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“Culture of Consumption”

June 20, 2011

In class for Media Criticism, we watch two movies: Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood and Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood & Corporate Power. Both movies examine how ideas hidden in media texts can influence our youth, creating a new generation of social values and “culture of consumption.” I will use examples from the movies to examine how children’s social values are being shaped, but first let’s talk about ideological criticism.

We can use ideological criticism to examine certain texts. Ideological criticism examines how ideas are embedded in and circulated through texts, how they serve the interest of the dominant elites, and how the systematic representation of these ideas becomes accepted as normal and natural. Most of these ideas go unnoticed and unchallenged. Ideological criticism helps us understand dominant ideas and values circulating throughout our social world.

Ideology was defined in class as a means of exerting power and a tool in which dominant elites use to extend their control over others. Ideology works to maintain existing power relations and refers to a set of ideas that are usually partial and selective. Ideology deals with how these ideas become natural, obvious, and common.

It is important to understand how media institutions, texts, and practices establish and sustain existing power relations. Study of this information allows the oppressed to strive for material changes to improve equality. There is value in exposing and challenging dominant ideas and values.

The Political Economy Theory is concerned with how media institutions, texts, and practices establish and sustain existing power relations. Political Economy Theory also discusses how media advance the interests of dominant elites and how elites maintain control through hegemonic consensus.

Political Economists deal with the trend of deregulation, the growing power of global media conglomerates, and the increasing dominance of advertising and marketing. The political economic analysis examines the link between media ownership and ideology embedded in media texts. Political Economists have issues with the ideology of consumerism and how advertising and marketing practices promote a “culture of consumption.” Political Economists are increasingly looking into commercialization and childhood.

In the movie, Consuming Kids: The commercialization of Childhood, Political Economists examine how advertising is affecting children. One main point in the movie is the “nag factor,” which advertisers are increasingly using to their advantage. The “nag factor” is the idea that children nag their parents repeatedly for something they want until their parents agree to give it to them. Many commercials will say, “Just ask your parents.” Advertisers know that kids will ask their parents over and over again to get what they want, and that parents will eventually give in. The parents are usually so annoyed that they agree to give their child whatever they want so that they will just be quiet.

The movie also discussed how,in the 1980s, children’s advertising was completely deregulated, which dramatically changed commercialization targeted towards children. The way children were advertised to changed. The top ten products popular among children were all from television shows, such as Cabbage Patch Dolls and Care Bears. Star Wars started out with a movie and extended their reach with cross-production. Soon there were Star Wars lunch boxes, action figures, light sabers, costumes, books, and more. A Political Economist would look at how creating this assortment of Star Wars merchandise is encouraging kids to consume more.

Product-placement became another popular strategy among advertisers. This is where products and brand names are placed in movies, games, and television shows. For example, on American Idol, the judges are always drinking Coka Cola in big red cups with the brand name strewn across it. In Gilmore Girls, the mother-daughter duo is always eating Pop-tarts for breakfast. Placing a product in a show like this is a subtle way to promote a certain brand name to a target audience.

The movie also discussed something called age compression. This is the idea that children are getting older at a younger age. The dolls little girls play with are highly sexualized with tight, skimpy clothing, high-heels, and a lot of makeup. Makeup is advertised to young girls and teaches them at an early age that they need makeup to be beautiful. Cell phones are being marketed towards younger and younger generations. The advertisement industry is, in a way, taking away this generation’s childhoods by glamorizing and marketing products intended for an older audience, to younger children.

The advertisements targeted towards children are creating ideologies that if kids consume more they will be happy. It’s creating a culture of materialism with less emphasis on imagination, outdoor play, and innocence. Kids are consuming more and increasingly feeling like they need even more to be happy.

In the movie, Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood & Corporate Power representations of race, gender, and sexuality are critically examined. In the movie, many examples are given of how Disney presents ideologies to children.  Snow White is perfectly content cooking and cleaning at home with the animals as her only friends. This encourages young minds to think that a woman’s rightful place is in the home cooking and cleaning, and taking care of men (the dwarfs). Another example is Belle, who is smart and independent, yet returns to the Beast, who has abusive and violent behavior. The Beast’s behavior is classified as having a temper, but he portrays many characteristics of an abusive mate. Belle hangs out with him and is able to change him so that he becomes friendlier. This is thought of by Political Economists as a dangerous message. It is misleading because that is not how it pans out in real life. A woman in an abusive relationship cannot change the other person, nor should she go back to him after leaving.

The way sexuality is represented in Disney movies is also broken down. In Aladdin, Jasmine uses her sexuality to get what she wants as she distracts Jafar. Ariel gives up her voice, family, and is only left with her body to get the man. When the Sea Witch is seducing Ariel, she tells her she will have her looks, her pretty face, and the power of body language to get Eric. All of the princess in Disney movies have tiny waists and perfect hour-glass figures. Little girls absorb the princess’s looks and actions and start thinking that that’s how they want to look and act.

In addition to sexuality, race should also be examined in Disney movies. The majority of the characters in Disney movies are white. The baboons and orangutans in The Jungle Book are played by black people. The monkeys want to be real people but can never become real people. The Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp have Asian characteristics with an Asian accent and are portrayed as cunning and manipulative. The opening song from Aladdin was considered racist by Arabs because it bluntly says, “it’s barbaric but it’s home” referring to Saudi Arabia.

Disney movies all have the underlying idea that a woman, no matter how powerful, smart, or independent, is not capable of saving her own life. She will always need a man in her life to save her and make her life complete. In all of the princess movies, the Prince comes to their rescue and sweeps them off their feet.

It is important to look at Disney movies critically because they have hidden ideas that are displayed to young children, whose minds are like sponges. Kids are absorbing all of these ideas about what a woman looks like, how she acts, and her sexuality from watching these movies. It’s perpetuating another generation to grow up with the same oppressive ideas as the last generation. If we can at least recognize the power and influence that Disney has over our culture and social values, then we can educate our youth and prevent oppressive behavior from repeating itself.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2011 6:14 am

    In your blog, “Culture of Consumption” I enjoyed your discussion based on the film Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood & Corporate Power and the representation of race, gender, and sexuality in Disney movies. I think it is so interesting to look at Disney movies in a form of ideological criticism. From your blog I learned how children can absorb information about the world through all Disney movies. Young girls learn they must be skinny, attractive, and sexually. As well as young men learning to play a role of a “prince” or “savior”, and both young boys and girls learn underlying tones about racial and ethnic backgrounds but in a negative light. Your blog was very informative, I think the only advice I could give is how one could counter-act these forms of ideologies (or counter hegemony) embedded in Disney films, maybe through a mulitculturalist view, where other cultures should be portrayed from a “non-traditional” view. I don’t think I could disagree with any of your views on this topic. The only forms of improvement I could give are to have a few more outside of the class sources. Also maybe define some of the terms in a little more detail in case someone out of the class reads this and knows nothing about the topic. Otherwise I thought it was very well thought out and interesting.

  2. Ally McNamara permalink
    June 26, 2011 7:44 pm

    Meghan, you have a great conversational style of writing. Your blog is easy to read and you give great explanations for concepts that readers outside of our class might not know. The pictures you included demonstrated what you were talking about and were not just used as filler. Your definitions of ideological criticism, ideology, and political economy were very helpful in understanding the assignment and your critique of the movies. I wish I would have read those definitions before our exam because it would have helped me better understand ideology! I must have missed the part of the “Consuming Kids” movie that talked about deregulation in the 1980s. It was very interesting how advertising to children via television sparked such a frenzy and now we just accept that most toy and product advertising is done through television and that it has the most impact. I loved your example from “Gilmore Girls.” I love that show but never noticed the Pop-Tarts until the example was mentioned in class. It would have been cool to see a clip from “Gilmore Girls” demonstrating your example. You had a few spelling and grammar mistakes in your blog but not to the point that it took away from the overall impact of your discussion. Double checking your spelling and grammar could improve your credibility to readers outside of our class. Other than that, you did a wonderful job and I enjoyed reading your post!

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