Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Online Assignment #3 - Miller

In the film Mickey Mouse Monopoly concerns about the effect that the ubiquitous entertainment distributed by The Walt Disney Corporation have on the malleable minds of young children. Experts share concerns about Disney portraying certain characters as heavily stereotyped based on gender and race particularly, even going so far as to say that these films are racist. Whether these portrayals are intentional or unintentional it is clear that Disney’s influence is wide and its perspective is seldom questioned by either adults or children who have not yet developed the capacity to filter the media they consume. The results can be harmful and inaccurate perceptions that children acquire about themselves and other groups of people they interact with.
            The two-step flow is a model of media influence that can be used to evaluate and represent the claims that experts make in this film. The two-step flow shows that in many cases ideas presented by mass media are filtered through opinion leaders who portray their own personal accounts of what is being communicated. In the case of Disney the opinion leaders that filter mass media messages are the script writers, animation artists, and lyricists who make the films distributed by the company. The example that best illustrates this phenomenon is the choice of lyrics for the opening song of the Disney film Aladdin. Howard Ashman, the lyricist for the film, wrote two versions of the song lyrics. One version was milder while the other one portrayed Middle Eastern countries as barbaric and primitive, lacking moral fiber. The creative executives at Disney decided to use the version that broadcasted stronger stereotypes for whatever reason (possibly they thought it would make the film more comical or entertaining). The creative team at Disney deliberately filtered media messages before they were broadcasted to a primarily young audience. In this case the message was inaccurate and formed harmful childhood perceptions of people from the Middle East.

            The cultural studies perspective of Stuart Hall is a relevant method of evaluating messages communicated by Disney as well. This theory includes two key concepts: representation and resistance. Representation is an attempt to give meaning to characters or items depicted, while resistance is the degree to which those representations conflict with peoples’ beliefs or values, showing that people are not merely passive receivers of messages. The problem with transmitting cultural messages and representations to children is that their internal filter is not yet developed enough to properly resist inaccurate or harmful messages In Beauty and the Beast, gender roles are an apparent message in the plot of the film. The Beast is egregiously abusive to Belle, the protagonist, and she responds by continuing to be passive and kind. Eventually she “tames the beast” and transforms him into a noble and gentlemanly prince. The message that this gives young girls is that if you are with an abusive and unkind partner you can change him into a respectful and upstanding companion by continuing to be kind to him and put up with his abuse. This represents an ideal that the female gender is passive and fragile, and the male gender is domineering and violent unless tamed by an ideal female, harmful for both young boys and girls. Both cultural studies and the two-step flow adequately illustrate the criticisms that the film discusses.

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