Welcome back readers and friends! Hope you all have been enjoying yourselves over the past few weeks. While I’ve been gone I have learned a lot about a fascinating new theory (well, new to me) called Ideological Criticism. I know, big words, but don’t be scared! I promise the concept is a lot easier than it sounds.
What is Ideological Criticism? Ideological Criticism examines how ideas are embedded and circulated through texts and how these ideas become accepted as “normal” in our society today. It is not about looking at the text itself but rather how the text is produced & structured with its interactions in our life experiences. So what? So why is this important? How is this approach to media criticism different from any other approach we have already learned about? Well when you really think about, this approach is probably one of the most important theories in media criticism. Why? BECAUSE IT’S THE FOUNDATION OF HOW OUR SOCIETY FUNCTIONS. Think about it. This theory examines how society accepts what is in the media and makes it their own. Fascinating!
Now read carefully guys, because things are going to start to get even more interesting.
So within ideological criticism there is a type of hegemonic power called ideology. Ideology is an instrument used by the dominant elites to extend control over others to maintain existing power. It refers to the set of ideas that give some particular account of the world. So what this is saying is that the dominant elites use ideological criticism in the media as a way of controlling how the media interacts with our life experiences and us as a society. SO…how does that make you feel?
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling (22) a little uncomfortable with the idea that these “dominant elites” are controlling how the rest of society interprets the media. Ideological criticism falls under a Marxist concept called the political economy theory. This broad theory examines how media institutions, texts, and practices establish and sustain existing power relations.
Recently in class we watched a documentary called “Mickey Mouse Monopoly“. Political economists discuss the issue of the Disney corporation placing subliminal messages in their movies, influencing children at a very young age. One political economist, Dr. Alvin Poussaint, states that “Children have been raised on Disney, for many generations.” According to the documentary, Disney as a conglomerate owns so much of the media that they exercise unprecedented control over the images and messages we are exposed too. The result? We are presented with a limited worldview, which is skewed and dominated by the corporation’s interest.
Dr. Henry Giroux, one of the founding theorists of critical pedagogy in the United States, was also quoted in Mickey Mouse Monopoly. He states that Disney hides itself from innocence in order to separate corporate culture from corporate power. “Disney films combine enchantment and innocence in narrating stories that help children understand who they are, what societies are about and what it means to construct a world of play and fantasy in an adult environment” Though not obvious, Disney movies are filled with hidden sexual and racist messages.
The female body is highly sexualized in Disney movies. Female Disney characters are portrayed as beautiful. They have very curvy bodies and tiny waists along with big eyes and breasts and a flawless smile. Even in animal form, the females have big eyes. They are seen as ‘seductresses’. Young girls pick up the message from Disney movies that in order to be a princess you must be thin and beautiful; you must look like the characters in the movies. These are ideals that can be carried out with them throughout their entire lives.
Disney movies also teach the lesson that, no matter how smart a woman may be, she still needs a man to save her. Even in movies like Mulan, a strong, family-oriented woman who leaves her home and disguises herself as a male soldier to protect her father from fighting in the army against the invading Huns, is almost punished for her bravery until Shang, the head soldier and love interest of Mulan, defends Mulan’s actions even though they were breaking the law. In the movie Cinderella the female lead, Cinderella, is clearly the smartest, most capable of being on her own out of the four females. She can cook, sew, and take care of herself, unlike her wicked stepmother and step sisters. Instead of moving out or standing up for herself to her evil stepmother, she gets married to Prince Charming and they live happily ever after. She does not fight her own battle but instead runs away with a strong man who came to her rescue with a glass shoe.
What if Disney was even teaching young girls to stay in an abusive relationship? Well, in Beauty and the Beast, isn’t the main message that if you are nice to your abuser he will change? The beast took Belle away from her father, imprisoned her and yelled at her for not obeying his orders. In the end, she excuses him and reinterprets his rage and angry personality as tender and vulnerable and falls in love with him. As said in the documentary, “Overlook the abuse, there’s a prince, it’s your job to bring it out.”
Now let’s talk about one other thing: The ‘Other’. The other? Well that sounds like a cult, or an outsider, someone who does not belong. Well you aren’t wrong. In all of their movies Disney has created a sense of the ‘other’ when representing races such as African American, Hispanic, and many more. Is this intentional? That does not matter. What matters is how we interpret the ‘other’. Typically, a hispanic character will be portrayed as a Chihuahua, such as Tito from Oliver and Company. In this video clip, ‘My Name is Panchito‘, the whole song makes fun of the stereotypically long names in the Hispanic community. The video does not teach any important facts about the Hispanic culture or the countries. So what do children learn? They learn a broad generalization that all Hispanic citizens have long names. Is that true? No, but that’s what they grow up believing. That’s what the dominant elite, the Disney Corporation, taught them.
Another example of the ‘other’ includes the hyenas in The Lion King. The hyenas are the bad guys. One political economist quoted in the “Mickey Mouse Monopoly” related the hyenas’ sounds and mannerisms to inner city minorities. She told us the story of how her son was near a carousel, not facing it, heard the children shouting and told his mother he heard the hyenas. When she turned around she realized what her son thought to be hyenas cackling were just inner city children at play. She was horrified by the similarities, what was Disney implying?
So now that I have shared all of this information to you about Disney and how their use of ideology can influences their viewers, what do you think?