Are Disney Movies Good for Your Kids?
By: Henry A. Giroux
In this chapter of the book entitled, Kinderculture - The Corporate Construction of Childhood, edited by Shirley R. Steinberg and Joe L. Kincheloe, Henry A. Giroux basically points out that Disney as an "empire" is not as innocent and fantastic as it's films may represent it to be. Disney has become an important representation of American culture through being present in almost every facet of society. Giroux continues to explain that not only do children “experience Disney’s cultural influence” through watching the films, but also through merchandise in shopping malls, television, restaurants, and even in the classroom (Giroux, 166). Disney has become much more than simply a source of “quality” entertainment for children. Through the Magic Kingdom, Disney has possibly even become the example, or image for American culture to strive to achieve. Unfortunately, Giroux puts it well when he says that the Disney empire, through clever business tactics and “a sharp eye for providing dreams and products through forms of popular culture,” has been able to convince children to be “willing to materially and emotionally invest” in what the Disney empire has to say about society (Giroux 167). Giroux goes on to explain and give numerous examples of the ways in which Disney portrays stereotypes in films. From racial to gender to social stereotypes, they can be seen all throughout “innocent” Disney movies. Giroux says that there are a few lessons that need to be learned in regards to ideas about society that Disney projects through its films; I’ll name a few of those lessons. Society needs to take seriously the fact that Disney films and the ideals and lessons presented in Disney films are a source of learning for children, and parents should be aware of the messages being revealed to children through these films. In saying this, it is important for parents and educators to realize that Disney films are being interpreted differently by groups of children from various backgrounds. Giroux ends his chapter by arguing that Disney should be held accountable for what it produces because its products and power are so prevalent in society.
What Happened to My Childhood?
After reading this article, I have to be honest in saying that my heart sank. I knew that Disney movies negatively display racial, gender, and other social stereotypes, but somehow reading the facts on paper was just a bit more disheartening. As a child, my heroes and sources of entertainment were characters in Disney movies. I was obsessed with Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I owned many of the Barbie dolls from Disney movies: Pocahontas, and Jasmine from Aladdin to name a few. While reading this article, however, my mind drifted from Disney movies to other sources of entertainment that I surrounded myself with as a child: television. For some reason, my mind went directly to the old cartoon, Pinky and the Brain. (I’m sure many of us could recite the theme song.) Although this T.V. serious is Warner Bros. and not Disney, some of the same issues regarding stereotypes are obvious in this children’s television show. The show begins with lyrics that already suggest some stereotypes that are prevalent in this T.V. series: “Pinky and the Brain…One is a genius the other’s insane…” I have to admit that as a child I loved the “insanity” of this television show. However, while thinking about stereotypes in shows geared towards children, I quickly became sick to my stomach. The two different mice, Brain and Pinky represent two extremely different stereotypes. Brain represents the “smart” mouse who is constantly trying to find new ways to take over the world. His head is much larger than Pinky’s head (or any mouse I’ve ever seen) and he talks in a monotone voice. Is this really what we think of people who are intellectuals? Can these individuals not speak normally or relate to other individuals? Pinky on the other hand, is the representation of “insanity.” He has a huge overbite and talks mostly in words that are nonsensical. He uses many different “sounds” such as “zort,” “norf” or “poit”. Apparently, according to wikipedia.org, Pinky also is aware of many different changing trends or fads of which Brain has no idea because he is wasting too much time being “genius”; another stereotype of individuals with a lot of “brains.” Both of the stereotypes developed through the two characters, Pinky and the Brain can be hurtful towards individuals who may be more intellectual or less intellectual. However, the portrayal of the “insane” is especially disturbing. I’m almost ashamed that I was entertained as a young kid by a negative portrayal of something that some people in society must deal with every day. However, I didn’t know any better; I thought it was funny. The solution I believe, as Giroux pointed out, is left to the responsibility of the parents and educators. Unfortunately, these stereotypical portrayals of individuals in society will probably continue in entertainment. Although it’s upsetting that many stereotypes are evident in entertainment specifically geared towards young children, I think it’s something we must deal with rather than complain about. Parents need to take time to explain to their children the difference between stereotypes and reality. Entertainment will continue to develop world views and ways in which children view society. It is extremely important that we, as knowledgeable individuals regarding the fallacy of stereotypes, educate young people so that they too are aware of the reality of society.
I decided to post this particular clip from Pinky and the Brain (mainly because I think I remember it from years and years ago) but also because it depicts some of the stereotypes obvious to this cartoon series. Brain is obviously the one who knows all about the brain, which is why he is the one naming the parts of the brain. Pinky, on the other hand, can say nothing but "brainstem," while swinging from what looks like a bungee chord, obviously oblivious to anything other than his own "insanity." Brain seems to try to fit in with society, or normality when he begins to play the tambourine. However, the same blank expression is shown on his face while playing the instrument, as if he is consistently in a state of thinking or analyzing, not even able to change his facial expression for something fun. At the end of the scene, you can clearly hear Pinky's absurdity and insanity when he says "zorf" or some word that has no meaning, and you can clearly see his large overbite. At the very end, when Brain hits Pinky over the head, Pinky seems to enjoy it, a smile on his face as he tumbles to the ground. In all, I think you can pick out the stereotypes for yourself as they are evident in this clip.
Thanks to <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinky_and_the_Brain> for refreshing my brain as to some facts I had forgotten about Pinky and the Brain…