Disney's Manipulation Power Over Us

by sfarn1 on November 4, 2013 - 9:18pm

Erica Scharrer and colleague Karin Sun Feng Chyng answers the question in their research topic of how do participants react when a favorite childhood symbol is deconstructed and reveals a negative connotation? In their research article "Staying True to Disney" the researchers examined a college class who were studying the relationship between Disney movies and the original works that the movies were based off of.  In this particular study the movie "The Little Mermaid" was examined along with the original work the movie was based off of, "The Little Sea maid" by Hans Christian Anderson. In the class the students learned the patriarchal symbolism and gender roles that take place in the movie, and how the original work was a much darker and perverted then the Disney version. For example the "mermaid’s tortured and unanswered love toward the prince was a metaphor for Andersen’s homo-erotic desire toward his “adopted brother” Edvard Collin" (Scharrer, Chyng 2). Although the students learned about this for many of them their love and enjoyment for the "Little Mermaid" did not change. In fact 90% of them said that they still like the movie and many of them said that it was still their favorite movie. So why didn’t they change their opinion? What causes them to remain devoted to the Disney movie plot? Well for some students they just simply rejected the analysis and discussion in the class saying that people were just "reading too much in to it" and they just simply ignored it. However an interesting amount admits that they can be analytical and recognize the twisted gender roles and stereotypes that are involved in the plot, (they even take pride and acclaim their critical skills) but according to Scharrer they " suspend their analytical minds, so that they could safely retreat to their former response to the film without going through the painful process of psychological rupture and rebuilding".
I found this article very intriguing because Disney and I have had a love affair for a very long time. I am always interested to see different underlying themes and motives in the stories that I couldn’t understand before but now can because I am more mature. However I too can completely identify myself with the participants in this study. Although I am able to recognize that Disney incorporates many degrading gender roles and stereotypes in their plots and how it is based off of more dark and perverted stories I still cannot change my opinion or my love for Disney and their movies. I agree with Schaffer when she says that to disagree or to go against the deviance of Disney movies would mean complete destruction and rebuilding of my context, and how that would have a psychological toll on me. This sounds way overdramatic, I know, but it's true! When I think of Disney I immediately associate it with my childhood. I can recognize the strong manipulation power that Disney has over me with this but that doesn’t mean I want to change it! Disney and I have had good times, I was able to identify myself through it, meet friends, and create lasting memories. One of my favorite parts of this article was reading the different participants responses to the discussion questions. I could particularly identify myself with a student’s thought when they said “I think it is interesting to look at all the possible interpretations of the different meanings but in the end I go back to seeing it the way I did before (208)" (Scharrer, Chyng15) I completely agree with them, and even though this makes me fall under Disney's manipulation powers, I am alright with that!
Chyng Feng Sun, K., & Scharrer, E. (2004). Staying True to Disney: College Students' Resistance to Criticism of The Little Mermaid. Communication Review, 7(1), 35-55

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