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Zavier Northrup On Heteronormativity in Children’s Movies Just Might Mess Up Your Love Life

By: Miranda Marte Velez

Photo of Zavier Northrup on Purchase College’s campus via his Instagram.

Advertisements of heterosexual couples are splattered on walls at subway stations. The advertisements featuring men and women in relationships bombard people as they are walking through Times Square. It is in every form of media, including magazines, television shows and movies. But how has heteronormativity, specifically in children’s movies, affected the romantic relationships of those who watched these movies growing up? Zavier Northrup, a senior sociology major, is working to figure this out through their senior project.

You’re originally from D.C. What made you want to come to Purchase?

It was a suggestion from my parents. It’s a big art school, and they know I like my art-like environments. They thought I'd get something good from studying sociology here, which I feel like I did. New York City is awesome. I really have enjoyed my time here and the taste I've been able to get of it, but compared to Purchase… It’s really isolating for me here. I'm a city person. I just need to have communities around. I like the feeling of just walking somewhere and being able to just do stuff.

What is your major? Why did you choose it?

Sociology is my major. I wanted to get involved with politics, and I thought sociology would be a good way to get into it instead of political science.

You’re working on your senior project. Tell me a little about it.

My senior project is basically about heteronormativity in kids’ movies. I'm struggling with IRB, the Institutional Review Board, so it might change a little. They make sure studies are ethical and they give people the thumbs up to do certain research types. I want to do interviews to see how heteronormativity has affected people’s love outlooks, but I’m having trouble coming up with questions because there are so many factors that shape someone.

When you say “heteronormative,” what do you mean by that?

Just the center, idea and fantasy of a heterosexual marriage, where there's a happily ever after.

What is usually expected from a sociology senior project?

Junior year we take research methods to learn how to do research. Then sociological theory, to learn about different types of social sociology research. Our Junior seminar is about writing your literature review and the senior project. Senior year is conducting the research. You pick any social issue and narrow it down. I started with gender. We got it down to gender being a social problem and misogyny. I was just thinking, What works to reproduce it? Oh, movies work to reproduce heteronormativity, especially among children. The sociology department suggests only doing one type of research. I'm starting to do content analysis, but I also want to conduct interviews. That's a different style, but I don't know. We’ll see what I end up doing.

Besides interviewing and content-based analysis, what are the other kinds of research?

Surveys are one. There’s ethnography, where you go into a community and just sit passively and observe. People like going to classrooms and watching different patterns, taking notes and coding for different types of things that happen. Everybody's required to do a literature review, where you look up past studies, account for them and get background information before everything else. It helped me learn about different archetypes, which are just types of characters. I read things like patterns in Disney movies and how a lot of the men are older and have to fight different villains, female villains usually, to get to the young, caring and helpful bride and save the day. Archetypes breed in children. They internalize what characteristics are good and bad. For example, you take bossy characteristics and put them in a woman's character and then shame her for it and celebrate a man for being strong. That stays with kids.

What movies did you watch as a kid that left a lasting impact on you?

“Herbie” was one. It has Lindsay Lohan. She’s from a long lineage of male race car drivers, and she wants to be one, too. She doesn’t have a mother, and she’s really pretty. I wanted to be her. She gets this Volkswagen Beetle, Herbie, from the 1960s to race, and it’s a whole boy character. There’s a lot of heteronormativity all over that too. There’s another buggy character that’s from the 2000s, and Herbie, the fucking car, was in love with the younger, girl Beetle. They put heteronormative standards on cars!

What was it about Lindsay that made you want to be her?

She gets the boy. One big thing throughout my childhood was getting a boyfriend. It’s affected me to where I have a weird desire about being glorified and seen as not real, like in these movies. I feel like we all have that. I’ve always really liked cars, which is another reason I felt represented through Lindsay because she’s a girl who likes cars and me, being more feminine identifying, that’s who I identified with and wished my life was like.

Do you find your senior project enjoyable?

I genuinely do. Hopefully, I’m bringing something to the table about media studies and how it affects people. Researching and thinking that maybe my stuff will be cited in the future is a good feeling. And watching “Herbie,” analyzing it and realizing how it has affected me has also been really therapeutic.

In terms of representation, do you feel like the media has progressed?

I think so. We have Lizzo, Pose (television show centering around New York City’s African-American and Latino queer and gender-nonconforming ballroom culture scene in the 1980s), Claws (television show about a diverse group of women entering the male-dominated field of organized crime) and more, but there’s still more to be done. There’s a lot more instances of Disney princesses being more open and showing more traditionally masculine characteristics, like Moana, working and going on journeys for themselves.

Are you sad about leaving Purchase? Is the virus affecting your work?

It’s fine because the bulk of my project involves watching movies. I still have an extra semester next year, and I’m definitely happy about getting out of here. That needed to happen like yesterday.

What do you want to do after you graduate?

You want to know something crazy? I want to work at a luxury car dealership, like Porsche or Mercedes. I already really like cars and rewatching “Herbie” rekindled that love a little more. I found myself looking at Craigslist for old cars, like “Oh, my God, maybe I could fix one up.”

Do you have plans to pursue sociology at all?

I do plan to go to law school, but I want to live out my 20s, being able to travel and not be stuck in school. Unless I make a lot of money doing car stuff.



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