Let Her Go 

Interpretations can be justified

On Feb. 17, a Mormon grandmother went viral—and became something of a laughingstock—when she said something a lot of other people had already said. The problem, it seemed, is that she had the audacity to say that thing from a certain point of view.

This particular tempest swirled around Kathryn Skaggs, who maintains a blog called A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman. The offending post focused on the now-Oscar-winning Disney film Frozen, and Skaggs wasted no time throwing her thesis down on the table in the very first sentence: “The gay agenda to normalize homosexuality is woven into Disney’s Frozen not just as an underlying message—it is the movie.”

Skaggs wrote out of a deep concern that the children—now we’re all imagining it in Helen Lovejoy’s voice from The Simpsons—were being indoctrinated into accepting homosexuality as OK, and that parents weren’t even aware of it. She lays out a detailed list of plot points that suggest Frozen’s Elsa—the princess whose magical powers bring perpetual winter to the kingdom—is a metaphorical representation of gay youth having to hide who they are. And it all comes to a boil in a word-by-word analysis of the movie’s Oscar-winning song “Let It Go” as a coming-out anthem, complete with italics to emphasize the gayest of the gay lyrics.

Now, the Internet being the Internet, people say a trillion provocative things a day—sometimes to goose a reaction, sometimes out of sheer stupidity, very occasionally as a smart counter-punch to the conventional wisdom. The vast majority of those provocative comments disappear instantly. But those that end up linked from the Huffington Post and a wide variety of cinema-oriented websites? Well, they accumulate response.

Not surprisingly, the general tenor of that response to Skaggs’ thesis consisted of multiple dismissive variations on “lol whut.” My colleague at The Salt Lake Tribune, Sean P. Means, wrote of Skaggs’ post, “trying to stretch the storyline of Frozen to cover a so-called ‘gay agenda’ is patently ridiculous.” The comments on Skaggs’ post ranged from the expected profane outbursts—a comments section without profane outbursts is hardly a comments section at this point—to disappointed self-proclaimed Mormons arguing that Skaggs was doing the film and her faith a disservice. Then, once news broke that Skaggs had an out lesbian daughter, the mockery seemed to write itself. Maybe she was seeing everywhere what she didn’t want to admit seeing in her own family, huh, right?

Except here’s the thing: Skaggs was far from the only person who noted that Frozen might be more than slightly sympathetic to the Lavender Nation. Multiple writers—from mainstream entertainment websites like Badass Digest and Slant, to individual blogs—similarly spotted a possible reading of Frozen as a gay allegory, most of them doing so long before Skaggs ever published her opinion. Skaggs linked to many of those pieces in a response to the outrage over her original post. And for what it’s worth, I happen to agree with all of them: It’s absolutely possible to see the estranged relationships and Elsa’s rebellion against hiding her true nature as a coming-out story. It’s certainly far less of an interpretive stretch than the “Andy’s mom in Toy Story is Jessie’s grown-up owner” theory that a Pixar enthusiast put forth recently, yet nobody burst blood vessels shame-linking to that interpretation.

So what happened to make Skaggs such a target? Obviously the subject matter was going to push buttons, but certainly she made things worse with the absolutist terms in which she framed her argument: “It is the movie.” Skaggs looked at the possible interpretation of Elsa’s character not as an intriguing bit of subtext, but as a dangerous and deliberate piece of liberal-media propaganda. She didn’t merely describe what she saw; she described the thing she saw as a threat.

That would have been a fair enough reaction: “Yeah, maybe Elsa’s gay, but so what? And good for her!” But liberals ridiculed Skaggs’ interpretation itself, dismissing it as delusional and paranoid when in fact it was—leaving aside the alarmism—a perfectly reasonable close textual reading. There was a flat refusal to acknowledge that a conservative Mormon grandmother could be right about the same thing plenty of other writers were also seeing—because that’s what confirmation bias does. She was a conservative Mormon grandmother, so clearly whatever she had to say that included the word “gay” could be ignored. And good Mormons who loved Frozen perhaps couldn’t feel comfortable thinking that they enjoyed a movie with a message potentially sympathetic to gay rights, so they were similarly invested in thinking Skaggs was way off base.

We live in an age of discourse with blinders on. Once we’ve established “our team,” it becomes virtually impossible to admit that the other team could be right about anything, because who knows what kind of anarchy that could lead to. Instead, we lock ourselves into a world in which we’ve decided that only those who agree with us about everything have anything to teach us. Maybe Skaggs is a reactionary who’s scared to death of seeing gay relationships normalized; she also happens to be completely right about a way to interpret Frozen that offers an empowering message to kids who feel unheard and unloved, including gay kids.

Those two things can both be true, and the more we recognize it, the more likely it is we can all be a little more well behaved.

Twitter: @ScottRenshaw

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