José has painted Peter Pan and Pinocchio kissing. For me, the gay kiss is over-shadowed by the unsettling realization that the characters are both supposed to be children’s age. Peter is probably pre-teen. Now, as we all know, kids do kiss each other. It’s often impulsive and unexpected. I’m on the fence about this one, because it can be argued that Peter is kissing Pinocchio while he is still a marionette toy vs. a real boy. And, kids do kiss their toys sometimes.
Now, Peter Pan never wanted to grow up and just wanted to magically fly around free as a bird on his island without parents or Captain Hook holding him back. He hung out with The Lost Boys who were like-minded free spirits. Pinocchio, on the other hand, desperately wanted to be human and cut the literal strings that he felt were holding him back. After a very scary exposure to adult vices on Pleasure Island and getting swallowed by a whale, he eventually does transcend his circumstances and transforms into a boy thanks to magic.
In both cases, the characters’ story lines are driven by the steadfast determination to live their lives on their own terms. I mean, look at their outfits- they had some interesting fashion tastes. So, in a way, the kiss between them can be viewed as just another way for them to be true to themselves as individuals. Was this a “no strings attached” fling where Peter was free to “take flight” whenever? I won’t make a wood joke because I do have some restraint. By the way, in Florida, the Peter Pan I worked with when I was Captain Hook was a drag queen in his off hours. A lot of things at Disney aren’t always what they seem.
Themes of escape through drugs, battery, shoe therapy, vanity at any cost, and nightmares intertwining with dreams are also explored. But, in the moment this show is being seen, where a lot more people are coming out, especially young people, it is important to understand there will be growing pains of acceptance. If art is to imitate life, hopefully sooner than later respectful acceptance be the norm for all minority groups in America’s Melting Pot.
José Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros’ The “DisHollywood” show runs through September 1, 2013 at La Luz de Jesus Gallery.