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Media consumers worldwide believe that Disney’s animated films are wholesome fun for the entire family to enjoy. However, a critical analysis of Disney’s movies revealed that they continue to promote films full of stereotypes that demean women, the working class, and those who struggle with their weight (Lamb & Brown, 2006). If consumers exercised their media literacy skills they would be appalled at the amount of flagrant stereotypes in Disney films and demand more realistic characters. This paper will analyze the following stereotypes found in Disney’s movie Mulan, and determine if these labels have an effect on viewers: dark skin versus light, fit versus fat, working class versus the elite class, and the overuse of female abuse.
Dark versus Light …
First, Fa Mulan, the female protagonist in the film made a strong statement when she wiped away her white Geisha girl makeup to show her natural, darker complexion. Mulan tried to make her family happy by hiding behind the traditional makeup, but she could not live a lie and chose to be true to her inner self. Studies show that young impressionable girls pay attention to what girl characters are saying and doing (Lamb & Brown, 2006). Thus, Disney receives praise for addressing this issue and putting a positive spin on dark skin.
In contrast, the lead villain, Shan Yu, and his soldiers are dark-skinned and loom larger than their enemies. Why cast villains as darker and larger? Is it difficult for illustrators to create another way to portray dark thoughts? Are illustrators racists? Disney continues to show stereotypes in films like, Aladdin, where the heroes have Anglo-American looks and accents, but the villains are dark-skinned and have Arabic accents (Clements & Musker, 1992; Wingfield & Karaman, 2001). Over time, consumers may start believing that people with darker skin are evil. The time has come to lighten up on the color of a villain’s skin.
Muscle Madness; Bigger than Big …
Not only do villains loom large, our hero Captain Li Shang has a very muscular physique that looks more like an Anglo-American body on steroids. During drill practice, Li Shang takes off his shirt in front of his unfit cadets and parades around with bulging pectoral muscles and six-pack abdominals. I doubt a captain in the Chinese army would disrobe in such Hollywood fashion. This G.I. Joe stereotype takes away from the story by making Li Shang into a sex symbol rather than a noble young warrior. Alas, at the end of the movie, the once feisty Mulan actually falls for the good-looking captain in Disney’s classic happily-ever-after style. This fully negates Mulan’s strong and independent character, but definitely supports Disney’s mantra of unrealistic happy endings (Maio, 1998; Lamb & Brown, 2006).
Sadly, the heavy Chinese soldier may be the recipient of the most overt stereotype in the film. Whether swimming underwater, crossing the river on poles, or marching with his fellow cadets, the portly soldier is portrayed as clumsy and always in the way. However, the most vexing moment was when the larger cadet sang about the girl he would fight for. He did not care what she wore or how she looked; thus, all that mattered was how she cooked. In one sense, this sounds like a step forward for women—in that, looks are not everything (Lamb & Brown, 2006). Yet, in reality it is a step backwards for large men who supposedly only want someone to feed them. Lastly, while dressed as a concubine the soldier says, “Does this dress make me look fat?” The comment was funny and does elicit a laugh, but it makes fat people into a joke. And, that is not funny. Fortunately, near the end of the movie, the larger comrade becomes quite agile along with his fellow soldiers and saves the heroes as they dangle from a cliff.
Working Class versus Elite Class …
Interestingly, General Li promotes his son to captain and jokes that he comes from an impressive military lineage. In contrast, Li Shang’s superior, the Emperor’s Counselor, rebuffs the new Captain saying, “I got the job on my own” (Bancroft & Cook, 1998). Disney effectively portrayed the difference between preferential treatment and hard work. Further, the screen writers showed how arrogance can cause one to stumble, like when the proud counselor fell for the simple ploy concocted by the lizard Mushu to get the fighters to the front lines. Disney’s message is clear. Anybody—no matter what their rank—can fall for a clever ruse.
Sadly, the Chinese cadets are shown as working class buffoons until they receive military training. While military service can transform young people, it is narrow-minded to portray working class people as barbaric and uncultured prior to such training. Stereotypes like this may cause kids to treat people unfairly (Shifrin, 1998).
Female Bashing and Thrashing
Lastly, the Emperor’s Counselor may have worked his way up in the ranks, but the man is a colossal idiot. Perhaps the screen writers used his antics to elicit strong emotions against him. However, I argue that slapping Mulan and throwing her to the ground is not something kids or adults need to see. The Counselor’s actions were deplorable, and his words harmful. He expressed that he knew there was something wrong with Mulan and went on to refer to her as “a woman, a treacherous snake” (Bancroft & Cook, 1998). Aggressive scenes like this could perpetuate this type of abuse against girls and women (Shifrin, 1998). Mulan is the hero and does not deserve this sort of attack. Why did Disney have to go there?
In sum, Disney films are made to entertain the entire family, but this paper suggests that parents should do their homework first. They need to exercise their media literacy skills and prepare their children for the onslaught of stereotypes in these films. Disney’s princess Mulan may not dress in pink, but she’s also not as independent as we were led to think.
Bancroft, T., & Cook, B. (Directors). (1998). Mulan. [Motion picture]. United States: Walt Disney Pictures.
Clements, R., & Musker, J. (Directors). (1992). Aladdin. [Motion picture]. United States: Walt Disney Pictures.
Lamb, S., & Brown, L. M. (2006). Packaging Girlhood. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Maio, K. (1998, December). Disney’s dolls [Electronic version]. New Internationalist, 308. Retrieved March 28, 2009, from http://www.newint.org/issue308/dolls.html
Shifrin, D. (1998, August). Three-year study documents nature of television violence. AAP News. Retrieved March 28, 2009, from http://www.aap.org/advocacy/shifrin898.htm
Wingfield, M., & Karaman, B. (2001). Arab stereotypes and American educators (revised version of an article which appeared in the March/April 1995 issue). Social Studies and the Young Learner, 132-136. Retrieved March 28, 2009, from http://www.adc.org/arab_stereo.pdf
“Consultants, committees, and computers” determine what the public will hear on the radio waves, see on the television screens, or read in the online or offline news (Moyers, 2002, p. 6). On the surface a mix of expertise and technology looks progressive and practical with the capability to deliver every consumer’s desires. However, a deeper probe reveals that a corporate-driven quest for profits actually strips media markets of diversity. First, this paper suggests that the deregulation craze caused the two-decade decline in the number of media companies; and second, it argues that the negatives outweigh the positives in the music industry where four companies dominate leaving little room for competition.
Deregulation on Business Growth Hormone …
How in two decades did the fifty major media companies merge into five massive conglomerates and emerge with significant political clout (Moyers, 2002)? Critics believe that multiple mergers compounded by relaxed regulatory rules contributed to the fact that we now have only five major media companies: “Time Warner, Disney, NewsCorp, Viacom, and Bertelsmann” (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006a, p. 109). Unfortunately, as these media entities grew they took on a more corporate mentality which meant the pursuit of profits overtook the desire to serve the public interests. Further, scholars and industry professionals posit that growth in communications technology linked with conservative politics led to deregulation of the media industry on business’s equivalent of human growth hormone (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006a; Moyers, 2002). News Corporation’s Chief Executive Officer, Rupert Murdoch provided a classic example of this exponential growth when he boasted that his media network has the capacity to reach three quarters of the world’s population (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006b, p. 140).
Today, music consumers enjoy having more media outlets and product options than twenty or thirty years ago (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006a). Lee (2003) pointed out that conglomerates like Clear Channel Communications grew from forty radio stations in 1996 to more than 1,200 by 2003. As of February 2009, Clear Channel Radio’s website prominently states that they syndicate “90 radio programs”, and service “more than 5,000 radio affiliations”, and thereby reach “over 190 million listeners weekly” (Clear Channel Radio, 2009). Clear Channel can now reach listeners from coast-to-coast with its menu of radio programs, similar to the way McDonald’s consumers expect to order the same food items from city to city (Moyers, 2003). Further, music consumers can pick up their favorite radio programs wherever they go via radio, internet, or they can download them to play later on an iPod or equivalent.
Listeners also benefit in this corporate-owned era from the “standards of professionalism and high production values” offered by large media conglomerates with easy access to investment capital (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006a, p. 112). Now, consumers can access music via online streaming “in various formats” and listen to satellite radio that offers superior sound (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006a, p. 112). Therefore, music consumers who use iPods and handhelds enjoy the technological benefits of portability and higher quality.
First, large media companies actually cheat consumers of a local experience by substituting a real deejay with a station on autopilot mode. Many local deejays and other radio staff receive pink slips as national conglomerates cut operating costs by taking out the human element and adding voice tracking (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006c; Moyers, 2003). The voice tracking process entails recording an air personality’s voice, mixing it “with music, commercials and jingles”, and then broadcasting it on a regional or national basis (Moyers, 2003, p. 1). In the end, the consumers lose because they get “less music … less news … and less local flavor” (Moyers, 2003, p. 1).
Second, consumers and musicians suffer when art is lost and big profits are sought in a corporate arena (Lee, 2003). For example, media conglomerates enlist focus groups to test music for their formatted radio shows in the quest for “safe” music (Moyers, 2002, p. 6). Once the focus groups deem a song safe, the massive radio chains start playing them constantly across the nation. These stations play safe songs to keep an audience tuned-in hoping they will stay long enough to hear the commercials (Moyers, 2002). As a result, the stations end up playing homogenized tunes instead of providing communities with a local flavor (Moyers, 2002). Thus, while the corporate media entities play it safe, musicians lose the opportunity to exercise their creative, artistic abilities which in the end negatively affects consumers.
In sum, the general public lacks the media literacy skills to dig below the surface and recognize that their favorite radio stations are part of a colossal conglomerate. Consumers content with their media options and high quality service have no idea that radio chains play the same programs in Minnehaha, Minnesota as they hear at home in Kissimmee, Florida. Sadly, most consumers remain oblivious to the negative effects of a constant diet of homogenized material. In my opinion, the negatives clearly outweigh the positives. Therefore, journalists and communications professionals must work together to educate the public on the importance of media literacy and together fight to save our public interests.
Clear Channel Radio. (2009). Premiere radio networks. Retrieved February 14, 2009, from http://www.clearchannel.com/Radio/PressRelease.aspx?PressReleaseID=1599&p=hidden
Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2006a). The new media giants. In The business of media: Corporate media and the public interest (pp. 75-115). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2006b). Strategies of the new media giants. In The business of media: Corporate media and the public interest (pp. 117-152). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2006c). How business strategy shapes media content. In The business of media: Corporate media and the public interest (pp. 155-189). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Lee, J. S. (2003, December 19). Musicians protesting monopoly in media. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/featured_articles/20031219friday.html
Moyers, B. (2002, April 26). Virtual radio. In B. Breslauer (Producer), Now. Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved February 15, 2009 from http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_clearc.html
The news that people watch, read, or listen to shapes their perception and over time has the potential to transform into a belief system. This post suggests that Americans suffer from a lack of media literacy skills and offers ways in which people can obtain and improve these skills in order to take in a healthy dose of media options. It will argue that what we perceive, we tend to believe.
This post discusses several relevant pieces of literature produced by scholars on the origins of perception and media bias.
In America, citizens have the right to exercise their media literacy skills to search for a vein of truth or a version they can live with. To accomplish this people must cut through the veneer in search of visceral content and that includes stories they may not agree with. But most people are too busy to digest multiple news sources and often feed on news outlets that resonate with their political, social, or environmental positions. So, instead of challenging their views, they merely reinforce them.
Pronin, Kennedy, and Butsch (2006) concluded that people are so confident in their own point of view that others appear biased. In other words, if a co-worker’s views are far from your own, he or she may appear biased to you. Data collected by scholars also suggested that a variety of factors cause perceived bias; for example, an affiliation with a particular political group will alter perception instead of the actual media coverage itself (Ariyanto, Hornsey, & Gallois, 2007; Kim & Pasadeos, 2007). Therefore, people on both sides of an issue will look at the same media story and see it as biased (Ariyanto, Hornsey, & Gallois, 2007; Kim & Pasdeos, 2007).
People unconsciously allow the media to build their perception and eventually manipulate their belief systems. So, how can people re-construct their personal views? Is it possible? I argue that people can change by supplementing their media mix. If individuals use one source like Fox News, but do not supplement it with other views their perception will be limited. The same could be said for those who take in a daily diet of only CNN or Al Jazeera. Aday, Livingston, and Hebert (2005) deduced from their research that during the lead up to the Iraq War, American networks barely mentioned the growing dissent in the US and worldwide that brought millions of people out to rallies and marches. In contrast, Al Jazeera devoted 6.7% of its airtime to the issue of dissent (Aday, Livingston, & Herbert, 2005). Would the Bush administration have sold the public on initiating the war if Americans had heard in greater detail about the worldwide and U.S. dissent on the news? Sadly, we will never know.
In sum, scholars have analyzed the origins of perception bias and concluded that people base their perception of events on the following:
1) what they watch, listen, or read,
2) which political party they affiliate with, and
3) a host of other factors.
In America, many people grew up with only three television networks and they still rely on these sources today. However, young people growing up with new technologies prefer a plethora of options and are ripe to learn how to use them. In that regard, media literacy advocates must continue to encourage people of all ages to vary their media mix to ensure more balance and a broader perspective.
This post discusses two videos that offer different views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In some cases, the mere topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can bring typically mild-mannered people to the brink of emotional distress. Some, especially Christians and Jews, feel that Israel has a God-given right to the land and to defend itself. For example, many of my friends and relatives feel that the Israelis did the right thing by attacking the Palestinians in December of 2008. I argue that if these people were to openly partake of a well-balanced media mix, they might begin to perceive the Israeli-Palestinian issue, as well as other issues, differently.
(Al Jazeera English, 2009).
Several of the comments on Al Jazeera’s Focus on Gaza website reveal how people can have an open, civil discussion about this conflict. I would like to highlight two of them:
“I am very thankful that Al Jazeera is investigating war crimes in Gaza. Please don’t stop. I am sure there must be hundreds of war crimes. Al Jazeera is making a difference in the World.” (Barnes, 2009).
Robert Barnes, United States
22/02/2009 (Gaza War Crimes)
“It’s interesting, at least from my perspective, that the Arabs and the Jews hate each [other] so much. I speak as a Jew myself when I say that we are sons and daughters of Abraham. There is no logical reason why we should fight. Yes, Israel has done horrible things to Palestinians. But on the flipside, Arabs are waging a war of hatred against Israel just for being a Jewish state. I read the paper everyday and everyday I am amazed at the hatred both sides have. This hate must stop for their to be peace.” (Aaron, 2009).
Aaron, United States
07/03/2009 (Arabs and Jews)
I am not suggesting a total new diet of news from Al Jazeera, but something from the opposite side or at least a different angle. After watching Al Jazeera and Fox News, some people might come up with thoughtful questions or insightful remarks that could lead to a dialogue similar to the one above. For example, the following YouTube vlogger provides a good example of using several forms of media and pausing to ask questions:
(Liberal Viewer, 2009).
Americans need to learn to flex their media literacy muscles. Our brains are in an atrophied state from taking in the same redundant sources. Even though it is painful to listen to something that one opposes or does not understand, we must open our minds, take a deep breath, and try. People who want to discuss these issues should start a blog, embed video comparisons, and add questions to see how other people think. In order to achieve balance, Americans must open their minds to new perspectives.
This post will analyze news outlets in the United States to determine if Americans are getting fair and balanced coverage.
As a result of their analysis, Cushion and Lewis (2009) suggested that news outlets in the United States are “insular and parochial” because they tend to focus on domestic news; thus, relegating international news to a less significant level (p. 140). Unfortunately, this leaves the general populace to search for international news on their own. Most Americans are either lazy or too busy and do not look further than their nation’s borders. Instead, they blissfully follow what the news organizations provide for them which is usually short sound bites from government officials or military experts that frame countries according to their current affiliation with the United States (Herman & Chomsky, 2002). News outlets frame their content based on what countries are allies or friends of the United States; thus, they cast a certain light on countries deeming their stories or people as “worthy or unworthy” (Herman & Chomsky, 2002).
All framing issues aside, Cushion and Lewis (2009) asserted that some news outlets are no longer in the business of providing facts. Instead, they offer consumers an entertaining version with an ideological twist built on gimmicks and opinion all in an effort to capture audience share (Cushion & Lewis, 2009, p. 132). Unfortunately, these tactics combined with an insular slant do not offer Americans fair and balanced coverage as evidenced by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). PIPA’s Principal Investigator, Steven Kull (2002) conducted a study titled “Americans on the Israel/Palestinian Conflict: A Study of US Public Attitudes” that provided the following results:
“Asked whether ‘so far this year, more Israelis or more Palestinians have died in the conflict, or is the number roughly equal?’ only 32% of respondents were aware that more deaths have occurred on the Palestinian side than on the Israeli side. Half believed that either more Israelis died (15%), or that the deaths suffered by Israelis and Palestinians had been roughly equal (35%). Another 18% did not answer” (p. 11).
Half of the respondents thought that more Israeli’s died, but the truth is that more Palestinians died as a result of the occupation. Why did these respondents believe there were more Israeli victims? Could it be because Americans hear more on the news about Israelis that are targeted by Palestinian suicide bombers than about the random deaths of Palestinians. Is it because Americans see an overuse of “Breaking News” showing bomb-blasted Israeli buses with ambulances scurrying to take the wounded and worse to hospitals or morgues (Cushion & Lewis, 2009, p. 143)?
This finding is indicative of what American freelance journalist Alison Weir, founder of the website If Americans Knew has learned from her visits to the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and, from monitoring the real number of deaths on her website. Weir is trying to inform the public about the plight of the Palestinians in an increasingly polarized environment. She shares statistics from the Israeli-Palestinian issue that differ with what the news outlets deliver on a daily basis. For example, 1,072 Israelis have died since September 29, 2000, compared to an overwhelming 6,348 Palestinians who perished in the same time frame (Weir, 2009). Clearly, every life is important and every death a tragedy. But, the disparity in reporting is colossal especially when you look at the actual coverage and realize most of the stories focus on the notion of Israelis as the victims and Palestinians as the perpetrators. In a 2004 study of Associated Press headlines or lead paragraphs, 131% of Israeli deaths were reported in comparison to 66% of Palestinian deaths (Deadly Distortions, 2004). In other words, Israeli deaths were reported on average two times more than Palestinians.
Deeply affected by this knowledge, I posted a link to an article by Alison Weir on my Facebook page and immediately received a response from an old high school colleague. He said, “She is a political activist, and a very well known, longtime anti-Semite” (S. O., personal communication, April 1, 2009). How did he know about Alison? I had stumbled across her website several years ago while doing research. I had never heard of her, yet my friend claims she is very well-known. After several Google searches I realized that mainly Zionist writers and the Anti-Defamation League were publicly condemning Alison. My hope is that more people will look at the facts and neutralize these sensational, divisive comments.
Please take 28 minutes of your time and watch Alison Weir’s video Off the Charts and decide for yourself.