What messages are major corporations embedding in our children’s minds?

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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.

 

Gaston


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.

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About ademsk1

Hi guys, my name is Alexa Demski. I am currently a junior at Towson University. I am an electronic media and film major on the radio/audio track with a masscomm minor on a journalism track. I am a member of the women's varsity lacrosse team at Towson, and aspire to be a sports broadcaster in the future.

10 responses »

  1. Great in-depth blog! You provided tons of explanation on what ideological criticism is and the ideas within this approach. I think it’s important to make sure your readers understand the concepts that you are discussing within your blog, and you did a great job at that. The images that you provided throughout the post really served as visual examples to the points you were trying to make. I think the links were also helpful for the reader.
    It would have been great to get more of your opinion on the ideas that were brought up in the two films. You did mention that the part that affected you the most was how children no longer have imaginations but require toys to create fun activities. I agree that point in the film was a bit disheartening. I would have enjoyed reading how you feel about Disney’s portrayal of women in their films and how it can negatively affect young girls. I think it is disturbing how Disney princesses are the figure of beauty for young girls but each Disney princess is far from realistic. These images could distort young girl’s ideas of what is beautiful.
    I think it was great how in the end you tied the two films together. And your last paragraph discussing why people should care about this topic was very convincing. Good job 🙂

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  3. Alexa,

    Your post on Ideological Criticism was interesting and very informative. You started off the post by clearing defining several cultural studies terms that are important for the reader to know. I thought this was really well-done and that even someone who had never heard of these concepts could now understand the points you made throughout the blog. When you talked about Consuming Kids, you did a great job saying typical messages that companies and advertisers encode, with Barbies as an example.

    A small critique I have is that you only briefly touched on the large number of ways advertisers have access to children and the lengths they’ll go to. Look at the many avenues to reach children in today’s age and how their main goal is to make money off of these kids. This was what I focused on in my blog and I think you should’ve included more on how advertisers want total access to kids to breed consumerism at a young age.

    Here’s a New York Times article that further outlines the deception of children by advertisers. I really enjoyed your section on the sexuality of female characters in Disney films (pictured left). I agree that this point is one of the most important takeaways and that it is highly influential to young girls. Overall, I thought you did a very great job on your blog #3 for our class. Your post was very thoroughly written, but still very engaging and entertaining to read. Awesome work, Alexa.

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  5. Alexa, I thought this blog was very well thought out. The information flowed very well. I really liked how much background you gave in the introduction section of your blog, you clearly defined and explained each concept you would be discussing throughout the blog. I also enjoyed how you explored Disney’s portrayal of characters; I discussed the same thing in my blog so it was interesting to see someone else’s opinions on the matter.

    I did not go into the masculine portrayal of males in Disney Films so it was interesting to see you analyze them. I have never noticed how the males are always winning the female over simply through violence. Disney really does teach children gender roles starting at such young ages.
    Something that I explored in the Disney portrayal of men and women that you did not seem to touch base on was the racial aspect. Typically, Disney princesses are white and blonde. Movies such as Pocahontas and The Princess and the Frog touch base on different races, but it is questionable whether they are portrayed in a positive light.

    I really like how you embedded so many links, even if it was just to give the standard definition for something or to clearly identify what you were writing about. There are tons of scholarly articles on the gender roles Disney enforces that could have strengthened your claims. One of the articles I found thoroughly explores the characteristics of Disney male and female characters.
    All in all, I think this blog did a great job introducing anyone who is unfamiliar with political economy and ideological criticism to the topics and thoroughly explored how it affects the lives of children.

  6. Little kids are some of the most important minds in our society to protect, as they are the future! When we are old and they are running the country, we want to be able to look back and say that we did our best. Not see that we had been sending them the wrong messages through all the different forms of media we fed them. Great topic!
    You did a fantastic job at explain Ideology and how it relates to ideological criticism. Your links were very informative as well. I really enjoy your first image as well. It’s a great example of how the 21st century person is attacked with media.
    Your picture with the young boy playing a shooting game next to much older kids is something that really strikes me. I often play online first person shooter games. Games that are rated mature and are only supposed to be sold to people 17 and older. However it becomes more and more often that I find myself playing with 8-12 year old boys. This is an example of how we force kids to be older than they actually are; like little girls in bikinis. It would be interesting to have this age manipulation along with this commercialization of children topic.

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  9. I met you briefly before this class through friends and my first impression was that this girl is very intelligent. After being in this class with you this semester, as well as reading through her blog, it is very apparent that she is not only a beast of a lacrosse player, but a successful and hard-working student as well.

    You do a great job of asking questions throughout your blog post in order to attract the reader’s attention and to get them thinking as they are reading your analysis. Your personality also comes out through your writing which kept me interested in what you had to say.

    Another thing I liked about your blog is your use of photos. The ones you use are very pertinent to what you are talking about, such as the image of the boys holding play guns while talking about marketing violence through video games.

    The analysis you do of Disney through the eyes of a political economist is very informative. I agree with your example of Beauty and the Beast and how girls have been conditioned to go after strong men and try to tame them. This is just one example of how Disney uses its media to shape the minds of children in their own ideological and hegemonic way.

    Your blog as a whole is very easy to navigate and your use of multimedia really caught my attention. After reading through your blog it is apparent that you understand these concepts well and can effectively explain them to others. One thing I would improve on is the use of some sort of video to get a point across. Maybe a clip from Mickey Mouse Monopoly to provide further evidence of your points.

  10. For as long as I’ve known you (nearly four years) I known you are a hard worker, even if it doesn’t always pay off for you. When you are not working at your job at The Towerlight as the sports editor or cheering on one of your favorite professional sports teams, you are hard at work on your Media Criticism homework. You have the persistence of a tiger and when something doesn’t go your way, you do everything in your power to fix it.

    Your blog is set up very nicely with many hyperlinks that help put some of your ideas into better context. Also, your page is simple enough to navigate and isn’t cluttered with too many images. I love the seasonal snowing effect as well. After reading your blog post on The League I’ve come to understand the show better through your perspective.

    You do a fantastic job of describing the characters of the The League for people who have never seen it before. This context is important so that while you conduct your critique the reader can understand who and what you are talking about.

    You also do a great job of defining the specific approach you are going to talk about and provide the reader with a great example from the show. I especially liked your critique on the Aristotelian approach and how the characters create drama through their weekly fantasy matchups.

    Overall, your blog is well constructed and very informative. Knowing you for as long as I have, I never knew you had such a grasp on the ideas discussed in this class. One thing I would suggest to add to your blog would be to use some sort of video or graphic to make it more visually appealing to readers. Good job buddy!

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