In “Animating Youth: The Disneyfication of Children’s Culture,” Henry Giroux discusses whether Disney’s animated films are a good influence on kids. He argues that they teach ideas in their films that are contradictory to societal priorities. Giroux states that in Disney, females “are ultimately subordinate to males and define their sense of power and desire almost exclusively in terms of dominant male narratives” (71). Although Disney movies are beautiful to watch, they are portraying harmful stereotypes. Disney has shown these stereotypes in many of their famous films.
The most well-known of them all is The Lion King, which is a sexist movie.
Disney films have charmed American culture for years and have become a pivotal part of education. Disney has an important role in a kid’s childhood. It has been one of the most popular and successful companies for the past few decades. On an outside appearance Disney is known for being magical. However, inside the works of the magical castle, it is not as innocent as one may think.
Behind every story there is an underlying message, and for Disney, the message just may include the common theme of sexism. They are using their work to target their most influential audience, children. Giroux writes, “These films inspire at least as much cultural authority and legitimacy for teaching specific roles, values, and ideals than more traditional sites of learning such as public schools, religious institutions, and the family” (66). These stereotypical movies are what are influencing our children today.
Giroux argues that Disney movies are harmful to the young society.
He appeals to his audience through analyzing the corruption of the influence Disney has on children’s culture. He states that “popular culture provides the basis for persuasive forms of learning for children” (65). When kids watch their favorite Disney movie, for example, The Lion King, they see how it is socially acceptable for there to be separation between sexes. This influences them to believe how girls are required to play the submissive role in society. The culture of children is very naive, meaning whatever they see their role models do, they want to do. This naivety can carry out until adolescence and shape the future.
Disney surpasses the entertainment value to get kids’ attention. Instead of teaching kids about wrong from right, Disney focuses more on getting viewers. They will write anything they want if it gets them a bigger audience. Giroux writes, “the relevance of such films exceed the boundaries of entertainment” (66). They become some children’s first teachers. For many, they were exposed to technological entertainment way before they ever stepped into a place of education. For this reason, Disney is playing the most powerful role as an influencer. Disney is where kids start to learn right from wrong, colors, numbers, problem solving, and more. But what parents want their children learning from the company that encourages wrong? People need to be aware of what kind of messages are being sent.
Disney is a large enough company where only one person’s opinion towards them isn’t going to change anything. But Giroux is not alone in his argument. Other scholars, such as Robert Gooding-Williams joins Giroux in describing how Disney uses stereotypes to portray a message to the audience. In “Snow Whitey, Stereotyping in the Magic Kingdom,” Gail Robertson discusses the different ideas of stereotyping Disney portrays in their films. For example, in The Lion King, “Mufasa, the proud lion ruler, and his son Simba are key characters while mom is relegated to a supporting role” (43). In Disney, the males are always superior to the women. Even in a charming animated film about lions, Disney finds a way to reinforce gender stereotypes.
After analyzing and providing evidence that Disney uses their power to influence young children on stereotypes, Giroux supports his claim that in order to change society, parents need to be aware of the dangerous messages Disney is portraying to fix the endangerment of their children’s morality. Not only is sexism seen in The Lion King, but among various other films: The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Aladdin (1992). Children can often associate these films in real life. Since Disney movies are often introduced at such a young age in a child’s life it can be assumed that the films will have some type of effect on the child’s views of many things.
The Lion King expresses gender roles predominantly by always having the male as the superior. Even when Mufasa died and Simba ran away, his wife was still alive to step up and rule over the Prideland but instead another male character stepped into the role. Disney clearly implies the male’s dominance over the women. Throughout the beginning of the film the male lion is looked to for the protection of the pack, as well as making all the big decisions and the mother is the caretaker, which is another typical female stereotype in society, which teaches young children that only men can save the day and that women are incapable of fighting back or sticking up for themselves. Perhaps Disney should have made the female lion defeat Scar and save the day but that is too morally right for them to write. When Disney was writing the film, they would rather use stereotypes to support the role of a man, rather than empowering women. Giroux’s claim that Disney is sexist is supported throughout the film.
Although the messages Disney is putting out into the world is wrong, it is a trusted enough company to many around the globe that others don’t notice. The public is too ignorant to see the effects it is having on the children watching these films. As a child I never recognized the meaning behind such films but now as I get older I fully understand how morally disgusting these animated tales are. For that reason, Robertson states, “Parents must reclaim their children from the clutches of film makers like Disney” (44). The children need their parents help in protecting them from the gender roles and stereotypes that can have a negative effect on such a young child’s brain. Instead of not paying attention, parents should sit with their kids and help them to recognize what is right and what is wrong. Don’t let Disney be the “teaching machines.” Protect the youth from the harmful messages and stereotypes. The children are shaping the future, and that means Disney is, too.