Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I thought it would take me longer than it did, but I finished the book THE MOUSE THAT ROARED - DISNEY AND THE END OF INNOCENCE by Henry A. Giroux already. It wasn't a long book, clocking in at 173 pages, with many of them being pages of sources and footnotes. It's a well documented work, done from an academic perspective. Not my usual cup of tea.

But it was still interesting, even if I found myself skimming various paragraphs of argument in order to get to his point. The book consists of an introduction and 5 chapters. The intro is titled "Disney's Troubled Utopia", and it takes the approach that one cannot separate Disney as a teacher and a purveyor of values and knowledge from the mega-corporation, and that this is the angle that the book will cover.

The five chapters are titled "Disney and the Politics of Public Culture", "Learning with Disney", "Children's Culture and Disney's Animated Films" "Memory, Nation and Family in Disney Films", and "Turning America into a Toy Store". Giroux seems to be arguing that since Disney is tying its marketing and sales to the idea that they are the embodiment of American patriotism, responsibility comes with the content they deliver. That content is imprinting upon young minds and shaping them into some Disney version of a consumer; that is, one who will buy lots and lots of Disney products. I can't say I disagree with this point, but wonder how much of an effect they are actually having on young minds. And I think that some of the responsibility for this issue lies with parents. Disney is, after all, a corporation beholden to the interests (ie, turning a profit) of their shareholders. When he discusses their control over the news, however, and the potential for abuse (like the tale he cites where, after acquiring ABC/Cap Cities, the upper management killed a 20/20 piece that was going to be critical of the new owners), I feel there is a significant potential for abuse. And there is a responsibility by the company to keep editorial content free of corporate control.

The rest of the book seems to be a lot of analysis suggesting that Disney is in it for money and not for the best interests of the public. I would suggest that most of us already know this. The same holds true for every corporation. Ostensibly our government is supposed to be in it for the public's interest, and I believe that generally they are. Where do we draw the line with a corporation? I suppose when they actually break a law. You can't blame a guy for trying, as the saying goes. They want to sell tickets to their films, they want to sell their videos, their toys, and they want to have people visit their theme parks and properties. That's what they do.

There is a bunch of interesting analysis of Disney's cartoons and then also of two pictures that I believe were released through Touchstone: Good Morning Vietnam and Pretty Woman. Giroux gives the reader the most sinister of readings of underlying messages for all of these films, claiming racism and paternalism, suppression of women's rights, and a whitewashing of culture to promote white middle class culture...which also happens to be the target for Disney's corporate marketing strategy. I suppose it's one way of looking at it, and Giroux points out early on that it isn't the only way, that not everyone will get these messages out of the cartoons or films. But it also seems to me, based on the type of analysis, that one could make a scholarly analysis of almost any fictional work and find similar undertones if one wishes.

All in all, it's a thought provoking book, but it often seems to be talking about stuff I never got from the company or from its films. Still, I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in "Disney Studies".

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