In the documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly, Disney is under scrutiny for its unrealistic representations of women, instances of racism/racial hierarchy, and commercializing children’s culture (just to name a few). Many accredited individuals are interviewed, offering their stance and insight on the issue, as well as interviews with young children who watch Disney movies. Throughout the film, many opinions and explanations coincide with several theories on media effects, specifically the magic bullet and cultural studies.
Beginning with the magic bullet, this perspective suggests that media has a direct and powerful effect on people, and is able to incite emotions and actions. Is most strongly demonstrated by the two young girls playing outside in “The Mirror Project.” One of the girls is exhibiting clearly unnatural behavior. The documentary juxtaposes this girl’s behavior with excerpts from Vanessa Williams’ music video of “Colors of the Wind” and highly sexualized images of Jessica Rabbit sauntering around in her risqué red dress. The young girl is singing while dramatically throwing her arms around, and flipping her hair. At one point, the girl even says, “Of course you know how we’re so beautiful…” in a low, airy voice while lowering her gaze and turning her face upwards to seem “coy.” Such behavior was also found in the Payne Fund Studies, in which children imitate movies while playing in desire to look like the images they’ve been exposed to.
Another example of the magic bullet is when the teacher is talking about instances she sees kids playing. Allison Wilson, a teacher, explains the different behavior she sees out of young girls on the playground. She illustrated how one of the girls would be laying on the ground dying while the other would be crying for help, or when one girl would lay against the fence with their hand to their face waiting for a boy to come to her rescue. Such behavior displays this idea of damsel-in-distress romance. This coincides with Payne Fund Studies findings that children imitate romance found in movies, ultimately adopting ideas of what love is supposed to be like.
The next perspective I found to be prominent within the film is cultural studies. This viewpoint has to do with how media represents culture in interaction with the existing culture, as well as how power works within a society. Dr. Gail Dines talks about this extensively regarding how women are portrayed in Disney films. She explains how in the 1930’s Snow White is the ultimate housewife; she cooks, she cleans, she stays at home, and she’s happy about it. However, with the rise of feminism, Disney had to keep up with themes in society, thus introducing “The Little Mermaid.” Here, the female “protagonist” Ariel defies and argues with her father about her love interest, which is supposed to symbolize female independence. However, it was a rather meek attempt to assimilate with these emerging feminist movements. This gives way to Mulan, who is a powerful, strong character that overcomes male enemies and strength. This timeline of main female characters represents changing views of women in society and how Disney has adjusted to such shifts.
The second example of cultural studies has to do with race and the consistent racial hierarchy within Disney movies that arguably promotes white supremacy. In the film Tarzan, Disney eliminates black people all together in Africa placing stereotypical “black” characteristics in the monkeys and orangutans that look to the white Tarzan as their superior. Dr. Elizabeth Hadley goes on to explain that these animals associate and socialize themselves with white people; they can never actually be MEN. Mulan is another example of white supremacy, but emphasizing the power of countries with large white populations. In Mulan, children’s book author Chyung Fung Sen explains how China is portrayed an incredibly sexist and oppressed society. Such figments of society create a world power structure in which the U.S. and European countries are the social and civilized front-runners, while other countries such as China are full of exploitation and subservience.
After viewing this documentary I admit I was shocked at Disney’s tactics that I never picked up on as a child. This film provided excellent examples on how deeply the media truly affects children and ourselves via the magic bullet and cultural studies, and I’m interested to see the change in my perception of Disney movies when watching them in the future.