This section covers. Who owns the media? What has entertainment to do with world affairs? What is Disney about. The business behind the characters. The politics of film. Cultural colonization. Educated by television. Children and computers.
Mickey Mouse goes to War
The politics of film
Imagination and docility
Tools of persuasion
The media is the message
History repeats itself
We live in a complicated, confused and fear ridden society. True, in all parts of the world people have and do lived in confusion, fear and anxiety. We in the west created much of it when we exported our terror in the colonization of the four-corners of the globe. Although much of this oppression of other races is described in our history as having been beneficial to the to the victims and as an essential process in the spread of civilization. That is, in the perceived notion of history as taught in our schools. The same theories are attributed to the technological revolution. That it was in our best interests and a progression enhancing our lives. It was easy for us in Great Britain, to believe such notions as we were the benefactors in the spoils and cargoes of the returning great ships from the dark continents. And indeed this is how we built our economy. The industrial revolution that boon to western civilization where we used our power and technology to destroy the cotton weaving industry in India, then proceeded to flood the continent with our cheap cotton goods, unpractical and inferior to the indigenous material of the country.
Although modern interpretations of history goes some way to redress the balance when the passage of time makes it safe to do so. We still in the west feel inclined to believe we are better of both by our wealth and culture than our fellow human beings in remote and un industrialized or developing parts of the world.
The modern day colonizers
Today colonization of the world still goes on, in various different guises. We no longer have as much of the dark continents to explore and conquer, well not in the same sense. We still have to sell every tribes in the rain forests of South America a cell phone in the process of dispatching his forests and the exploitation of his land for cash crops to the cafe houses of the west. The colonization I wish to discuss here is much closer to home and can be witnessed in our streets, city centre’s, buildings, countryside, schools, home’s. As business expands and the world shrinks, there are no secret or sacred places any more. Technology the great servant of science and progress also serves the charlatan and the mediocre. The prey for the today’s colonizers lies closer to home. In the technological age distance, speed, time, labour, integrity are of no avail, it is just as easy to exploit someone next door as it is the other side of the world and through the generic impersonal process of the technology the deceit is further enhanced. Corporations buy parts of the rain forest in Brazil by the same computational procedure that one orders goods from IKEA.
Other results and location of this impersonal transmission of business is likely to show up in your high street, in the form of an hotel, shopping mall, business park, luxury housing, or any such unusual out of the blue development that leaves the local population perplexed. Stealthily planed by an out of town, or out of country developer on demographic information accessed by the use of a computer. This type of cleaning- up then leave business destroys the local and usually more personal business economy. When business becomes impersonal and covert and unrelated to social or local needs it bolsters impersonal and covert relationships in society and leads to mistrust, fear and a breakdown of community spirit. This leads to a reliance in commodities to serve the void left by the lack of social interaction. The public there for need educated (television school colleges ) in their civic duty in compliance with market forces that are after all only working in their interests supplying jobs, services, commodities and so on. This process in turn attacks the very notion of a holistic education and encourages instead the replacement of education with training to accommodate and service business interests.
Preparation for such a society begins both in our schools and in our homes. School has now taken on the roll of preparing children not for life, but for work, and preparation for a reward system not of an inner social or cultural well being, but a reward system of the promise of material wealth. In the home the children join the overworked jaded parents in front of the television or video game as they each receive their daily indoctrination of the world according to someone else’s perceived reality What I wish to look at here is what Ivan Illich describes as “the packaged message” that is prevalent in so much of what our children are exposed to in their daily lives, the techniques used, the ideology behind the messages and the implications in children’s education and culture
Representations, stage sets, and the symbols of corporate power
If you opened a conversation involving a cross section of society, with. We must protect our children from the tyranny of Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and friends because they represented the symbolic face or front for an organization that is a threat to both, children’s educational development, and democratic freedom. You would probably be met with blank stares.
If you opened the conversation with. We must protect our children from the tyranny of Sadam Hussein, because he is a threat to the children’s education, development and democratic freedom, you would probably be met with nods of agreement all round. On the other hand, if you were to suggest that both statements were true and the former probably more so than the latter, you would no doubt have a debate on your hands.
I believe the above to be true. What I will argue here is the reasons why I believe the above statement to be true. In the first instance I will discuss the threat of Disney to democracy, not by giving you the impression I do not like fun and little furry animals or that I think Sadam Hussain is a nice person but because it is important to educate ones self and more importantly our children who are in the front line of the consumer melee that is taking up a central position in their lives and – to be aware of what else lies behind the smiles and glitter of Disney’s cultural plagiarism.
Both Corporate power (Disney) and tyrants such as Saddam are inextricably linked with global conflict and misery. But an understanding of events and connections can be made only after one can understand and discriminate between the symbol its meaning and what it represents. Sadam Hussain was a good guy when he murdered people in the service of American interests. He only became a bad guy when he stopped serving those same American interests.
In the case of Mickey Mouse, the dichotomy lies behind the symbols and the organization that they represent. This is difficult enough to achieve even for the adult when bombarded daily with the out goings of a relentless propaganda and consumer battle for their attention and their money. What chance then have children who have become a major target in the war of consumer conscription in separating the emotions attributed to these furry characters with the values of the powerful multi national business behind them
So how can one compare an evil tyrant with a cartoon character? Firstly by looking at what they symbolically represent then by looking at what they really represent.
In the case of the condemnation of Sadam, its easy. Such a conversation would probably be peppered with anecdotes from news coverage in news papers and on television about the horrors of the Gulf War, backed up of course in the minds eye by the commentary, the footage of debris and carnage of the war in the desert. Most of the evidence for the arguments will have been gleamed from television: the smart bombs that can pinpoint the targets with incredible accuracy, even though the truth is 80% were inaccurate. The stealth bombers undetected by radar and computer graphics detailing the hits and strategic ground play. People will tend to support the argument that Saddam is a tyranny (which of course he is) not by any political evidence supporting the facts but by selected and edited images flashing across a TV screen – produced to justify the war at all costs.
In short practically the whole media coverage of the war was centered on techniques rather than reason, presentation rather than content. The fact that the event was a complete failure in what it was supposed to achieve, created untold and continuing misery for thousands of innocent children was of fading concern for most of the mainstream media after the event. To a great extent the war was so censored and sanitized by graphics and computer technology it appeared as entertainment rather than conflict.
The next questions we have to ask ourselves is. Who owns the news networks, filters the information, transmitted and printed? Who does does the war serve?
There is less chance of the connection between the Gulf War and the Disney Corporation being explained on television. (As Disney buys up the networks) And there is less and less chance of this happening in smaller media concerns as the smaller independent broadcasters are bought up by media conglomerates such as the Murdoch empire, General Electric, CBS, and Disney. It doesn’t matter whether it comes in by cable, telephone lines, computer, or satellite. Everyone’s going to have to deal with Disney. The words of Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive officer of the second largest media firm in the world, Disney/ABC/Cap Cities.. (Bagdikian). To emphasis what this means here is what the editor of Vanity Fair a magazine owned by another of the large media corporations (Advance) has to say.
“The power centre of America-has moved from its role as military-Industrial giant to a new supremacy as the world’s entertainment Information superpower”.
“This is no empty boast when we consider. Control of communications technology provides a means of influencing how events are framed and how the fundamental assumptions underlying interpretations of events are established .(Badakian) And as Bagdikian in his book The Media monopoly reminds us – These and other major news carriers have large stakes in defense and other industries including oil that are often the subject of governmental appropriations and consumer news. No such interlocking major network has done documentaries on the pros and cons of continued high spending for defense, or on the national controversy over nuclear power – In short those who control the news networks also control the debate.
It is unlikely that the Disney would be criticized by its own newspapers or news channels. It is in this light we must look at Disney, when planning our wholesome family trip to wonderland. And if that should prove to be too much of a letdown to a child’s formative imagination and wonderment. Children grow up eventually so it is therefore important to imbue in them a lasting creative cultural sense of imagination and entertainment that can be passed on to their own children, rather than the plastic, sentimental, ideologically loaded conditioning of Disney.
It’s not all just Donald Duck. Peter Biskind, in his book Seeing is Believing.how Hollywood taught us to stop worrying and love the fifties. explains how 1950s movies influenced our thinking both culturally and politically, and how the films subliminally carry the ideologies of the corporations that fund them.
People find old American films interesting for many reasons, nostalgia, memories of childhood old John Wayne black and white film, Sunday afternoon etc. Although these films could appear sometimes corny and simple they were the conduits for bigger ideas than their mere entertainment value.
” If we add up all that movies say and show about how we are supposed to be, we find that they present a “world view,” an “ideology,” that conveys an attitude towards everything from the trivial to the profound, from what we eat for breakfast to whether we should go to war. Even the most apparently innocent aspects of script and casting, costumes and camera angle, are charged with meaning. Stories are perhaps the most obvious carriers of value. Happy endings, for example, are not only a recompense for the life well lived but also a pat on back for the society (American) that makes it possible to live well.” (Biskind)
Happy ever after
Biskind’s books subject mater is a study of 1950s American films and the ideologies that lie behind them. He points out.
To understand the ideology of films, it is essential to ask who lives happily ever after and who dies, who falls ill and who recovers, who strikes it rich and who loses everything, who benefits and who pays . and why. And as Birkin points out “And yet, when we come to these films from another time, and another place, their ideology suddenly becomes dramatically clear; it materializes out of nowhere. We wonder how we could have missed it.
This theory can also be applied to most Disney productions. The 1950s American film business like any other big business must conform to the corporate line in maintaining a public consensus that big business and acting for your countries best interests, i.e. therefore acting in the interest of big business (conservative) is good. And questioning authority, demanding decent wages for you’re work and standing up for your rights (commies) is bad. This is no different today as it was then. The plots may have varied, but the ideology remains exactly the same, the only difference being the demographic target is being more and more focused on children.
Another medium Disney is capable of destroying by the use of the flickering screen and corporate created mythology is the written word, which induces in the reader a contemplation of the inner inventive imagination. With good reason as docility is the main aim of entertainment corporations and this can be best obtained by the use of the moving image and the clipped pages of the consumer magazine that serve it.
Black and white
The Manichean good and evil, black and white view of life (see Carey) as opposed to the view that life can be awkward, confusing, complicated and irrational permeates the Disney world view.
Even in Britain where the public have in many respects until now have been protected from the full brunt of the American propaganda machine still believe the ultimate experience of childhood a parent can provide, is that the family should visit Disney.
Disney appropriates traditional culture and story telling and moulds it to serve the corporations needs.
The education of children through the use of fairy tails and folk lore can be a useful devise in dealing with subject mater, such as hurt, anger, death, kindness, beauty and such like. The reason for this is. Emphasis can de placed on various parts of the story allowing for the child’s understanding and stage of development to de taken into consideration. I.e. where there is a parent or teacher between the source material and the child, who can balance the information to suit the child’s needs and understanding of the subject mater. The danger in the commandeering of such traditional stories by the mass media and corporations such as Disney is. In the corporations striving for a consensus for their interpretation of the story or tale can be detrimental to and undermine the individual parent our teachers interpretation of the same. (see Postman.The disappearance of childhood)
“In Disney palaces made of sugar and ice cream and the hot dog are ‘good guy’, it follows parents who curtail children in their consumption of sweets and fatty foods are ‘bad guy’.”
The above sounds an innocuous example till you study statistics on obesity in the USA coupled with a media onslaught in advertising for junk food.
Disney means corporation
“There is nothing that the Disney empire is involved in or produces that is out of tune with corporate interests in domination and control of world markets and therefore democracy. Not only does Disney’s saccharine form of seductive indoctrination of Manichean belief’s affect children, both adults and children have been drawn into the seduction. The dividing line between what is suitable for adults and children has been blurred. The adults watch children’s TV the children watch adult TV. Disney for all the family is also inherent in the saturation of paraphernalia sold, sizes are available for any age. Age is no discrimination in Disney land”(Postman)
To understand the ideology of Disney, you must at first as Marshal Mcluhan would advise look at its tools for conversation. Most of Disney’s tools are in what are called ‘communications networks’; newspapers, television news, and online computer services. Ben Bagdikian supplies us with a list from his book The Media Monopoly-
The Disney empire includes.in addition to non media interests in oil and insurance .in interactive TV and the American Online computer network, Buena Vista home video, Hyperion and Chilton book publishing, four movie and TV production studios and a national distribution system for them, four magazine publishing groups (including Woman’s Wear Daily and other garment trade newspapers), 429 retail stores for selling Disney products, television and cable networks (including part ownership of A&E Lifetime and ESPN), a major league baseball team and a National Hockey League team, three record companies, eleven news papers (including the Fort Worth Star..Telegrame and the Kansas City Star), and nine theme parks in the United States and other countries. A major addition to the Disney empire is its ownership of ABC, which owns twenty one radio stations, the largest radio network reaching a quarter of all U. S. homes, ABC video and ABC Network News, whose programs include “Prime Time Live,” “Good Morning America,” “World News Tonight with Peter Jennings,” and “20/20.”
The media is the message
Every Roman was surrounded by slaves. The slave and his psychology flooded ancient Italy, and every Roman became inwardly, and of course unwittingly, a slave. Because living constantly in the atmosphere of slaves, he became infected through the unconscious with their psychology. No one can shield himself from such an influence. C. G. Jung (Contributions to Analytical Psychology, London, 1928)
Our modern society is over run by technology contrary to being useful can enslave us, another fact corporations such as Disney are well aware of. For it is those that control the unconscious and the subliminal that control the slave, and as Rudolf Arnheim, reminds us “When communications can be achieved by pointing with the finger. the mouth grows silent, the writing hand stops, and the mind shrinks.
For instance. How many parents rushed out to buy a new computer in the wake of sales pitch and government propaganda, that there child may lag behind educationally by not accumulating computer skills. Of course this will involve spending vast amounts of money on new games each week, as your child’s ‘computer skills’ evolve. It slowly dawns on parents, usually after the purchase that far from helping in the child’s education the computer is a hindrance to their education. I have never heard an argument yet when a child is demanding use of the PC to improve his or her educational outlook. It is often suggested that children are much more sophisticated nowadays, as they accrue computer skills with ease, where their parents fail to ‘get the knack’ This idea of sophistication is more likely to be confused with a reliance on techniques, the technology may be sophisticated the end use is generally simplistic.
And it is also because of this ease of use I would be inclined keep especially a very young child away from a computer because it is in these early years a conceptual sense of creativity and thought process is formed. I.e. the child can invent his or her own imaginary world as a form of enjoyment rather than accepting the perceived value of a video game or TV program. I could illustrate the point thus. A child sitting in a corner happily talking to him or her self-playing with some simple objects is exercising imagination and creativity. The same child motionless and quiet in front of an UV screen is generally taking in the perceived message of an entertainment corporation.
Tool, Toy or Tyrant?
Computers like television and cigarettes are seductive and habit forming. I have listened to the argument. It is only a tool if it is used properly etc Yes I agree. A gun is only a tool that projects a lump of metal from point A to point B and is a useful tool so long as it doesn’t point at you. The question you have to ask is why are these tools being used for such mundane purposes. The technology revolution is being driven, not by the urge to enlighten people and make their life easier but rather the opposite to keep the rabble docile while the elite’s get on with fueling the debate that human beings need to be attached to a machine in order to survive. While they themselves attend to the business of removing money and liberty.
You probably do not find company directors or their children for that matter sitting around improving their computer skills. They will be far to busy using their brain and imagination in order to keep ahead of the game.
Children if introduced to the computer to early can adopt a habit that can suppress natural creativity, I say this as computers and technicians are being introduced into the classroom and it can only be a matter of time before they invade the pre school and nursery. Robert J Sardello, a practicing psychologist has this to say of “The technological threat to education in an essay of the same title. Computers used, as technical devices to perform operations that are themselves technical are not included as threatening to culture. Pocket calculators, word processors, and all the variety of program’s that are readymade for use in personal computers do not pose a threat to the very meaning of education. These technical devices can free the imagination for consideration of matters involving mathematics, accountancy, economics or business. Or in the case of word processing the imagination is set free to focus on the craft of writing itself.
So it is not the ‘computer as tool argument’ that is used by the, computer can do anything lobby that is the threat to education. But as Sardello warns. The technological threat to education is to be found in the claim that teaching the child to program the computer can be done in such a manner that programming teaches the process of thinking itself and thus removes the necessity for formal classroom instruction.
Sardello goes on to mentions the program (LOGO) invented by Seymore Papert of the Michigan Institute of Technology a teaching program, which-
is rapidly finding its way into educational settings” Papert explains. I believe that the computer presence will enable us to so modify the learning environment outside the classroom that much if not all the knowledge schools try to teach with such pain and expense and such limited success will be learned, as the child learns to talk, painlessly, successfully, and without organized instruction. This obviously implies that school as we know them today will have no place in the future.
Fordism and thought
These educational projects are being financed and developed by governments, to do with education, what Henry Ford did for the production of the motor car. To create a work force that is both subservient and an extension to the machine. As Sardello responds to the case for computers in education “.it eliminates content altogether and reduces all education to method”. And on the notion of computer literacy. “The new origins of culture, so the inflated claim would state, are IBM, Apple, Xerox, and Texas Instruments. Computer terminology is certainly not a living language, but rather the enslaving of a language by turning every form of speech into an object to be manipulated by the totalitarian grammar of computational logic”. We can see examples of this in the deconstruction of language, text, jargon, and jingoism that has become enmeshed in our day to day conversation as we unlearn expressive language and the ability to communicate thought. A new mono ‘language’ is encouraged for technological expediency, grammar is rendered restrictive. The dissemination of grammar is part of the restriction, leading to the destruction of creative thought”.
Grammar has its own kind of life; it has a soul of its own. It has invisible spirits within it. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, sentences, are extraordinary beings, full of character, personality, colour, depth, imagination. And they become even more interesting when they get together to shape a world, when they speak in unison, full of tension, vibrancy, resonance each giving up a little of itself to make another word show hidden parts of itself. Explains Sardello. These are the tools culture best expresses itself with, along side arts and crafts that have disappeared. And the real value that has been lost in these pursuits is their therapeutic value. In the rush for a more productive and efficient rout to riches we have given up, debased, and destroyed most of that which brings inner happiness, and as Chomsky comments “if you debase the language, you debase the thought”. I will leave you with Sardello’s thought on the penetration of technology into the very heart of the education system: How could it ever be that the world could mater so little that it becomes a garbage heap in the midst of incredible technical achievement? And, as I look at the beautiful, perfect, emotionless, heartless creatures, I fear there is no need to develop genetic engineering to produce them. They may well be the product of public education.
The written word
The visualizations and imagery serving corporate welfare and profit margins that permeates our society, and is ever encroaching on the young dressed up as education is undermining the usefulness of reading and writing and understanding of the written word. The visual rapid imagery of television and educational computer packages can never substitute the complex process of early education in literacy. In fact it could be seen as fundamentally in opposition to the development of both reading and writing skills. At these same crucial stages of an infant’s development they will also be bombarded by the seductive lore of the advertising industry, the theme park industry, and the aggressive merchandising of multi nationals such as Disney. Disney plays the role of replacing childhood (and adulthood) experience and learning with loaded imagery by the same formula that Biskind speaks about in 50s Hollywood.
The same way one would protect ones children from religious cults, why shouldn’t one protect them from business cults such as Disney, because it is the very young that are at risk especially before the discipline of reading, has been instilled.
As Neal Postman observes..phonetic literacy is not altogether simple to learn, and for two reasons. In the first place, because mature reading is an act of immediate recognition, that is, an unconscious reflex, the habit of reading must be formed in that period when one is still in the process of acquiring oral language. People who try to learn how to read after their oral language is completed rarely, if ever, become fluent readers.1
If we bare in mind what Postman is saying here when we think of the barrage of computer games, let alone so called educational computer software that is aimed at children at this crucial time in the development of their reading, writing and verbal communication skills one can understand the cynicism of such a market.
Postman emphasizes. Unlike a computer game .learning to read is not simply a matter of learning to ” crack a code.” When one learns to read, one learns a particular way of behaving of which physical immobility is only one feature. Self-restraint is a challenge not only to the body but to the mind as well. Sentences, paragraphs, and pages unfold slowly, in sequence, and according to logic that is far from intuitive. In reading, one must wait to get the answer, wait to reach the conclusion. And while waiting, one is obliged to evaluate the validity of the sentence, or at least to know when and under what conditions to suspend critical judgment. To learn to read is to learn to abide by the rules of a complex logical and rhetorical tradition that requires one to take the measure of sentences in a cautious and rigorous way, and, of course, to modify meanings continuously as new elements unfold in sequence. The literate person must learn to be reflective and analytical, patient and assertive, always poised, after due consideration, to say no to a text.
This is the crucial stage of childhood development where hearts and minds are won, and a stage every business in the sale of entertainment and computer technology is well aware of. Young children need protected from such devices before as Locke would advise, “bad habits are formed” before.. “training children in when and how to collect satisfactory evidence, appraise the probabilities of propositions on such evidence, and place levels of confidence on those propositions proportioned to their probability on that evidence.”
In other words the use of common sense. In how, why, where, and when they make decisions in maters that affect their welfare. Rather than, to tend to the welfare of the corporation, by boosting their profit margins through the addictive purchase of products conducive to a consumptive insecurity or by complying to a business ideology, both of which are chiefly promoted through the medium of television, in programming as well as advertising.
Television offers a fairly primitive but irresistible alternative to the linear and sequential logic of the printed word and tends to make the rigors of a literate education irrelevant.(Postman) “No child or adult becomes better at watching television by doing more of it. What skills are required are so elemental that we have yet to hear of a television viewing disability”.
in a relatively recent program called Little Women on BBC involving 7 to 11 year old girls the marketing industry has branded “Tweenagers” show how they spend their day, shopping for clothes putting on makeup and copying dance steps from pop shows. In a clip where a father is purchasing a £60 fashion dress for his seven year -old daughter with the comment “she will probably wear it three or four times then discard it”. When the interviewer asked why he did it he answered. “Because I can” end of comment. All through the program parents didn’t seem to be bothered much that their children acted like miniature adults, and that all their perceptions of life and fun came from the television. This seemed normal.