In reading the prologue and introduction of “The Mouse That Roared”, there was only one thing I agreed with, on page xvi: “It is as important to comprehend and mitigate what gives us pleasure as it is to examine what elicits our disapproval”. This I find to be true. The things that we don’t like always get a lot of attention. There is so much negativity in the news and media today. But isn’t it true that we should spend just as much time talking about why we like something, as we do about why we don’t like something. To really sit down and think: OK, why do I like this? Why do my kids like this? Why does everyone like this?
However, the rest of the book (as hinted at in the introduction) appears to be mostly negative criticism. Nothing is perfect, and Disney being Disney doesn’t excuse them from also being a corporation. So yes, they are going to employ sneaky marketing techniques to attract certain demographics. And the messages you want to see are going to be there.
Page 3 of the introduction discusses the article in the New York Times about the marketing techniques that Disney uses to appeal more to boys aged 6 to 14. The entire section uses some very negatively weighted words and phrases, such as “probe their minds”, “camouflaged”, “seductive”, and “exploiting children for profit”. The authors of this book clearly consider Disney’s actions to be horrible. Is it really all that bad though? Would kids see this as a bad thing? Or would they see it as Disney taking a true interest in exactly what kids want, and not “out-of-touch grown-ups” trying to guess. So, while the authors of this book may see Disney as being devious, I would argue that in the end, we’re all consumers. And Disney is still a corporation, a business. Kids in a certain demographic want a certain type of product, and Disney is in the business of satisfying customers, so why not do so effectively?
The seeming paranoia of the authors begins to show on page 6, where it says,
“…Disney’s influence as a major participant in youth culture must be addressed both as an educational issue and as a matter of politics and institutional power. Although we focus on Disney’s cultural politics and its attempt to mystify its corporate agenda with appeals to fun, innocence, and pure entertainment, the seriousness of the political and economic threat that Disney and other corporations present to democracy cannot be underestimated”. At the bottom of the page, it continues by saying, “Media conglomerates such as Disney are not merely producing harmless entertainment…” They go on to say exactly what my argument to these statements was, that everything is influenced by something else, and everything is an influence in one way or another. Furthermore, no two children are going to take away the exact same message from a film, TV show, etc… What one person might see as horrible racism in a film, might not even register with someone else. It might not even have registered with the filmmakers. Of course Disney is a large influence on every child, but to say that it is harmful to every child is a huge generalization. There is no “pure” entertainment; by this reasoning, nothing is safe, and children would be better off being completely cut off from all forms of mass media and culture.
In another laughable, nit-picky, and paranoid statement, the authors bring up an excerpt from a Canadian newspaper, and express their horror at the “clearly disturbing, and perhaps inadvertent, indicator of Disney’s capacity to destroy individuality and to compel, even control, the will of individuals toward consumption” because the journalist says that being at a Disney resort makes her want to eat Mickey waffles even though she is trying to avoid carbs and doesn’t even really like waffles. Saying, as the authors of this book do, that Disney has the power to control the wills of individuals makes it seem like they are accusing the company of conspiring to hatch some evil plan to change the world into their army mind-slaves. This is taking things entirely too far. The journalist is simply saying that Disney makes her want to caution into the wind, that it inspires a “carpe diem” kind of attitude that usually has no place in the “real world”. Wanting waffles is a far throw from wanting to obey the evil Disney overlords and aid them in their plan for world domination.
I still agree that it is just as important to examine carefully the things we enjoy as it is to examine the things we don’t like, the authors of this book always seem to come to negative conclusions. People like Disney so much because they’re sneaky and conniving and evil. But they’re no worse than any other corporation. The unique thing about Disney is that their entire image is the exact opposite of corporate America. It’s as if people are surprised to find out that Disney is no different than Wal-Mart. I wonder if Disney’s biggest critics, like the authors of this book, are the ones who feel the most let down by this revelation.