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Ice Princess: Rosalyn Sumners or Larry Summers?

March 26th, 2005 · No Comments

Has anyone seen Disney’s new film Ice Princess?

My kids have not yet seen a movie in the theater. Ice Princess looked like a good candidate for a first trip into the cinema. We are fans of skating and science: the idea of a high school girl studying physics and practicing skating seemed safe and a good fit for our family. I’ve shown the trailer to the girls a few times. They were hooked from the moment the main character put on her skates. Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen’s cameos also helped.

However, the more reviews I read, the more I wonder whether the focus of this film is Rosalynn Sumners or Larry Summers. Roz, as she was known to her fans, won the silver medal at the 1984 Olympics, as well as world and national titles. This ice skating princess of my generation came from Edmonds, near Seattle, endearing her to Northwest natives.

Larry Summers is the president of Harvard who found himself in hot water earlier this year after trying to explain the underrepresentation of tenured women in science and engineering: Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce.

Apparently the main character in Ice Princess is a high school senior headed to Harvard. She’s smart and uses her understanding of physics to study skating for a school project. Once she gets on the ice herself, practicing on the pond behind her home, she discovers her own talent and accelerates rapidly up the skating levels to everyone’s amazement. It’s the ugly duckling story with a sophisticated twist involving turns of the body and identity. The nerd becomes a graceful swan with the help of spins and sequins.

The first review I read was the Associated Press’s, released four days before the movie came to the cinema. The reviewer criticized the plot, calling the main character’s incredible ride to skating glory as ludicrous, farfetched, and superficial. My girls don’t understand yet the difficulty skating requires. They make comments as if they could spin like the stars: I fear that if they saw this film, they too might imagine they could accelerate into competitive status by practicing on a pond during spare time. Roz spent years working towards her goals. Ice Princesses must pay the price. Sure, it’s a fun fantasy. But I’m not sure this fantasy would be helpful for my family.

Another review I read mentioned Larry Summers. In the film, the girl has been accepted to Harvard where Summers is president in real life. Devin Faraci wrote: I thought that the movie was starting out as an inspiring “Girls Can Do Math Too” film, but it quickly turned into a “Ugly Duckling Becomes a Swan” movie

Apparently Ice Princess has to choose between school and skating. She has to pick between going to Harvard and going to nationals. From what I’ve read, it sounds like Ice Princess ends up fitting into Summers’ profile of females.

But like the reviewer, I don’t know why she has to choose. A number of skaters have gone to college and continued to train on the ice. Either/or is not necessary. I imagine Harvard would be happy to help a nationally competitive athlete. Ice Princess wouldn’t be the first. It’s a fake situation.

So the more I read, the more the movie sounds like cotton candy. Fluff that might taste sweet but could rot their teeth. I don’t want my girls to have unrealistic expectations. I don’t want them to think that they have to choose between school and skating. I don’t want them to think that they don’t have to apply themselves and train hard in order to receive rewards. The physics aspect appealed to me. But the rest of the movie sounds less appealing, despite the pretty princess.

I want my girls to work hard, at skating and at science. Perhaps I’m being too serious. Fun is fun. Maybe the movie would be like cotton candy, disappearing. But maybe it would also leave behind dangerous ideas of what transformation means, as this reviewer wrote: …the rebirth of the ugly duckling is always given lip service as an emotional and self esteem one but is always portrayed in the movie as a better haircut, contacts and make-up, making the whole thing end up superficial…

Besides, last week I spent money on equipment for tadpoles, the same amount we would spend on tickets to the movie. Watching eggs turn into frogs might be a better lesson on metamorphosis.

Or I wish I could take them to see Rod Kratchowill’s daughters skating at their own risk and passing figure skating tests. As he wrote Congratulations Lindsey, all that hard work pays off.. Yes, congratulations!

I wish my kids could watch other kids at the rink and get a good dose of reality as well as lessons in physics. Most skaters will not win tiaras or Olympic medals but those who work hard receive valuable, invisible yet beautiful prizes that will last long after the days of college and competitions.

[side note: What would I do if one of my daughters wanted to pursue figure skating or something similiar? As I’ve considered this question, I’ve realized how much science and education play a part of our family culture. We don’t have many artists or athletes in the family tree. Perhaps this history as well as my own passions play a part in my reaction to reviews of this film. I don’t know whether this will happen – one of our kids is already discussing pursuing something similiar to skating – but it’s a possibility. It could happen. It would be a way of life different from what I know, unfamiliar to me, yet one I would welcome if it was what my daughter should do.]

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