“The way the media affects how we think is a much less immediate and much less straightforward impact...it's more about creating an environment of images that we grow up in, and after awhile it cumulatively shapes how we see the world.” - Dr. Justin Lewis, Mickey Mouse Monopoly
The documentary “Mickey Mouse Monopoly” raises important questions about the power and impact of Disney on children, culture and society. Specifically, the movie reflects most the media effect perspectives of cultural studies and cultivation theory.
When I was little, I loved Disney movies. I still have an entire Spotify playlist, several hours long, that's devoted to Disney music. In light of this, I have to admit that although I agree with everything discussed in this movie – it is hard to hear. As the movie says “Disney capitalizes on innocence.” It also sparks strong feelings to learn that the beloved childhood memories of many children represent some of the worst stereotypes of our culture. Even if these are unintentional, as the documentary says, the effects are still present.
The cultural studies perspective argues that representations within media are influential, consequential and reproduce existing power structures. This is clearly the case with Disney. With movies such as Beauty and the Beast, they reinforce the nurturing, forgiving woman, even in the case of abuse. In fact, all portrayals of female roles are overtly sexualized and dependent – even those such as Mulan, who save the day, yet still end up married in the end. Depictions of race are no better, between the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp to the hyenas in The Lion King. They also reinforce international power structures and white supremacy with a Tarzan movie that is completely absent of any African characters and a historically inaccurate Pocahontas. These character choices, even in animals, reflect the power structure of Hollywood and of society.
Not only does the documentary reinforce existing power structures, as argued by the cultural studies perspective, but the cumulative effect of these media influences reflects cultivation theory. Disney is profoundly prevalent - not only do they monopolize children's cinema, but they spread this influence into toys, games and children's play. This compounded influence, over time, shapes the worldview of children and how they perceive reality. Children interviewed in the documentary clearly see nothing wrong with the movies. For example, several of the young girls said they would support Belle to stay with the Beast, despite the abusiveness of the relationship, because "he can change". This makes Disney a powerful influencer of culture, and at the same time, a perpetuator of potentially damaging cultural stereotypes.
The bigger issue becomes, then, if children are only reinforced in these same media stereotypes, how can Disney and society change? In this case, it would appear that the effect of Disney has not been so prevalent that it has quelched some dissent – as with the opposing side of the cultural studies, many of the stereotypes have been “reinterpreted and resisted”. The existence of this documentary is evidence of that. Similarly, the release of movies such as The Princess and the Frog shows an attempt, at least, on the part of Disney to create slightly less harmful cultural appropriations and portrayals. However, it is still an issue. Children are impressionable, and when they receive stereotypical impressions from Disney, the media effects they are being exposed to could shape their lives, their self-perception and their values.