Disneyland, Disney World, and Euro Disney sound like magical places, places that conjure up only fond memories and images of the true American culture. Disney has taken this culture to all corners of the world showing the wonders of our great society, right? Disneys movies are some of the top grossing films, the toys are selling off the shelves, and if you look at bus full of preschoolers, a large number of them are bound to be wearing a piece of clothing donning a Disney character. The hand of Disney has grabbed hold of our children, but what do we really know about this stranger? Disney is a large multi-national corporation with its eye on financial success. This success drives this company to exploit the resources and people of other nations while maintaining an image that is respected within the American society. Not only does Disney exploit other cultures, it also produces films, supposedly idealizing American values, that consistently contain racism, sexism, homophobia, and ethnocentrism thereby exploiting our own.
Sweat-shops are not a new issue in international business. We, as North Americans, have become painfully aware of the exploitation taking place in numerous counties. However, it is more disturbing when a corporation that has established itself on its values and a commitment to children is paying twelve years old girls seven cents in developing countries an hour to make pajamas for twelve year olds in North America. The hypocrisy in this situation is painful. A company that is teaching our children values is practicing business transactions that are immoral and unethical. Corporate Watch revealed on their website that in Thailand, Disney contractor The Eden Group, fired 1,145 of their own workers in order to take advantage of lower cost subcontractors, 10 of which were found to employ child labor.It was also shown that Disney is supporting the Burmese military dictatorship as it attempts to protect a factory, of which 45% is owned by the state, that produces its clothing. These types of business activites are not uncommon. However the public has become skeptical of most multi-nationals, but not of the American sweetheart, Disney.
The business activities are certainly a major concern, but the message within the Disney productions perhaps has a larger consequence in our society. What is Disney really telling our children? Disneys films repeatedly reinforce the oppressive status-quo by placing the hero or heroine in the upper class of the society by constantly casting the roles the heroes with predominately Anglo-Saxon American type voices. The villains, therefore, must be of a different ethnicity. Recently the Arab anti-defamation league filed suit against Disney on grounds that the Arab representation in the films are always villainous, negative, or absurd. What kind of associations will children make when they are constantly exposed to stories placing white, upper-class Americans against the uneducated, power-hungry, impoverished minority? Disney also has the habit maintaining the patriarchal ideologies in our society. In almost every film, the female heroine must ultimately be rescued or reunited with her prince charming. The women must be beautiful and desired by men. After experiencing a feminist revolution and a constant struggle to achieve sexual equality, should Americans still allow their children to fall victim to these images of the old sexist and patriarchal ways?
To further explain the implicit messages within Disneys films, one may look at the blockbuster hit, The Lion King. This movie exemplifies the values supported by Disney. First, the establishment of the status-quo is evident in the opening scene with the song The Circle of Life where the animals all accept the hierarchy of their society and understand that they are to be ruled by the lions. These lions are seem to represent the upper-class of American society as the voices given to these characters are overwhelmingly white American voices. The only exception is the voice of King Mufasa who is played by James Earl Jones. However, Jones has overcome racial boundaries as he is readily associated with CNN and other non-racial voice-overs. The servants to the lions have various accents such as the monkey played by a British actor, Rowan Atkinson. If the rulers are clearly portrayed as white, upper-class, Americans, the lower-class villains must be something different. The hyenas, the representatives of the lower-class are played by obvious ethnic minorities. The voices are clearly African-American and Hispanic-American. The conclusion one might make for such associations is the reestablishment of the racial hierarchy within American society.
Not only is racial hierarchy, but also sexual hierarchy reinforced. The patriarchal messages within the film are overwhelming. In the beginning of the film, the two young lions play together. The female always manages to pin young Simba (the boy lion) when they wrestle. However, when the two grow up, Simba overpowers the female reclaiming his superiority. As well, when the kingdom was void of a male lion leader, the female lions were unable to ward off the evil Scar and his hyenas, thus allowing the kingdom to fall into disarray. As soon as Simba returns to the Kingdom, he is able to reclaim his leadership role and the kingdom is returned to its magnificent condition. These are just a few of the massages within the film, but they are sufficient in showing the type of values Disney is teaching our children.
Many feel that interpretations similar to those expressed above are going overboard in complexity. The statement, a child couldnt possibly understand that is often voiced. However, it may be a mistake to underestimate children. If a child understands the language he or she will pick up on some, if not all, of the implications within the film.Disney is a mainstay in American culture and eliminating it as an influence is practically impossible. What is possible is education and consumer awareness. If the consumer is exposed to the business practices of this multi-national corporate monster, he or she may be more inclined to take action, such as writing to the CEO or reducing his or her support for the company. As well, once educated, the parent or consumer can be a more active viewer of the films and can discuss such issues with the children. Disney is teaching our children moral and values, but whos morals are they? We do not have to live in Disneys world and we should ensure that our children can find their own magical place, a place free of hypocrisy, racism, and false morals.