It’s Your Turn: The need for media literacy

While I often describe the misrepresentation of minorities in media, I believe I less frequently describe who is responsible to make that solution happen. Several of those interviewed for the documentary, “Mickey Mouse Monopoly” felt that Disney had a responsibility to its audience when it came to the images and ideas perpetuated by its films. That when it had the attention of millions of children around the world, that the messages it sent should be constructed a particular way.

Honestly, I disagree, and here’s why. Disney is a huge company, like a revenue of over $48 billion in the year 2014 huge. Because of distribution fees, marketing costs, the cut for the theaters, percentages of the profit given to big name directors or actors as part of their fee and creative Hollywood accounting, most films end up “losing money” for the company. The big money maker is the merchandise. Disney’s films are really just large-scale commercials for their parks and merchandise, or a way to double dip in terms of revenue for their films. For example, “Frozen” made just as much in merchandise, around $1 billion, in a year as it did in its theatrical run.

What I’m trying to say is that Disney has created a specific product and a specific fantasy of princesses and heroes and talking cars in order to sell us trips to theme parks and billions in Disney Princess merchandise. Because Disney overwhelming advertises to children, they not only manipulate a parent’s wish to make their children happy, but as the children consumers grow up, Disney later appeals to childhood nostalgia.

In a capitalistic society like ours, Disney is more than welcome to do this. I see nothing wrong with a company creating a fantasy in order to sell T-shirts, dolls and action figures. Yet, children between the ages of two and five watch more TV than any other age group according to the Center for Media Literacy, yet they are the least equipped to separate fantasy from reality.

The onus is on parents to have conversations about media literacy and why films aren’t reality. Yet, I don’t really think that conversation is happening. If you’re like me, your parents didn’t sit you down, turn on “Beauty and the Beast,” and then as the credits roll have a cheerful discussion about Stockholm Syndrome and abusive relationships.

The idea sounds ludicrous, but why aren’t we as children asked to question the images we see in front of us? Sure, there’s an age-appropriate way to broach these conversations, but without media literacy, without the tools to analyze the images we see, what else are we going to do other than desire the fantasy that is being marketed and sold to us? Growing up, I identified so strongly with the Disney films I consumed on a daily basis that I went through a period where people could only call me “Princess Jasmine.” It sounds like a cute story now, but I actually went through a period where I would do anything so I could be more like her.

As I’ve gone through life casually discussing the lack of female villains, the hypersexualization of women of color, the abhorrent yet permanent role of love interest for female characters or how most gay characters are upper class white men, I’ve realized very few people know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying you have to agree with me. I’m just asking, when the average person spends so much time consuming media for hours every single day, how are you not the least bit concerned about the fact that media has been carefully created to continuously make us buy products or act a certain way?

Most women on television probably don’t go above a size 4. When you are constantly seeing such thin women on television, it’s not a surprise that the weight loss industry nets an annual $20 billion dollar revenue of which 85 percent of those consumers are female. Or how about when there’s constant pressure to “find the One” and have your dream fairytale princess wedding, shockingly the wedding industry is a $50.6 billion a year business.

You don’t have to give up “Say Yes to the Dress.” You don’t have to turn your back on a Disney filled childhood. I’m just wondering, why aren’t we critically analyzing the media images we see day in and day out. Why aren’t we questioning their accuracy or their realism? It’s not about censoring media or complaining. It’s just a conversation to be had, and it’s our responsibility to be having it.

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