Friday, September 10, 2010

Disney and Media Imperialism

As I read Thussu's chapter on theories of international communication, I nodded my head in agreement as paradigms such as modernization and dependency theories were discussed... and THEN... I came across the words "Disney comics" under the heading of structural imperialism and my mouth dropped in shock. Surely my beloved Disney movies were simple innocent family films and not examples of media imperialism, promoting capitalist values through film...

According to Lee Artz, "Disney's animated features simultaneously soften and distribute messages of class hierarchy and anti-social hyper-individualism." He analyzes the films and makes observations about everything from the movie's environments and backgrounds to the characters himself. It appears that the 'good guys' are usually designed with more European features and are more bright and curvy; on the other hand, the 'bad guys' tend to be drawn darker and with sharper angles. Immediately I thought about all of the 'ethnic' Disney characters and realized that this was even true of them... Pocohontas and Aladdin were drawn to look European with a darker shade of skin even though they were Native American and Middle Eastern, while the bad guys such as Jafar and the Hun in Mulan were drawn to look more like the nationalities they were supposed to represent. Artz even notes that the voices of these characters allow us to relate them to people... for example, Mufasa sounded noble and had a slight British accent; while the hyenas he says sounded like "steretypical Black and Latino youth."

Artz agrees that Disney films are guilty of supporting capitalist globalization, marketing their films all over the world in a multitude of languages and editing content that may not be seen as favorable to particular cultures where they are sold. Apparently Disney films fit the "three requirements of effective propoganda" because his vision will be seen, understood and remembered. According to Lee Artz, the messages of Disney films are not encouraging to democratic societies, but instead has envoked criticisms for being racist, anti-feminist, and for promoting ideas of "cultural privilege, social inequality and human alienation." He goes on to analayze a select group of Disney films and portrays how the plots are more than what they seem and points out how the themes of the naturalization of hierarchy, the defense of elite coercion and power, the promotion of hyper-individualism and the denigration of democratic solidarity are present.

But was it Walt Disney's vision to "deregulate and privatize world culture" through these films, or are they just simply a product of his own culture and ideals meant to simply tell stories about overcoming obstacles and defeating the bad guy in order to be successful and achieve one's goals?? I am not so sure that Disney intended to directly portray such capitalist themes to his audience; however, a closer look at things he has said and written would better allow me to make that call.


Artz, Lee. "Animating Hierarchy: Disney and the Globalization of Capitalism." Global Media Journal 1.1 (2002). Web. 10 Sept. 2010

Thussu, Daya. International Communication: Continuity and Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

1 comment:

  1. This is really good! I am doing a degree which includes Media and culture and this was very helpful :) thank you!