Saturday, November 21, 2009

Disney versus Twilight- who sends the worst message to our youth?

In sociology this semester, I have had to answer a question each week based off of my readings for the week. Then, I have to respond to three other peoples responses. I am copying and pasteing my comments because I feel very connected to this week's discussion. Feel free to offer your own opinions, because there were about 7 others who responded to this question, which I clearly did not paste into my blog.
In Mickey Mouse Monopoly, the filmmakers provide a critical look at Disney films. This film often touches a nerve with many students who have fond memories of enjoying Disney movies. After watching the film, do you think that representations of gender, race, and ethnicity in Disney movies should be viewed simply as entertainment and left un-scrutinized; or do you think that Disney’s representations should be examined because they have socially harmful consequences? Also, what does the “monopoly” in Mickey Mouse Monopoly refer to?

Here is my reponse as well as a few others:
Me: Whether or not the films of Disney should be scrutinized over their representations of gender, race, and ethnicity, etc. is a decision that should be made on a situation-by-situation basis. Many of these films- Snow White, Cinderella, to name a few, are from a different time in America. The films simply portrays the norms during the time period that the films came out. While currently watching these films seem very offensive in what they teach children, we cannot entirely blame Disney for putting into movie-form what was going on in history. Moreover, Snow White is not even a story that Disney came up with- this story originated with the Brothers Grimm(who obviously got the stories by word of mouth), whose versions are much more gruesome than the stories depicted by Disney. Disney, in reality, has actually cleaned up many of these stories and made them more children-friendly. Disney is not really to blame for their older movies- its the parents that do not educate their children before letting them watch old movies with outdated values. As for the newer movies, I cannot really comment as much because I do not really watch them. However- I will bring up the question of parents concern with Disney but their lack of concern with the new book/movie series sensation called Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Doesn't anyone find it odd that Stephanie Meyer would have the heroine fall in love with the dangerous-borderline-abusive-sometimes-stalking vampire? Is this really what we want impressionable young teenage girls using as their guide for a good boyfriend? Why is it okay with everyone that the heroine's boyfriend is like, so totally gorgeous and amazing, while he Watches Her Sleep?? In conclusion, parents need to start focusing on more than just Disney as improper representations for impressionable children. The "monopoly" in the Mickey Mouse Monopoly refers to the dominance the the Disney corporation has as an industry compared to other industries that target children entertainment. Disney is everywhere- in music, tv shows (it has its own channel), it has its own store, movies, clothing, child actors and singers, and the list goes on. Disney makes sure it does a good job when making itself available to impressionable children.

Instructor response to me: Good points. I especially applaud your connection to the Twilight series and think you raise important points. Like the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, perhaps the abusive behavior of the Twilight boyfriend is justified on the grounds of his "biological difference" (read: beast, vampire, etc.). Are we supposed to be sympathetic because he's a mysterious vampire who doesn't know any better or who can't resist his urges to stalk, etc.? You are right that this is extremely problematic and I think it ROCKS that you made this connection.

My response to Instructor:Thank you for the compliments and insight. Now that you mention the unspoken "biological difference" clause, it is actually quite true with most movies/books. I had never thought of it as that. In the case of Twilight, I do think we are supposed to be sensitive to the vampire, Edward Cullen, because of the emphasis on his "vegetarian" (only animals-no humans) diet. He and his family try very hard to go against their own nature by refusing to eat humans. While that shows willpower, that is kind of where Edward's willpower stops- he still stalks Bella and watches her sleep. I kind of lose my sympathy then and there. So, I am actually more concerned with the character of Bella who is so obsessed with Edward and who only sees him as the perfect guy for her- when he clearly has flaws, much less flaws as a boyfriend. I just do not think Stephanie Meyer completely managed to portray a vampire that we should sympathize with, she instead encourages young, impressionable "Bellas" to look for a brooding, secretive, borderline-abusive boyfriend to call "perfect." This is much more disturbing to me than Disney, because while Disney may promote prejudice, Twilight is promoting the dangerous "perfect boyfriend." Also, as I mentioned in previous posts, children who watch Disney generally lose their predjudices as they grow up and learn more in school, while Twilight targets an older audience that should know better. Disney's flaws can be relearned by children in school while Twilight's messages cannot really be undone until a person experiences an abusive, elusive boyfriend in real life-which makes Twilight's messages way more disturbing than Disney's.

Student 2: The film on the Mickey Mouse Monopoly opened my eyes to a lot of messages that the Disney movies were communicating to its audiences. These subtle themes and messages such as women needing to be saved, and the female body image, are reinforced in all of the Disney movies. Its viewers, young and old, unknowingly develop ideas and beliefs about different sexes and races from the messages sent out, explaining some of the games that young chlidren play among their peers, such as "Fairy Princess" or "Warrior Hero". I think that these ideas were enforced through the movies, because the White American male creators and writers of the movies had these same beliefs. I think that the "classic" Disney movies instill certain ideas into the minds of young children. These ideas may not have been intentionally emphasized, but after the children have developed these ideas, prejudice attitudes can develop. Especially because young children are being influenced by the ideas in the movies, their impressionability is much greater than that of an adult. The monopoly the Mickey Mouse has is that the Disney corporation has power over such a large amount of entertainment, that the ideas that are put forth by Disney are acquired by its audiences. The innocence of the movies and characters the Disney has created have such a friendly appeal to them that they attract the hearts of many young and old people. What many people, including myself, have not noticed however, is the social unfairness of the stereotypes that the Disney characters form.

My Response to Student 2:While many stereotypes are in the Disney films, we have to remember that many of the films are from a different time in America in which many stereotypes were present in our daily lives. Furthermore, if you look at the movie Pocahontas, many of the stereotypes were kind of true. For example, white Europeans did come to America in search for gold and were certainly greedy about it. Additionally, Disney, in my opinion, actually does a fairly good job with the Native Americans in the film. While they were portrayed stereotypically with mohawks, etc. it seemed to me that the Native Americans were portrayed as just as intelligent as the Europeans as well as they also clearly lived one with nature. However, the Native Americans did talk to trees and animals in the movie, which can be interpreted as if the Native Americans are crazy, but I really believe it is to keep a child's interest. I remember in a previous article that we have read this semester about how someone did a sociological experiment asking children to draw Native Americans and the children didn't understand until they were told to draw "Indians." Then the children drew the stereotypical Native American with the mohawk and feathers based of of Disney's movie Peter Pan. While this can be used as an example to show that children are being taught prejudice and stereotypes, I don't think such an example would be accurate. I mean, when I was seven, I sure didn't know what prejudice and stereotype even were. I mean, I wasn't old enough and didn't have enough experience with what Native Americans were to know if I was being prejudiced. So, are we really going to blame Disney for promoting stereotypes to young children when they've only had about seven years on Earth to experience life? I mean, are we going to start blaming Sesame Street if our young children only know how to add and subtract, but not calculus?

Student 3:I was definitely shocked and a little angry while watching this documentary. A lot of happy feelings were tied to Disney films. I feel that certain views should be scrutinized. It could be harmful to society. Belle's reaction to abuse stood out to gives a message that abuse is ok. The racial portrayal and gender portrayal is...outdated. I can understand that most of the 2D films were made in a different time era. Look at Pixar/Disney films today...I feel like they are more sensitive to the issues at hand. As a future parent I will be aware of certain films. I personally don't feel that I grew up a worse person because I watched those films...The monopoly refers to the monopoly in creating childhood culture all over the world with the power of transnational media corporations.

Response to Student 3: While I certainly agree with you that certain parts of Disney movies can be considered stereotypical, etc., I learned of a good point that Sarah Rusche made. She told me that perhaps the abuse in Beauty and the Beast can be accepted because of the fact that the Beast is an animalistic creature, not human(such as other creatures that tend to be abusive- vampires, werewolves,etc.). Additionally, certain parts of Disney films are done wonderfully. I remember the part about the little mermaid with the chef cutting up fish for dinner. Disney, I thought, did a great job of showing how fish is prepared. Disney could have made it more realistic by showing it as a bloody, smelly process- but Disney instead made it child-friendly with no blood and fairly neutral colors. Also, children get to learn the french word for fish during the scene. While the whole fish process, however, is portrayed as sickening(showing Sebastian's reactions), I feel that many vegetarian and even nonvegetarian parents now have the option to teach their children about what animals go through to be eaten (in a fairly harmless way). Ialso agree with you that I don't think I grew up prejudice, and if I did, I grew out of it as I learned more about reality. You are exactly on target that the parents should be aware of what their children watch and that the parents should educate their children from there.

Student 4: The film Mickey Mouse Monopoly provides a critical look at Disney films by showing harmful representations of gender, race, and ethnicity. Personally, after viewing Mickey Mouse Monopoly my opinion regarding Disney movies was forever changed. As a child, I never realized what these images of Cinderella and Hercules were actually teaching me. Cinderella was teaching me that, as a woman, I should be femine at all costs. Furthermore, that I should have an hour-glass figure, wear makeup, and present myself in certain mannerisims. Hercules was teaching boys that they should be masculine, buff, athletic, and appealing to women. Also, I never noticed that the animals in many of the Disney movies are used to portray other minority races. Personally, I feel that Disney's representations should be examined because they are socially harmful and lead to socially harmful consequences. Lastly, the "monopoly" in Mickey Mouse Monopoly refers to the corporation itself. Disney has created an image for itself in which people refer to Disney movies as family oriented, innocent, and cute. The problem arises from the subtle and not so subtle messages these movies are sending to children.

Response to Student 4: I think the way different people interpret Disney can be compared to that black and white picture of the two women and the wine glass. Some people can see the wine glass only, others see only the women, and others can see both if they stare long enough at it. I believe Disney interpretation is the same way. I can see where people are coming from in that it is stereotypical, but then I can see it as pure child entertainment. For example, to say that Disney is forcing stereotypical beliefs upon children can be interpreted to mean that nothing else would cause children to be prejudice if we got rid of Disney. Now, I understand that it is horrible that Disney is profiting while promoting stereotypes, but I do not believe it is their main objective as a corporation. Now, let me examine the movie choices you spoke of. Okay, so with Cinderella you have to remember that this movie really WAS from a different time. Additionally, the story that Disney uses is from the Brothers Grimm. I believe Disney actually cleaned it up quite nicely for kids. Whereas, in the original story, one stepsister slices off her toes to try to fit in the slipper while the other sister slices off her heel- in Disney the stepsisters just comedically try to shove the glass slipper on. Disney cannot be blamed for the storyline and the prejudices within it, because they are very old and outdated. Okay, now with the film Hercules- it is very recent and Disney should know better, right? Well, this story was taken from mythology and it has very old origins as well. However, if you watch this movie until the end you realize that Hercules did not necessarily need to be buff and athletic to get into Heaven...that was actually the moral of the film. He sacrificed his life for Meg, showing that he could love and care for someone before himself- which let him enter Heaven. Additionally, the character named Meg was actually the opposite of the Cinderella character- she has spunk, biting humor, and takes care of herself, which is a pretty positive image of women. Furthermore, this is to everyone in this board: we have almost all heard of the sexual innuendos within Disney. For example, the phallic symbol on the Little Mermaid castle, how the word "sex" is spelled in the sky in either the Lion King or Aladdin- I don't remember. Yet, we don't nearly criticize Disney for filling children's heads with sexual thoughts like we do with the stereotypes. Why is this? It is probably because we realize children are too young to really internalize and tear-down the unintentional/intentional stereotypes and sexual innuendos and utilize them Negatively. Children will know better as they age, just like you and I did. So, until Disney is replaced with actual schooling, there is not really anything to worry about. And, if there is still worry, then teach your kids as parents the right things before letting them watch a Disney movie, on the off chance the child even catches the stereotypes.

Anyway, it was a fun discussion and I wish the entire semester had been this interesting. Please offer any opinions you may have.

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