Happily (n)ever after: the cruel optimism of Disney’s romantic ideal

Julie C. Garlen, Jennifer Sandlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Drawing on Ahmed’s articulation of the performativity of affect, we analyze how Disney love, as it is constructed in Disney Princess films, acts pedagogically as a “happy object” that orients the happiness of women toward the acquisition of love. We assert that the happiness we derive from loving Disney is a form of what Berlant calls “cruel optimism,” in which we become attached to fantasies of happiness and fulfillment that are unsustainable and detrimental. The cruel optimism we learn from Disney Princess films manifests as an incitement to pursue an impossible ideal of romantic love, or what Heise calls a bridal fiction, that reinforces the supremacy of a white heteropatriarchal family ideal and keeps us attached to “compromised conditions of possibility” that limit female agency and impede social progress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalFeminist Media Studies
StateAccepted/In press - Jun 21 2017


  • affect
  • cultural studies
  • Disney
  • love
  • princess culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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