It may seem far-fetched to try and draw parallels between the Nazis and the good-old-American-as-apple-pie Disney corporation, but I will demonstrate to you, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Disney Corporation has used in the past –and continues to– use methods of indoctrination on our children, similar to what the Nazi’s have employed.
Although I am specifically calling out Disney for these practices, I am also obliquely pointing a finger at Pixar, Dreamworks and Nickelodeon, and any other major producers of media for children, because they emulate the practices of Disney. (they’re very successful, after all) When I refer to Disney, I also imply these named and unnamed others as responsible parties and co-conspirators.
The Nazis took brainwashing to a whole new level, taking German children from their parents and raising them in state crèches, which made sure they grew up proper Nazis from as early an age as possible. The state taught them everything that they needed to ensure that the impressionable German children were raised to worship the fatherland and their Furher as a god.
Ironically enough, Disney made a short movie about the Nazis and the indoctrination program that they put children through, called Education for Death (Link is to the movie, hosted on YouTube)
This movie, although blatantly a war-propaganda film, holds a surprising amount of truth in its technicolor glory.
Children, taken from family, and forced to absorb state programming learn exactly what the state wants, with no chance of refusal. This statutory literacy paved the way for a generation of hate filled individuals. Now you may ask “What does this have to do with Disney?”. It’s a valid question, and one that deserves serious thought. Consider the case for the overworked mother (or father), who in her desperation, pops in a DVD (I really wanted to say video, but that dates me) to capture her beloved progeny’s attention for almost two hours, whilst she manages to get something, anything done. The lively music and bright colors do just that, and quite efficiently as well. What’s more, those bright colors and entertaining songs teach some very interesting things on the sly. Some people might hear my list and dismiss it as nonsense, claiming that children don’t see that deeply into anything. Which is fine, except that they totally do. It’s a common mistake to ever assume a child didn’t notice something, which is why you should never swear around a child if you don’t want them to pick up the habit, (one of mine, unfortunately)
Essentially a captive audience, these children sit and absorb the morality and lessons taught by the movies that are played day in and day out. You may think back on the Disney movies you have watched in the past and disagree, but I will provide examples and imagery that will prove my point without a shadow of a doubt.
In Nazi Germany, women were restricted from participating in political and academic spheres, and were often told that the place for them was as a wife and mother for the Fatherland.
Hermann Goering less bluntly summarized the future role of German women: “Take a pot, a dustpan and a broom and marry a man.”(USHMM)
Disney’s take on the subject is represented many times in numerous films, but I will focus on The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Road to El Dorado and Tarzan.
“The messages embedded within these films resonate with children and are reiterated through other sources, while they also resound with parents who have also received the same lessons since childhood.”(Look Out New World, 167)
Giroux also notes: “In The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King all of the women in both films are ultimately subordinate to men and define their power almost exclusively in terms of dominant male narratives.” (Giroux, 80-81)
After considering these two quotes, Let’s take a look at an example:
Ariel, in The Little Mermaid, who was based on Alyssa Milano when she was sixteen (thus giving her an age, unofficially)(TLM:AC) is the youngest of seven daughters, and ostensibly seems to be fighting against a controlling father, and feels compelled to explore the human world to discover and claim the object of her desires, but she soon makes a pact with Ursula, who gives her the ability to walk in exchange for her voice. Ariel then becomes a metaphor for the traditional housewife-in-training narrative. The sea-witch Ursula tells Ariel that taking away her voice isn’t so bad because men don’t like women who talk. (Giroux, 81)
So we see a lesson on subservience and personal value being determined by the opinion of males. Not a great start, I think. The next example will further shed illumination on the subject.
In Aladdin, Princess Jasmine’s,(who is the much admired and desired sixteen year-old princess of Agrabah,) life is almost completely defined by men, and in the end, her happiness is ensured by Aladdin, who is finally given permission to marry her. (Giroux, 81)
Now we see that women are objects to be bartered by or given to men. I have one last example to show, and it’s the most disturbing:
Beauty and the Beast‘s story is more convoluted, but just as vile. Belle, who is portrayed as an independent woman from the city stuck in a provincial village in 18th century France. She is called odd because she is often seen reading a book. Often considered a bit of a feminist, she holds strong willed views on the world, and is surprisingly worldly and well spoken. However, this character that has been built up is dashed to the ground when she takes her father’s place serving the Beast, before deciding to civilize him. This is where the story becomes particularly problematic. The Beast not only takes her away from the only family that she has, but yells at her to try and force her to fall in love with him and stay, both clear signs of domestic abuse. But instead of reviling this, the movie makes it seem noble to suffer abuse, when clearly it is not. For a viewer who is living in a violent relationship, who needs to maintain faith in something beyond her immediate situation, this story suggests that if she acts in a loving way towards her abusive partner, he might learn from her how to be loving and might turn into a prince for her.(The Disney Defect)
She starts with an admirable personality, but then discards it for the more familiar weak woman character who must suffer for love, which is a pity. These three examples of sexism should cement a clearer understanding of some the subtext found within Disney movies, or at least, prompt you to watch them once again, more carefully.
So what does effect does these examples (purportedly) have on children?
The effect is twofold, with distinct differences based on the gender of the viewer. In the case for female viewers, they are taught that they have little value unless it’s attributed to a man, that the desire to educate yourself is strange and unwomanly, and to suffer through an abusive relationship shows true love.
Male viewers learn that women are weak and need to be protected. They are supposed to serve the men and can be won through acts of heroism, and hurling verbal (and otherwise) abuse at them is perfectly acceptable, because they will love you anyway.
This is a dreadful set of lessons to be learned. How can sexual equality ever be realized when this sort of poisonous tripe is taught to our children surreptitiously? The next literacies that we will examine concern society, race, and how the two should work together.
The Nazis made no effort to hide their ideal personal image; tall, blonde haired, blue eyed and handsome. All others were üntermensch –sub-humans– who deserved only to be reviled and exterminated. Likewise, Disney portrays the ideal person as being aristocratic and British. Although Disney never actually says it (Like the Nazis did) they lay subtle hints throughout their works to this end.
Giroux states: (In Aladdin) “All of the bad guys have beards, bulbous noses, sinister eyes and heavy accents, and they’re wielding swords constantly. Aladdin doesn’t have a big nose; he has a small nose. He doesn’t have a beard or a turban. He doesn’t have an accent. What makes him nice is they’ve given him this American character.” (Giroux, 82)
Despite the fact that he’s an Arab (as is everyone else in the movie) and a street urchin who steals to survive, he is given the white male voice, moreover an American white male voice. Obviously the American character is the protagonist, how could he not be? He sounds smart and looks handsome. This not-so-subtle racial dig only fans the fires of those who suffer from islamophobia, and since that’s an issue that’s seen in the news and other medias almost daily, it is doubly reinforced. Giroux also provides us with our second example, this time from The Lion King. (whose poster seemingly has the image of a woman in a thong on display)
Giroux dissects The Lion King in a similar way: “Racially coded language is also evident in The Lion King where all the members of the royal family speak with posh British accents while Shenzi and Banzai, the despicable hyena storm troopers, speak through the voices of Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin in racially coded accents that take on the nuances of the discourse of decidedly urban, black and Latino youth.”(Giroux, 82)
Again, a caste system is being portrayed, where affluent white people stand over the lower classed ethnic people, which leads me to the third piece of evidence.
In The Road to El Dorado, the natives are depicted as child-like innocents, in awe of the amazing and god-like Europeans. It should be noted that the (reluctant heroes) Spaniards inexplicably have British accents.
So now we have a whole people treated (and portrayed) as if they were slightly retarded because they are technologically behind the Spaniards, and the protagonists are given a different accent to further the idea that they are white, (and it’s true that many Spaniards are white, some even Aryan.) but it’s been established that a Spanish accent makes them a lower class of person, and not fit to be the heroes of the story. So in essence, they’re making sure they won’t be confused for Mexicans. How low is that?
In conclusion, it should be clear that Disney clearly has been working on programming that teaches our children that 1) women are inferior to men 2) Upper class white people should be in charge, and 3) people who look different or have foreign accents are villainous or of lower status than white people. All of these points have been attributed to the Nazi party at one time or another to varying degrees, which leaves me to say…
I truly do not think Disney is at all like the Nazi regime, save for the indoctrination schemes, but the point is clear. There is a significant effort being made to shape the minds of the young, and it’s cloaked in the appearance of innocence and adventure. I mean, who doesn’t like the song Under the Sea? It seems like so much innocent fun, right?
So what can be done? Precious little, I fear. Disney is the proverbial juggernaut, and it’s already charging ahead, full tilt. The best you can do is to realize what’s happening, and try your best to take steps to counteract the programming, participate with your children, and don’t pass the responsibility of parenting onto a corporation who has only its own interests at heart. I hold no expectations that you could completely insulate children from Disney and it’s peers, and even if you tried, you’d only end up looking like a religious nut.
Giroux, Henry A. “When You Wish Upon A Star It Makes A Difference Who You Are: Children’s Culture And The Wonderful World Of Disney.” International Journal Of Educational Reform 4.1 (1995): 79-83. ERIC. Web. 20 Aug. 2013.
“Look out new world, here we come”: Race, racialization, and sexuality in four children’s animated films by Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks (2009) Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies, 9 (2) , pp. 166-178.
“The Disney Defect.” : Domestic Violence in Beauty and the Beast. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2013. <http://thedisneydefect.blogspot.com/2012/11/domestic-violence-in-beauty-and-beast.html>.
Ron Clements, John Musker, Alan Menken. The Little Mermaid: Audio Commentary (DVD). Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. (2006)
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The Holocaust.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org. Accessed on 20 Aug. 2013.