Posted by: allisonbz628 | October 13, 2016

Disney Colored Glasses

A few weeks ago in class we talked about the effects of the media on society. The major question raised involves the interaction between culture and society.  We become faced with a chicken or an egg phenomenon. Does culture mirror society or vice versa? Which comes first? Film and television have powerful effects on mirroring the interactions between the two (Wilson, 2007).

I never realized how much film and television portrayed society’s expectations and stereotypes until my eyes were open after watching the documentary, Mickey Mouse Monopoly in my children’s literature class.  Just a fair warning, if you love Disney, this post may hurt a little. As kids, we are presented with film, literature, and television shows that our parents deem appropriate for us to watch. There is little independence or autonomy as children in any realm. According to the documentary (2000), Walt Disney has often been blamed for poorly adapting children films. He is notorious for taking original folktales and completely twisting the story; Disney strived to shield children from any negativity or hardships of daily life by creating music, romance, and melodramatic stories with a happy ending. However, this is the far from the truth, because Disney’s poor adaptations create and solidify certain stereotypes and prejudices that prevail in society. They have been blamed for negatively portraying stereotypes for women and other minorities. So once again, we are brought to the chicken or the egg issue. Does Disney create the stereotypes and prejudices through their films or does Disney simply reflect these from society in their work? Let’s examine some examples.

First and foremost, Disney films negatively portray women and their roles in society. In many, if not all Disney films, the woman’s body is highly feminized and sexualized. Characters are often presented with large breasts, fluttering eyelashes, tiny waists, and perfect figures. Furthermore, the behaviors of Disney women praise passivity, ignorance, and sexuality as the ideal good women (Picker & Sun, 2002). The women character always ends up in trouble and must be saved by Prince Charming. Powerful women appear as evil witches that must be destroyed for the betterment of society. These women characters construct notions of how women should look and behave in society. For example, in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the Beast’s relationship with Belle closely parallels an abusive relationship. The Beast locks Belle away in the castle and frequently resorts to verbal and physical abuse (Picker & Sun, 2002). However, no matter what the Beast does, Belle continues to accept such treatment and continues to love the Beast. Thus, little girls come to see the moral of the story as women should constantly be nice and loving to people no matter how mean or how abusive they act. It supports ignorance for women (Picker & Sun, 2002). Sexist attitudes toward women and prevailing female stereotypes help Disney facilitate the negativity that surrounds and limits women especially in regards to leadership.

Disney has further been accused of creating racist characters in their work by using certain animals and characteristics to portray certain ethnic groups.  For example, In Lady and The Tramp, a stereotypical Chihuahua, Pedro, represents Latinos. Pedro engages in negative stereotypical behaviors and actions associated with Latinos. For example, he steals cars, hits on women, and constantly gets into trouble while utilizing a stereotypical Latino accent (Picker & Sun, 2002). In the same movie, the Siamese cats negatively characterize Asian people; the cats emphasize a cynical attitude mixed with curiosity while always looking to stir up trouble. The cats are shown with their classic slanted eyes and buck teeth. Additionally, the movie Dumbo presents Blacks through the use of crows with recognizable speech and dance patterns that characterize stereotypical black qualities, for example, slang speech (Picker & Sun, 2002).  Lastly, in Aladdin, Muslims are negatively shown. The opening lyrics of the song, “Arabian Nights “depicts many negative and stereotypical representations of Muslims. Take a lyric from the song,  “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home” (as cited in Picker & Sun, 2002). This lyric along with others expresses the deviation from the American norm. Disney personifies and represents stereotypical representations of different cultures.

I hope I have not completely turned anyone off Disney. I did not realize the sexist and racist aspects of many Disney films. The documentary really opened my eyes to the underlying messages behind Disney’s work. People assume that since Disney’s work is written for kids it hides any form of sexism and racism. This could not be farther from the truth (Picker & Sun, 2002). After numerous class discussions, I have become well aware of the powerful effects of the media. As Wilson (2007) describes, popular culture provides one of the greatest mediums of exploration. It can show people how to act and behave in certain roles and contexts (p. 143). However, when parents put a Disney film in front of their children, they expose them to distorted views of cultures and races. Again, it is impossible to separate culture from society, but regardless, the impact of continuing to show and promote racist and sexist roles imprints on children. It does not matter if Disney represents society or if society makes Disney express such qualities. It is possible that such kids will continue to grow and develop based off these expectations, and later such ideas will further guide their thinking and behavior. Disney and other films can be blamed for furthering many prejudices and biases towards individuals especially in leadership roles. These stereotypes and prejudices help elevate the idea of the superior white, male leader while downplaying the importance of women and other minority leaders. We continue to associate males with superior leadership because of society’s biases. I must add though that Disney has made great improvement in this realm. With movies like Frozen and Zootopia, stereotypes are purposely broken down and restructured towards healthier presentations. I am not suggesting kids never watch Disney; however, it becomes extremely important to watch these films with a critical eye.  Kids need to be made aware of the implicit and explicit sexism and racism.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXX0mUPE5qU

 

-Here is a YouTube clip from Lady and The Tramp when Pedro is acting in very stereotypical ways for Latinos. Look at the explicit and implicit racism!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpPGE_SKtA4

 

-Here is another clip from Lady and the Tramp featuring the Siamese cats.

 

 

 

References

[Machinegunkelly111] (2008, July 21).Siamese cat song: Lady and the tramp-English. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpPGE_SKtA4

Picker, M. (Director), & Sun, C. (Writer). (2002). Mickey mouse monopoly [Motion picture on DVD]. USA.

Schneider, A. (2010, September 26). Pedro talking about his sister Rosita. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXX0mUPE5qU

Wilson, M. C. (2007). Closing the leadership gap: Add women, change everything. New York City, NY: Penguin Group.

-Allison

 

 

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Responses

  1. Ouch!!! That’s a sting for a Disney lover haha. Wow I’ve never thought of Disney being like this with their movies. It brings me to this thought… maybe it’s fine for children to watch but not adults, let me explain. I think sometimes as a society, we try to dig up and stir around trouble that could be left untouched. Absolutely we shouldn’t teach our children, especially our daughters, to accept abuse or be completely submissive to men, but does Disney really teach this? Growing up watching all these movies I don’t know that they changed the way I viewed the world or how it is/is not acceptable to treat women. When I watch Beauty and the Beast my first instinct isn’t to say the storyline signifies a girl being verbally and physically abused, I just saw a girl who has funny friends and falls in love. If a child can innocently watch a movie I think that’s okay, when you start to tear it apart and see the flaws then maybe it’s time to find something else. This brings us back to the chicken and the egg. Which comes first, sweet innocent stories that are torn up by society’s perceptions, or a more critical society that is able to pull apart themes and really analyze movies that were intentional about the themes. I’m not sure, I definitely think there are things Disney could do better, but being honest I just love the sweetness and sappiness of Disney.

  2. Much of these racist depictions are expressed through the actions of animals and thus many children would not likely understand the satire the cartoon would be attempting to portray, and Disney has always included subtle comedic phrases and clips for the humor of adults watching their movies. Thus, this might be the purpose of including these stereotypes.

    On the other hand, Disney has been producing films since the 1930s in its portrayal of women. The adaptation for women empowerment has been visibly slow and this creates serious problem for the future, but the other issue is should parents be showing these dated Disney movies to their children that does not accurately portray women? As women occupy most of the consumer market, they are the ones who often buy the movies for their children. So if old Disney movies were no longer purchased for young girls because of their abysmal portrayal of the 21st century woman, then it would likely force Disney to change the characters in their movies to satisfy the change in the market. As buyers we possess the power to change what we see, but people must maintain an active position in order to accomplish the change otherwise it will fail.

  3. I agree with many of your points about the underlying message that Disney is sending. However, I agree with the first comment that children do not think deeply about these meanings. I grew up watching every Disney movie. While my favorite was Lion King, I didn’t really discriminate because for me they were all fun to watch and had a great story. While I grew up watching these movies, I don’t believe that I was necessarily affected by the underlying messages Disney seems to portray. Ever since I could think analytically about society and about relationships, I never once thought it was okay for men or women to abusive in relationships or that you should stay in one and love the person through it. Maybe that is just the way I was raised or taught to be by my parents, but abuse was never tolerated and “boys will boys” was never a saying that I would use to make excuses for them. This is just my personal experience and opinion coming out, so others may have been affected by Disney and their messages about society. However, I also believe that a lot of those messages reflect our societies issues. I especially argue this because we are beginning to see a shift in what is acceptable to present on film and diversity and equality is starting to be valued in Disney as well as other children’s movies and I believe that is a result of our society recognizing that something needs to change and it needs to start with what we’re teaching children. So in a way I think I take both sides of the position because I can see how one would assume that Disney is teaching the youth the wrong message but I can also see how that was just a reflection of our society at one time.

  4. Pop culture is always a reflection of that time’s culture and of society, right? That’s what makes it “popular.” Unfortunately, for those of us who grew up loving Disney movies, and sadly still do, it’s important to recognize that any successful movie of the time is going to in some way reflect society’s opinions and values of the time. What’s more important to recognize, however, is that those views and opinions have changed. I do not believe that the only societal reflection kids should be exposed to is from Disney movies. In the same fashion, I do not believe that kids should only be exposed to any single media outlet (i.e. Nickelodean, Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, etc.). The only safe channels that might accurately depict socially and politically correct views are PBS and Discovery, and not many children are only allowed to watch them. I think that the disservice to children is not from entertainment providers, it’s from the parents that allow their children certain exposure. This brings it all back to which shapes and influences what: culture shapes the media or the media shapes culture? I think that as a parent, you should be especially critical of what your kids see, hear, listen to. It impacts the way they regard other children, other adults, and in a greater sense, view the world in which they live. As an embarrassing caveat here- I wasn’t allowed to watch the Little Mermaid because I would imitate the behavior of the older teenage sisters and defy my parents by saying “I’m 16, and I can do what I want!” I was 3. Not even in elementary school and picking up on the bad behaviors of what I was seeing. Kids are sponges. They absorb and mirror what they know and see. The responsibility is not on the kids or the movie; it’s on the adults for exposing the kids to certain movies.

    Also, as a side note, I’ve always found the Beauty and the Beast to be somewhat infuriating. It’s a romantic depiction of stockholm syndrome. Absurd.

  5. Wow, this was so good and so well informed! Overtime, I came to realize that certain Disney movies were sexist in how they portrayed their women (with their perfect bodies and always needing to be saved), but I had never realized how much racism there was in the movies as well. I think when you watch the movies as a kid, it’s easy to miss those references or not understand them yet, but at the same time, I think those instances of sexism and racism unconsciously get absorbed by children and they grow up thinking that that is okay. That’s why it’s so good to see movies like Mulan, Princess and the Frog, and Moana (the one coming out soon). I personally think that both Mulan and Princess and the Frog do a great job portraying strong female characters. Unfortunately, we have other movies like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty that portray women as helpless. I mean, both women need a man to wake them up with a kiss for goodness sake! It always makes me sad though to hear how Beauty and the Beast is a poor representation of women (yes, I understand it’s a portrayal of Stockholm syndrome) because it was always my favorite Disney Princess movie. While I do think it wasn’t good for Disney to have her stick around and fall in love with someone who treated her poorly, I always admired her kind heart and determination. I think that ultimately is the message that children should be getting from the movie, but at the same time, there’s no way for them to avoid the other message of staying with someone who is abusive. I feel like Disney needs to learn how to work around that.

    I think a large reason that we have characters portrayed in stereotypical ways or Disney movies that show sexism toward women is because that was acceptable in society when the movies were made. These were normalized thoughts that people had, and although that doesn’t make them right, they were able to sneak into the films. Because Disney movies are pretty timeless, I feel like these sexist and racist portrayals in Disney movies are being passed down to each generation. Every parent grew up watching Disney movies, so now they want to show them to their children, even though these movies may contain ideals that don’t necessarily line up with our beliefs today.

  6. I remember as a kid Lady in the Tramp always made me uncomfortable, especially the cats. I know that I picked up that it was a racist stereotype from a young age, but it’s interesting as I’ve pointed out to friends more recently they never noticed. I also think that these movies are a product of their time and reflect popular sentiments. Unfortunately, they also perpetuate these negative images and as you pointed out Disney is doing their best to fix this problem. For example, Moana doesn’t contain a love story for as far as I’ve heard, and it is an adventure with a woman of color. This is great as their making progress but they have to make sure that she doesn’t become a token like other Disney princess of color. If they keep making POC and strong women leads in movies and eventually it will become the norm and they can present positive images that can impact society.

    Also, it is up to parents to teach their kids when something is wrong and to monitor what they watch. Kids should not be getting “tv educations”, parents need to be active in shaping what their kids take in.
    Also if you want to see something really cringy watch Song of the South, I’m pretty sure it has an Emmy.

  7. As a lover of Disney this hurt but at the same time it was no surprise.
    When I was a kid I did happen to notice the no mom thing Disney seemed to have. But I thought they were families like mine, families with just one parent raising a kid.
    For all the wrong Disney seems to have done I think that many have been looking for it. Yes maybe some of their stuff is a little raciest or sexist but they also reflect the time period and area realistically. In the time period Lady and the Tramp was based off of, the racism was a reality. Same go with other movies, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. These all portray the women as sexual figures that are odd-balls. In Cinderella that is how women were treated during that time period. In Beauty and the Beast, women couldn’t read usually and were just around to get married. And same with Aladdin.
    Yes maybe Disney should have tried to hide it better or change it. But at the same time it is a reality.

  8. This was an interesting read! I have thought about what Disney has gotten away with in the past before, but I think a lot of it can be chalked up to what was socially acceptable at the time. Many of these movies were made in a time where people weren’t know for being politically correct. I believe there were several occasions where Disney expressed that they no longer wished to be associated with the racist or otherwise harmful portrayals of character in their films, but they also felt that to simply stop producing these classic films would be a way of acting like it never happened. Rather, we can look to these films as a way of educating ourselves on how much we have changed as a society. The fact that we are seeing these depictions as wrong or offensive is a good thing, because it shows that we have rid ourselves of the ignorance our country was once plagued with. Disney has also made a point to introduce stronger, more independent female characters in more recent films, in order to provide more positive role models for girls and boys today.

  9. There are a lot of really great points in this post, and a lot of new information as well. I’m not sure that I agree with it all though. I would never say Disney creates stereotypes. Many stereotypes, in fact I would argue most, have existed for a long time. Women have been portrayed as helpless and incapable for centuries. Different racial stereotypes have existed since the colonial and imperialist ages. Disney may not do a whole lot to try to break those stereotypes, but I do think the implications that these stereotypes suggest are generally pretty harmless. They contribute to a degree to the perpetuation of the problem, but keep the audience in mind. Kids are actually pretty good at not discriminating. And their values are typically instilled by their parents, not by some slight insignificant bias hinted at in a Disney movie. Disney movies were basically the only movies I was allowed to watch as a kid. I can’t think of a single time that a Disney movie has provided a moral basis for me or led me to form any opinions about society. After all, they aren’t exactly made to be realistic. They’re fun and inspiring and teach lessons about good versus evil and doing the right thing, but their main goal is to simply tell a story and provide entertainment. I think they do an excellent job at that. Walt Disney himself may not have been the most morally sound guy in the business, but he set out to entertain people and to make children happy, and I would say he certainly accomplished that.

  10. I remember watching Disney movies as a kid, and I never picked up on the racial or gender cues; I simply enjoyed the story. Then, a few years ago, I remember seeing the clip with the Siamese cats and being utterly shocked. How had I not noticed this when I was younger? Then I think about other things I didn’t notice–how young the princesses were, why they were dressed certain ways (really, Arial? A clam bra?), and why they do certain things (you couldn’t have run away yourself, Cinderella?). I think that Disney, in some cases, harmed itself by changing the story too much. For example, Jasmine totally would have been much more conservatively dressed, and it would have been more accurate. It’s not a huge change, and she wouldn’t have been hyper-sexualized. Because they did not stick to accuracy, though, and gave her what looked good, Jasmine’s character can represent an “exotic woman” stereotype, and serves to hypersexualize young women of color. This probably wasn’t the goal of Disney, but they are still responsible for what it causes.

    I agree with you, though, and I do think they are getting better. Perhaps Disney is trying to right its wrongs, and I am deeply appreciative of it. I think in the future we need to look carefully at what movies we are being given–we can’t have too unrealistic expectations (we can’t expect Disney to go from 0 to 100 in terms of gender equality immediately, but we CAN praise the advances they have made and push them to make more), but we also need to be critical of the messages we are receiving. I look forward to what Disney will put out in the future–including Moana–and I certainly expect them to be making advances in how they portray women and minorities.


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