From Cinderella to Mickey Mouse, the Disney culture has always been a part of our lives. A brilliant man named Walt Disney in 1923 started the Disney Company. He brought magic and imagination into our world. I loved Disney and so did my parents and even my grandparents. I would dream about being a Princess who would someday be rescued by my very own Prince Charming. Even now that I am 21, I still love the feeling that The Wonderful World of Disney gives me. I love that children today still believe that their Prince Charming is going to sweep them off of their feet one day. It is hard to really believe that what happens in the Disney Fantasy world will actually happen in real life. We like to believe that anything we “dream” can come true, just like it did for Belle (Beauty & the Beast), Ariel (Little Mermaid) Snow White (Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs), and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty).
Now, see if you can picture yourself as a young child watching a Disney show. Were you able to pick up all the implied messages or the morals of the story, when you were a child? I can say that I definitely could not tell you what the meaning of any of the Disney movies were at the age of 5. All I knew was that she was a beautiful princess and that is what I wanted to be. However, 16 years later when I watch the princess movies with my young cousins, I now realize the messages and morals as well as a lot of the humor that I did understand as a child. It has been said that it takes an adult to see the actual underlying meaning of what is being said and shown to young children.
Now I want to look at Disney through an approach called Ideological Criticism. This approach is different from the approaches I spoke about in my last two blogs. The blog “Friends: The Beginning, Middle, and End” spoke about the Narrative Analysis approach which has to do with the systematic study of text and how they are structured into a cause and effect of events of a beginning, middle and end. And my first blog, “Media Criticism & I” spoke about what Media Criticism in general was actually about. But Ideological Criticism is something completely different. This approach is production centered on the cultural diamond. Ideology is an instrument that the dominant elite uses to extend control over others. Therefore when you look at it from the Disney perspective, Disney is the dominant elite and the children who are consuming it are the “others” in who are controlled. This specific approach examines how ideas are embedded in and circulated through text, they reflect and serve the interest of the dominant elites.
Ideology brings up another theory called the, Political Economy Theory. The political economy theory states how media institutions, texts practices establish and sustains existing power relations. It states how media advances the interest of the dominant elite and how the elite maintain control through the hegemonic consensus – ideas and values constructed as natural, normal, inevitable, thus … unchangeable.
In our Media Criticism class we watched a film called, “Mickey Mouse Monopoly – Disney, Childhood, and Corporate Power.” The filmed depicted the whole Disney culture and showed me many things that I never knew about the Disney culture. This film perfectly represented what Ideological Criticism means. To be more specific, did you ever think of Disney as being political? I am sure you did not. I know I didn’t. I am sure you thought of Disney as “innocent.” Even though that’s what we would like to believe, the critics in the film stated that Disney can and is very political. The Disney we know and love is not so innocent. But Disney has been so successful due to that fact that it is based off of innocence, magic and fun. Children have been raised on Disney for so many generations. As a result, Disney has been able to hide behind their innocence in a way that it separates itself from the corporate culture and from corporate power. We seem to treat Disney in a way that is a fantasy; therefore its political implications have never being questioned.
If you have ever thought of the Disney conglomerate as a whole, I don’t think you would even be able to count how many media outlets they own. Disney, who is considered the dominant elite, owns almost all of the media that we consume. So if we think about it realistically, we realize that the stories that Disney is presenting to us will most likely be the images and messages that could shape a child’s imaginary world. Disney is what gives us the stereotypes of, race, gender, and class. Media is what helps to shape our belief systems.
It is interesting to me to look at the gender representation that Disney presents to his audience/the consumer. If you look closely, you realize that there is rarely any change in the gender image from every Disney production to another. Confused? Think about it. There has always been that seductive female whether it be an animal or a human. Look at the dress in which Ariel wears under the sea. This mermaid has her whole midriff out, showing a little bit of a sex appeal. Now think about the movie Lady and the Tramp. Isn’t the “Tramp” attracted to the “Lady.” We all know that infamous spaghetti and meatball scene. Understand? Another aspect of Disney movies that seems to always repeat it’s self is that the male ALWAYS has to save the women. Every movie Prince Charming sweeps in and picks that certain Princess off her feet, whether is be a Beast or a Man riding in on a horse. We as women always need to be saved. We even seem to look past the Beast’s physical appearance and just see the prince in him.
Another aspect that the film “Mickey Mouse Monopoly – Disney, Childhood, and Corporate Power” brings to our attention is stereotypical representations. From an early age children learn stereotypes from what the media shows them. Now I am going to name movie after movie and see if you see the same pattern that I see now as an adult. In Tarzan we see the Monkeys, look closely aren’t they portrayed as African Americans. Look at the way they speak? Lion King, the Hyenas, they are portrayed at Latino and they are never doing the right thing. Lady and the Tramp, the Siamese cats are portrayed as Asians. Look at how sneaky they become? Peter Pan, the Indians in Never Never land, look at the way they sit. Even Mulan, who is supposed to act like a woman but follows a man’s order even though she wants to do what she wants. Whether it is intentional or unintentional it still has an effect on who is watching. These movies especially influence young impressionable children. So now that you are all grown up, aren’t you very surprised at how much you missed?