Do you ever wonder what kinds of messages kids in today’s society are receiving from all the media they are surrounded by every day? It has been found recently through using the process of ideological criticism that major corporations are pushing certain values and beliefs on our children through their marketing techniques and products.
When I say ideological criticism your mind may run wild with ideas of what that could possibly be. Though it is a hard concept to grasp, once you do you are that much closer to being an expert in media literacy. In order to help define ideological criticism I must first define ideology.
Ideology is a means of exerting power. It is an instrument that dominant elites use to extend control on others and works to maintain existing power relations. It also refers to a set of ideas that gives some particular account of the world. These ideas are partial and selective.
Therefore ideological criticism examines how these “ideas” are embedded and circulated through our text. Also how the systematic representation of these ideas become accepted as normal and natural in our society, and how they very often go unnoticed and unchallenged.
Ideological criticism is not just looking at the text, but is looking at how the text is produced, structured, and ways it interacts with our life experiences.
The assumptions with this criticism are that there is a value in understanding how the media institutions, texts, and practices establish and sustain existing power relations. The next assumption is to inform and empower the audiences to strive for material changes to improve the equality. Lastly there is a value to expose and challenge the dominant and often taken for granted ideas and values.
This criticism uses the political economy theory that is based on Marxist conception of socioeconomic order to look deeper into these “values”. The political economy analysis examines the role of ownership in the media industry, how production and distribution practice shapes the media text, and the link between media ownership (means of production) and the ideology embedded in the media text.
Political economists are highly concerned with the trend of deregulation, and the growing power of global media conglomerates. They are also concerned with the increasing dominance of advertising and marketing through synergistic practices.
Political economists tend to focus on the social role of advertising and marketing practices, ideology of materialism or “consumerism”, its influence on our consumer culture, and how advertising/marketing practices promote a culture of consumption. They are increasingly focusing on the commercialization of childhood.
Two films that shed light on the work of political economists concerned with the power of media to shape social values of kids are Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood, and the Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood and Corporate Power.
The film Consuming Kids focuses on the power of advertising agencies to shape the ideas and views of children through marketing merchandise. Political economists in this film take a deeper look into how powerhouse companies are embedding “brand loyalty” from cradle to grave.
What that means is that they are making sure that from birth babies are introduced to certain brands and products that then throughout their childhoods they are loyal too and stick with. “Marketers want to get to children early, often, and in as many places as they can – not just to sell them products and services, but to turn them into life-long consumers.”(Sun, 2001)
On the left is a recent Barbie doll, and on the right is the first Barbie doll made in 1959
Another focus for the political economists in the film is how advertising companies are compressing the age of kids. Kids are getting older younger. For example through the promotion of Barbies, and Bratz Dolls for girls, they are teaching girls the need to be pretty and sexy at a younger age. Political economists said that these toys are teaching young girls what society believes a female should look like. These dolls have long legs, tiny wastes, and big breast. They tend to wear tight fitting clothing that show a lot of the dolls body, high heels, and have makeup covering their faces.
For boys advertisers are promoting boy dolls that come with weapons or tools, violent video games that most of the time involve the boys shooting things, or trucks and sports. The political economists find that these products are teaching boys the need to be aggressive, tough and violent. Teaching young boys that’s what it means to be “masculine“.
The part of the film that really hit home to me was the emphasis on how kids no longer play using their imagination. They need all the accessories and gadgets that their favorite characters have in order to pretend to be them. Kids are no longer using their own creativity to create the plots of stories, they are just using what they have already seen in the shows and movies.
Industries are taking over everywhere with the promotion of their products. “Children are now marketed to in unprecedented ways – through brand licensing, product placement, viral marketing, via schools, DVDs, video games, the internet, cell phones – so that there’s a brand in front of a child’s face virtually every moment of every day.”(Sun, 2001)
In the film, Mickey Mouse Monopoly, the political economists are focusing on gender representations and stereotypes that are being depicted in Disney films. These depictions are influencing viewers values both nationally and internationally. What worry political economists most is the skewed views and opinions that Disney presents through these films.
The Disney Princesses
For this blog I am going to focus on the gender representations the political economists found that were presented throughout Disney films. The political economists first looked at how the females have always been drawn, with big breasts, tiny wastes, and with a seductive body. Even the female animals are drawn with fluttering eyelashes, and have seductive body language such as swinging hips while they walk. This is teaching young girls what Disney defines as “feminine“.
Examples of some of Disney's female animal characters
In the films it shows that the female characters can get whatever they want just by being attractive and seductive with their body language. For example in Aladdin Princess Jasmine dresses “sexy” and kisses Jafar in order to distract him and help Aladdin get the lamp back towards the end of the film. Another example is in film The Little Mermaid, when Ursula takes away Ariel’s voice and leaves her with just left with her body to win over Prince Eric. Which in the film she successfully does.
Political economists would say that this is showing young girls watching these films that they don’t need a voice or anything other than good looks to get what they want.
Political economists have also found a common theme with the females in Disney movies, that no matter how strong of a woman they are they always get themselves in trouble and have to be saved by a male. For example in Beauty and The Beast, Belle gets lost in the woods and unsuccessfully tries to fight off a pack of wolves. The beast then has to come to her rescue and save her.
For males in Disney movies they are always perceived as strong with large muscles, good looking, and allowed to act however they want. A perfect example of this is the character Gaston from Beauty and The Beast. The males are never over weight or unattractive. They can also defeat anyone normally using violence and winning a battle for their women.
Gaston fighting the Beast
A political economist would say that this this is again teaching young boys watching these films that they need to use violence in order to win the girl. They are showing that they don’t need to use their words to win a battle, but instead a sword or any other weapon.
These films are thus teaching young viewers what it means to be a “boy” and a “girl”.
Disney movies are also full of commercialism and commercial values. Which loops us back to the film Consuming Kids. “The seemingly innocent stories Disney movies tell seem to be secondary to their being used as vehicles for the merchandising of videos, toys, clothing, video games, etc.”(Barbaro, (Writer& Director), & Earp, (Writer& Director) (2009). Disney is an example of a major corporation who is using the brand loyalty from cradle to grave.
You may say so what I’m not a kid anymore why does this matter? It matters because one day you may choose to have kids or work in a field that affects kids in some way. It is important that we see and acknowledge these ideologies that major industries are pushing onto children, so in return we can teach kids to be aware of the values that are being pushed on them. That way they can decide for themselves if they want to follow those values or not.