by Martha Sorren
22 August 2011
Learn more about Disney's creeping
cultural hegemony - read "The Mouse That Roared," Truthout's
Progressive Pick of the Week, reviewed in this article.
In American culture, Disney has become synonymous with childhood.
Present-day grandparents grew up watching the
animated films, wearing Mickey Mouse pajamas and begging to go to
Disneyland. But while it all seems innocent, few people have considered the
hold that the Disney Corporation has not only on their own lives, but on the
world as a whole.
Henry Giroux and Grace Pollock explore this relationship
between consumer and industry in their book "The
Mouse that Roared - Disney and the End of Innocence." [Full
disclosure: Henry Giroux is a member of Truthout's Board of Directors.]
Cuddly cartoon animals and whimsical fairy-tale stories are merely Disney's
The expansive conglomerate is not limited to
Disney film and theme parks. It also owns six motion picture studios, ABC
television network and its 226 affiliated stations, multiple cable
television networks, 227 radio stations, four music companies, three cruise
lines, theatrical production companies, publishing houses, 15 magazine
titles and five video game development studios.
This media and culture monopoly goes unnoticed
by most Americans, who just want to indulge their childhood fantasies as
Disney so deftly enables with its movies, theme parks and merchandise.
Giroux and Pollock's peerless scholarship exposes Disney through essential,
hard-hitting information that America needs to face. The authors' dedication
to thorough research and the book's trove of facts and statistics make this
an indispensable reference work, as well as a passionately engaged and
engaging investigation of Disney and its place in consumerist America.
A case study of corporate morality and intention, "The Mouse that Roared"
also analyzes the zeitgeist and culture that both give rise to and are
shaped by Disney, which, as the authors illustrate, succeeds in raking in
money by both pandering to childhood and adult imagination, and molding the
minds of our youth.
The authors quote
"I think of a child's mind as a blank book.
During the first years of his life, much will be written on the pages.
The quality of that writing will affect his life profoundly."
They demonstrate how Disney's movies, TV shows
and toys are doing a majority of that writing in this generation's children.
Cultural pedagogy provides the lens through which Giroux and Pollock
evaluate not only the media monopoly the Disney conglomerate has built, but
also the impact of that media on the development of cultural attitudes and
behavior through the targeting of youth, beginning today with Disney video
programs aimed at infants.
The Baby Einstein products are designed to entertain and educate children as
young as three months.
However, according to the Journal of Pediatrics,
infants who watched an hour or more of television a day displayed slower
language development. While the Baby Einstein Company did eventually remove
the section from their web site claiming that their videos had educational
value for children, a 2007 study still showed that 48 percent of parents
thought these videos had a positive effect on young children.
"The Mouse that Roared" also draws attention to
the gender stereotypes in Disney princess movies, from older cartoons such
as "The Little Mermaid" to their newest, "Enchanted."
"Disney has become a major player in global
culture, and the first casualties of its dominance in popular culture
are, of course, those who are most defenseless - children," the book
But Disney has even taken the parental audience
into their cultural monopoly, making it difficult for parents to see exactly
what the conglomerate is doing to their children.
In 2007, Disney launched
DisneyFamily.com, a Website targeting the 32 million moms online
in America. The web site features parenting tips - which, the authors point
out, spend considerable time and energy attempting to refute the findings of
experts in the children's heath field.
"The Mouse that Roared" doesn't shy away from judgment. At the book's
conclusion, the authors sum up their assessment of Disney's influence
Disney's view of children as consumers has little to do with innocence and a
great deal to do with corporate greed and the realization that behind the
vocabulary of family fun and wholesome entertainment is the opportunity to
teach children that critical thinking and civic action in society should be
far less important to them than assuming the role of passive consumers.
It doesn't matter whether the films are cute, or the theme parks enjoyable -
there is something bigger lying underneath this family-friendly exterior.
Disney is, after all, a business. They want to
make money. And they achieve this goal by marketing products to our
children, to our infants, even. Even if one puts aside the theme parks'
unfiled injury reports, or the egregious gender stereotypes, ultimately,
Disney is creating an army of consumers out of children, which is a
Giroux suggests that Disney is saying our,
"civic responsibilities are limited to the
act of consuming."
"The Mouse That Roared" seeks to prompt a
critical evaluation of media intentionality and messaging.
"Whose interests do media monopolies
represent? How do media monopolies produce and profit from the
particular messages they circulate? And what might it mean to make
public culture matter more than entertainment, spectacle, consumption,
Giroux and Pollock's book attacks these
questions and more in this excavation of the Disney conglomerate and its
The reader cannot fail to come away with an
enriched critical understanding of the reality of
media monopolies in a
world trending to