Sociological Perspective: A Disney way of life?

This week we watched a documentary titled “Mickey Mouse Monopoly.” It deconstructed the messages Disney as a whole sends to children, and its consumers in general. The psychologists, experts, and so on seemed to take a view of what Disney is actually producing is a socialization of society’s norms – i.e. white supremacy, male dominance, gender roles – and this is dangerous. I agree that if and when I re-watch most Disney films, and look at Disney products they come across as racist, sexist, and sometimes scarier and bizarre than I realized when I first watched them as a child.

A school teacher spoke about specifically how girls are learning a woman means “damsel” and “submissive” or “passive” from the Disney princesses they watch in the cartoon movies, and that they always need saving by men. She referenced seeing girls in playgrounds pretending to swoon with the exaggerated hand over the head, or acting out needing to be saved and only being able to by the boys on the playground. What I want to know is, can you really observe this play and think this could be dangerous for the children’s thinking and mindset when they get older?

Obviously these films have taught the girls to play pretend like this in the first place, but I don’t think it has as big of a consequence as these experts in the film are saying when these children become adults. I use myself as an example. Of course we all want a happily-ever-after. But, at 21 years old I no longer believe that I need rescuing or saving, or that I just need to bat my eyes, be submissive to a) find a guy b) have a healthy romantic relationship. Sure, to some extent I can see these values still being heavily part of a girls mindset today – but we’re not stupid.

I think we’ve figured out most of us wont end up as a princess. We realize life isn’t that easy, people aren’t that easy, and there is a lot of bullshit out there. And, if you’re stupid enough to still hope for everything Disney promised, or believe that if you act like those Disney princesses that you’ll have the same story book life, I think that called simply being immature, unrealistic, and you have a whole lot more life to live.

Where I do think the experts in the film got it right was the racial, ethnicity conflict with what Disney presents in its movies. They’re obviously written, drawn, and simply created from white men in America. Also most of them were created years ago – but even the new ones have the same racial stereotypes and so on, too so not much has changed in this arena. So, acknowledge the context of the  creation of this cartoon. Then, you know what could help children realize these stereotypes are wrong? Have them stop playing with all white children! Get your kids out of the white suburbia playgrounds, and get some diversity in their lives! I grew up on the west coast so my friends were mostly of asian descent – korean, chinese, japanese, or they were also of Indian or Sri Lankan decent. I learned that they’re just like me – except cooler. I met them through my school, but also through the various activities I did – dance, art, soccer, etc.

You know what would be another solution? Get them out from in front of the television, stop buying them all of this crap from toy stores, and have an honest discussion with them! Also, let them choose their own favorites as an individual. Stop choosing for them! Your little girl likes watching the Spiderman cartoon instead of My Little Pony? Ok! There’s nothing wrong with this, so let them go with it.

I think where Disney went right in addressing stereotypes, parodying them, and maybe even sending a message to the white americans that are consuming most of the Disney business was in Pixar’s Walle. The main character arrives at the new earth that resembles a modern day cruise ship – and everyone is too fat to do anything, and consumes too much…in bulk. I don’t think Pixar was part of Disney at this point, but now that Disney owns Pixar it’s funny that it’s own product would be making fun of what Disney does best. Anyways, take a look –

I think I’ve become more aware of the gender issues and racial issues that I surrounded myself with in regards to Disney when I was little. I was a sucker for Disney – but I don’t think it was dangerous to me as an adult. I look at myself now, and see to an extent this has an effect on me. Yet, in the end I learned through just living life, meeting new people, having new experiences that there is no such thing as black and white to anything. Yes, Disney will probably affect our very basic ideas of gender, race, ethnicity, and how society works, but I think the kids are going to be fine. They’ll figure it out, and it may be a rude awakening, but they will eventually.

For further reading:

NYT: Does Tiana, Disney’s First Black Princess Conquer Stereotypes?

The 9 Most Racist Disney Characters


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