Through generations, the name “Disney” has always been associated with children and fantasy. As a child, I owned several Disney-themed dolls and drawings that I proudly displayed in my room. I distinctly recall sprawling myself across the living room couch, sipping from my favorite Juicy Juice box as I watched Cinderella — repeatedly on late Saturday mornings.
Children all over the world enjoy all things Disney. In Peru, for example, kids of all ages, even some pre-teens, will have Disney-themed birthday parties. My cousin who runs her own bakery there often tells me about the parties she caters and sends me pictures of some of her cakes. The vast majority of parties she caters center around Disney. Usually, the birthday boy/girl will choose to base the theme off of a specific Disney movie or character. “Frozen”, apparently, has been the hot new choice for birthday bashes.
Just as for millions of other children world-wide, Disney had a large presence in my childhood. Furthermore, it continues to appear in my life, though in varying forms.
Janet Wasko, author of “Challening Disney Myths,” asserts that while much of Disney’s business is directed towards children, a large part of it is actually aimed towards older audiences. Because Disney targets the “family” market, it must reach various age groups, ranging from toddlers to elders. The incorporation of “classic” (older) Disney into products and theme parks (which, as Wasko points out, are mainly visited by adults) as well as the acquisition of television channels such as ABC and ESPN succeed in captivating more mature audiences and consumers.
People often say that Disney builds its own lifelong fan base. Keeping that in mind, it is important to consider the extent of Disney’s political and cultural influence. Wasko rightfully challenges the notion that Disney products are “wholesome and unbiased.” I believe she is definitely correct in calling attention to the company’s representation of Third World people as “noble savages.” Thinking back to some childhood films, the unsophisticated monkeys of “The Jungle Book” and the red, brusque Native Americans of “Peter Pan” strongly reflect racial stereotypes and put-downs. Disney also exhibits sexist themes in several films, portraying women as “weak, pristine, and incapable of independent action,” according to Wasko. Characters such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White possess no control over their future — only an unknown prince, essentially a stranger, can save them with a “kiss of love.”
While these princesses play the role of the main character, they can hardly be called heroines. I find it fascinating that, supported by a study, men make up fifty-seven percent of Disney characters, while women only account for twenty-one percent. In the Disney film industry, male characters clearly have the power and control over the plot line. Additionally, Wasko asserts that Disney perpetuates “All-American traits such as conservatism [and] homophobia.” While I do agree that Disney films often reflect traditional values surrounding family and patriotism, I do not see how they express any anti-gay sentiment. While classic films portray heterosexual couples, they were produced in a time when homosexuality was not an important topic of public conversation. So far, I have not found any evidence of clear anti-gay content in Disney. However, perhaps my view might evolve as I delve further into the company and the underlying themes of its films.