It can be argued that culture provides the foundation for persuasive forms of learning for young children. For proof, one doesn’t have to look any further than down the aisle of the children’s section of their local video store. What you will find are numerous animated titles, many of them Disney films. Most people unconditionally accept that these movies are good for children, that they promote stimulation of the imagination, and contain them in an aura of innocence. The relevance of these films, however, crosses the boundary of being just entertainment. They are teaching children certain values and roles at least as much as any other traditional institution of learning such as ones family, school, or religion might. And the ideological messages presented in these films have a negative effect on children.
Children’s films are especially good at catching the attention of their audience and are far more memorable because kids enjoy watching movies more than enduring the serious reality that is school or church. It allows them to escape into a fantasy world where adventure and excitement are moderated and consumerism can be fully suggested upon them.
The image that Disney portrays of itself, as a non-threatening, fun, family oriented icon of North American culture is steadily emphasized through the corporation’s massive public relations department and seeps out of almost all the pores in every aspect of social life. Disney is affecting and influencing children through so many facets that it is impossible for a child not to be inundated by it. In an article by Henry Giroux (1997) he reveals that Disney is present in home videos, malls, classroom instructional films, the movie theater, popular T.V. programs, family restaurants, advertising, displays, and use of public visual spaces.
... children in the US are brought up watching mostly Walt Disney movies. The Millennial generation was raised with the Disney renaissance film ... They own networks like ABC, ABC Family, ESPN, ESPN2, and the numerous Disney channels. In addition they have their ... overanalyzing these family oriented family films, but these films have truly affected the public in many different ways. The Disney films offer an ...
What is important to note here is that we no longer have Disney simply producing films that allow children to experience adventure and fantasy where their imagination can be experienced and affirmed. We now have a company that is producing prototypes for identities, communities, and families that have a stranglehold on children who view Disney as upholders of outstanding civic image. This is especially scary when the boundaries between entertainment, education, and commercialization crumble under the weight of Disney’s omnipotent reach into diverse spheres of everyday life (Giroux, 1997).
Still, many people disregard any link that might arise between films made solely for ‘entertainment’ purposes and popular ideology. Others though, see Disney feigning such an innocent image only to cover up its aggressive marketing strategy and the blatant fact that they are programming children to become good active consumers. Eric Smoodlin, whose critical book which deals with Disney’s role is popular culture, argues that Disney is constructing childhood to make it entirely compatible with consumerism (1994).
Even more frightening is the fact that Disney’s widespread reputation as innocent family entertainment makes it unaccountable for the way it warps young children’s views on the reality of identity, culture, and history.
A professor of history at UC, argues Disneyland’s version of Main St. America tries to portray the image of a small town characterized by upbeat parades, plentiful commerce, barbershop quartets, etc. and this view portrays a world without poverty or class conflict and also fictionalizes the past of how real Main Streets were at the turn of the century (1994).
It is important that parents who are buying or taking their children to Disney movies understand the appeal and why these films attract the attention of kids taking into account the influence Disney ideology has on young children. The examination of particular Disney films is necessary to prove the point that the films register on a level other than innocent fantasy.
We were a generation that grew up with the Disney films. The Lion King, Snow White, Mulan, Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and we could recall more of these famous stories without a second of hesitation. We enjoyed them, loved them, and most of us repeated our favourites like we could never grow tired of them. We loved their adventures, the world Disney films created for us. ...
One of the more controversial messages is how Disney films portray women and girls. In the movie The Little Mermaid, we see the main character Ariel, is extremely skinny and pretty. At first we are shown that Ariel is struggling against her father Triton. She rebels and makes a deal with the villain Ursula to trade her voice for a pair of legs so she can chase the handsome prince. Young girls might like Ariel’s rebelliousness but they may now associate independence and empowerment with finding a handsome man to fall in love with. Ariel is in essence a metaphor for the stereotypical housewife in training. Ursula tells Ariel that men don’t like women who talk to men anyways and this is re-enforced when the prince kisses her even though she has never spoken a word to him.
The issue of female subordination does not only apply to The Little Mermaid though. The Lion King is another prime example. All of the rulers in the animal kingdom are men, supporting the idea that leadership is awarded only to men. The dependency that the female lions have on men isn’t altered, even after the beloved king Mufasa is killed and the kingdom is taken over by the evil Scar. Instead of being angry or outraged, the women in the pride stick around to do his bidding.
Racism is another issue that surfaces itself in Disney movies. One of the most important examples in racial stereotyping occurs in the movie Aladdin. It is of particular importance because that film was a high-profile release and a winner of two Oscars. Being seen by a large audience, the film opens with the song “Arabian Nights” which portrays Arab culture in a particularly bad way. The lyrics depict Arabs as “barbaric”. These characterizations do nothing to help the presumptions that people may already have with Arab culture because of its portrayal on television during the first Gulf War and now the recent war in Iraq. The stereotypes continue as we see all the villainous characters with large noses, beards, turbans, and heavy accents. We also see the hero Aladdin as not having any of those qualities. He is Americanized for the viewers and that’s why he is supposed to be liked instantly.
During the time in which Sparta existed, Spartans were well aware of what to expect in their life. Spartan life was simple, yet disciplined. The government of Sparta was harsh, however it was orderly and stable. Spartan government provided a life in which Spartans were offered few choices, instead, many choices would be made for them. The form of government practiced in Sparta was controlling ...
Another big issue in Disney films is the use of racially coded language. Other films also have the unconscious racism that that informs us that a character is good or bad. In the Lion King, we see that the good characters speak with a British or American tone, while the evil hyenas are voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin in racially coded accents that take on the nuances of a decidedly urban, black, and latino youth (Giroux 1997).
Another theme prevalent in a lot of Disney films is a decidedly anti-democratic portrayal of society. We constantly see that the animal kingdom provides a very safe way to legitimize social hierarchy and royalty. Through this we see that a very dangerous lesson is being ingrained in young minds, that social problems that stem from inequality are the natural order of things.
We also see children reacting to animals differently than they might have if they had not been exposed to as much Disney animation. The animals portrayed in numerous Disney movies lead children to have twisted representations of intelligence, capabilities and morals of real animals (Anderson 2005).
The fact is that these insincere representations created by Disney films are not outgrown once adulthood is reached. One may always be looking for find the perfect Walt Disney dog as a pet and will undoubtedly be very disappointed when every dog he or she owns partakes in normal dog behaviour. This will be unfamiliar for them because the Disney pet would never bark at people, chew things up or dig up the yard. These are things that even grown adults believe a dog should not do because they have been conditioned to think that when it is only natural for animals to conduct this sort of behaviour. In some cases, this may even result in the euthanasia of the pet.
Though all of these examples illustrate the fact that Disney films may be influencing children in negative ways, does that mean we should ban or censor these movies? Clearly, that cannot happen. It is however imperative to realize this influence is real and is overwhelming today’s children. This exposure to popular culture creates a new cultural register to what it means to be literate (Giroux, 1997).
There are plenty of hotbed issues on how the Disney corporation’s sociological and socio political ideologies are embedded into their products and how they affect children, but very few ask why Disney would place hidden ideologies in their movies/shows. What reasons would Disney have to program children with outdated morals while trying desperately to uphold a model image of innocence? What ...
Children need to be taught to recognize that Disney is full of underlying messages that are shaping their view on reality.
Since Disney is so powerful and present in North America, perhaps it needs to be responsible for the pervasiveness it has on children. Instead of just trying to put up big box office numbers, Disney should be worrying about being accountable on ethical and political terms that they repeatedly purvey in their films.
Anderson, Marla V. (2005) Pernicious Portrayals: The Impact of Children’s Attachment to Animals of Fiction on Animals of Fact. Society & Animals; Dec2005, Vol. 13 Issue 4, p297-314, 18p
Giroux, H.A. (1997).
Are Disney Movies Good for Your Kids? In S.R. Steinberg & J. Kincheloe (Eds.), Kidculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood (pp. 53-67).
Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Jefford, Susan (1994).
Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Regan Era. (pp. 150) New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Smoodin, Eric. (1994).
How to Read Walt Disney. Disney Discourse: Producing the Magic Kingdom (pp. 18, 209).
New York: Routledge.