Hello there, again!!!
I hope you’ve enjoyed the previous blog posts I have made about various types of media criticism because…
Today I am going to discuss another type of criticism, ideological criticism. This is a different type of criticism that goes WAY below the surface of various types of media texts. It analyzes how media directly shapes our cultural values without us even noticing.
But, in order to understand what ideological criticism is, first I will explain what an ideology is…
An ideology is a means of exerting power, not necessarily through overt force, but through a set of ideas. This set of ideas is usually perpetuated by dominant elites as a means of maintaining power relations. And they eventually come to seem as being natural, obvious, and common sense.
Ideological criticism is the process of examining…
1) How ideologies are embedded in texts
2) How they reflect the interests of dominant elites
3) How the representations of these ideologies become accepted as normal
4) How ideologies go unnoticed and unchallenged by those exposed to them
The main assumptions made about ideological criticism are…
1) That there is value in understanding how media institutions, texts, and practices establish/maintain the power relations of elites.
2) That there is value in informing/challenging dominant, taken for granted ideas and values.
Paris Hilton shopping is a visual example of how the hegemonic ideology of living a lavish lifestyle is perpetuated by her, a dominant elite.
This type of criticism is different than other types of criticism I have mentioned in past posts. It is different because we are analyzing how these ideologies in marketing and advertising are perpetuated. It is not just looking at a media text, but how the text is produced, structured, and how it interacts with our life experiences. This helps us understand the dominant values in our social world.
This type of criticism is also different because of its ties to political ideologies. Political economists play a big role in ideological criticism because they examines how media institutions are owned and how that shapes the media. More specifically, they examine a series of elements:
1) The role of ownership in the media industry
2) How production and distribution shapes media texts
3) The deregulation of media (the idea that the market will take care of itself)
4) The growth of power in global media conglomerates
5) The link between ownership and ideologies embedded in media texts
6) The increasing dominance of advertising/marketing in our lives. Also, its social role and practices that promote a “culture of consumption”
7) Ideology of “materialism” and “consumerism”
All of these elements combined produce what is known as the Political Economy Theory. Basically these elements together examine how media shapes social hegemony in society. Hegemony is the type of power elites can maintain over the masses enabled through the use of “overt force.” Societal hegemony may include values, ideas, norms, routines, ideologies, etc. In the context of the political economy theory, hegemony refers to how elites maintain control through hegemonic consensus of media conglomerates.
One of the most powerful media conglomerates of our time thus far is Disney. Disney has created a cultural world through animated films, which are lauded as being wholesome family entertainment. But at the bottom line, has generated one of the biggest powerhouses of the entertainment world.
Disney creates a fantasy world for children that pull on their heartstrings in order to maintain a co-dependence. In return, this makes them believe they need every accessory (backpacks, toys, food, DVDs, bed sheets, etc.) of their favorite Disney character. Thus, Disney has become the most successful and biggest media conglomerates in the world.
Here is a Wikipedia page and lists the amount of companies Disney owns. Brace yourself, it’s a long list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assets_owned_by_Disney
In order to shed light on what exactly I am talking about, I’d like to introduce two films that I have seen recently. One of which is called Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood, and Corporate Power. This film discusses the hidden ideologies behind Disney movies, including femininity/masculinity, gender roles, and culture/ethnicity. Also, how these ideologies effect children’s perceptions of the world and themselves.
And the second film is Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood also discusses the same ideologies, but also to what extent media researchers go in order to learn how to successfully advertise towards children.
I am going to lead you through the points that stood out most to me in these films: how femininity/masculinity, gender roles, and culture/ethnicity. The ideologies discussed in both films stood out to me most because exposure to media as a child is a way for them to become socialized into the world; it is where they learn of the social norms of society. But, when there are inaccurate portrayals of people and culture in media, children grow up with an altered sense of reality and of themselves.
This topic bothers me so much because, to me, it’s a question of ethics….
Is it ok to persuade a child into thinking a certain way even though it may be inaccurate?
Is it ok to manipulate children into a consumer culture that only perpetuates an altered sense of reality?
I will guide you to take a closer look into this issue by taking a political economist’s approach, which is concerned with the power of media to shape the social values of our culture. More specifically to this discussion, political economists understand the power of the media, and are concerned with how children are increasingly influenced by advertising.
First, I will focus on how children’s’ perception of femininity/masculinity, gender roles, and culture/ethnicity is portrayed in the media, more specifically, Disney movies. From a political economist stand point, I will examine how these images shape social value through ideologies embedded in texts. I will draw my argument from the film Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood & Corporate Power.
More often than not, females portrayed in Disney movies are hyper-sexualized. The female character often is shown has having a very small waist with a big chest and hips.
Ariel from The Little Mermaid
For example, in the film The Little Mermaid, Ariel is a mermaid who lives in the ocean. Typically mermaids are not shown wearing much clothing because they live underwater. I believe this half-naked female character that attracts the attention on a handsome young man, perpetuates the ideology of “beauty” to young girls. Upon seeing this “ideal” female body of large breasts with a skinny waist, girls believe that this must be they way to look in order to attract the opposite sex.
And, the same goes for male characters. In the movie Tarzan, for instance, Tarzan is a very muscular, ultra-sexualized, and practically naked man who save a helpless women in the jungle. This puts the image of an “ideal” male body into a young boy’s mind.
Often the female characters are portrayed as having a coy submissive personalities, but sometimes even playing the seductress. In almost every Disney movie who’s main character is a woman, she is saved by man—she plays the damsel in distress. This happens even when the female character is portrayed as being skilled and strong willed.
Also, the idea that women should remain housewives is perpetuated in the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Snow White remains in the house and is, in fact, afraid of going outside. So, she just tends to chores of cooking and cleaning. And later, a mean witch that gives her a poisoned apple deceives her. This says that girls are easily tricked, and need to stay indoors.
This ideology that women are subordinate creates ideas in young girl’s minds that they may never be good enough.
One story told in the Mickey Mouse Monopoly that stuck with me regarded to the film The Lion King. Being that The Lion King was my favorite Disney movie growing up; this story really drove home the impact of marginalized cultures and ethnicities in the media.
The woman in the movie explained how her friend called her in distress about something her young child said while shopping in the mall. While making the connection to the three villainous hyenas in The Lion King, the children identified three young black children as being the hyenas they has seen in the film. Not only did three black children’s voices sound exactly like the three hyena’s, the women’s child put a negative connotation on black children; the child now associated the three black children as being villainous.
The Lion King hyenas
This story shocked me because, as a child, I never made that connection between the hyenas and black children…possibly because I grew up in a predominantly white suburb rarely having interaction with minority groups/cultures.
Another major culture issue made by Disney was the uproar after the release of Aladdin. Saudi Arabian citizens raised much concern when Disney created a severely inaccurate portrayal of their culture. For example, in the movie, when Jasmine (a Saudi Arabian princess) helps a starving child in a food market by taking an apple from a vendor and giving it to the child. In response, the vendor threatens to chop of her hand off.
If this were to happen in a real Saudi Arabian food market, the vendor would honor this gesture. In their culture if a food vendor witnesses a starving person, they are encouraged to give away some of their food in order to help.
Here is an interesting, more in-depth article about the controversy around Disney’s Aladdin: http://reviews.wikinut.com/The-Controversy-of-Disney-s-Aladdin/1cq374to/
Jasmine being threatened by food vendor as Aladdin swoops in to protect her.
Political economists are very concerned with these issues of culture and ethnicity because they examine how elites maintain control through hegemonic power on society. The hegemonic power I speak of in this case is white supremacy. The ideology that marginalized groups, such as blacks and middle easterners, are perpetuated in the media as being subordinate to whites, which comes to seem as normal and unchallenged by the rest of us.
This is heavy stuff, right!
…It’s about to get heavier…
The Disney classic movies aren’t only to blame for creating a false adaptation of reality. In resent years, the advertising industry is to blame for perpetuated hegemonic power of ideologies in society.
This is where political economists really take a huge role in examining the media. Again, revolving around the concern of children, political economists examine the current trend of deregulation of the media. The deregulation of media has created a “consumer culture” by an increasing dominance of advertising and marketing in our lives.
According to the film Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood, advertising towards children makes up the majority of profits made in the U.S.—parents spend approximately $704 billion every year on children’s products. This movie takes on a political economist’s role to examine a number to elements that play into the child consumerism. I will touch on the few that meant the most to me:
1) Deregulation of media
2) Cradle to grave concept
3) Market research
4) Scientific research
5) The Role of Parents
As I mentioned earlier, the deregulation of media has played a crucial role in childhood consumerism. Deregulation means that there is no longer government regulation of how much advertising is produced, and what viewpoints are portrayed in that media. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) are private government agencies that work hard in regulating deceptive advertising. And one of their major on-going battles is the regulation of children’s advertising.
It is said that children up to age 12 have a hard time deciphering between a television show they’re watching and the advertisements during commercial breaks. But, that is not the only thing the FCC and FTC are fighting against for in deceptive children’s advertising. It is the ideologies exemplified in them.
Starting with the cradle to grave concept, I will examine how the advertising industry merely targets children from as early as infancy to turn them into lifelong consumers.
(Here is a perfect example of what I am about to discuss. It is an old 1970s McDonald’s advertisement that clearly exemplifies the cradle to grave concept of marketing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCz1Zx0JbPI
The cradle to grave concept is used by advertising agencies to target and influence children early and often to turn them into lifelong consumers. This is a questionable practice done by the advertising world because children are basically helpless. In other words, children have no filter when it comes to deciding what are good and bad messages in the media.
Literally, from the cradle.
Some of the bad messages portrayed in the media revolve around the idea of age compression. Age compression basically means that in media, children are continuously being treated as adults younger and younger in life.
One example of this is the “tween” age group. Tweens are typically referred to children between the ages of 9 and 12. They are not young children but they are not quite teenagers either. But now, due to age compression, tweens are the refers ages 6 to 12. And, advertisers take advantage of kid’s natural urge to be older and to be treated older by adults.
Little girl’s toys, such as the Bratz and Barbie dolls, are portrayed with womanly figures who are scantily dressed . These dolls also often come complete with materialistic accessories such as designer clothing, make-up, and jewelry. As a result, little girls start to embody the characteristics of over sexualized and materialistic behaviors.
If the FCC can’t ban all advertisement towards children, they can at least weed them out one-by-one. Here is an example of how advertising can over sexualize childhood: http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/marc-jacobs-ad-banned-child-sexualization-136439
And the same goes for boys. Many of the items marketed towards boys involve violence, including video games, weapons, and masculine looking toys. This tells boys that they must be a dominant force and must resolve conflict with violence.
Upon reading this, you may say, “Well…duh.” Of course the things that children witness in media and everyday life will effect the way the way they are. “They’re brains are sponges!” you might say.
But, it’s the way market researchers learn how to target these children is what was most interesting, and perhaps, disturbing to me.
Much like the cradle to grave concept of tackling a child’s psyche, children’s advertising is designed to pull on their heartstrings to evoke emotion. This is exactly the tactic used by Disney in their films. They create cartoon characters that provide a psychological comfort during the growing up process.
And, almost the same goes for product advertisements. But, instead they evoke emotions of longing and make kids say, “Oh, I need that!” Many times the ads flat out say that in order to be “cool” you must have this item. This helps maintain the ideology of what it takes to be socially accepted.
One of the ways market researchers gain direct information from children about what they like is engaging in ethnographic research. They do this by literally following children through their everyday lives and examine the ways they look, touch, and talk about items. They even follow them into the bathroom, while they take a bath or shower!! (Weird, I know)
Some of the ways they engage in this ethnographic research is developing products for the child to market themselves to their friends. For example, slumber party packages are designed for young girls/boys to throw a fun slumber party with their friends all while marketing products to them. But, the catch is that the market researcher spends the night with them as well to analyze there every move.
“Wait…what?!” I know…. that’s what I said.
I will never understand how a parent could allow a stranger to spend the night with a bunch of kids in order to analyze their every move!
Another type of market research that has been viewed as teetering on ethics is the scientific research of children’s brains. Scientific market researchers communicate with advertisers about how exactly ads effect a child on the inside.
In a lab, a child’s brain can be monitored during a series of stimuli by using electrodes. This can help scientists figure out what exactly appeals to a child’s brain. This can especially be helpful to determine what is appealing to very young children who haven’t yet learned to talk.
Also another type of market research that has been in a heated debate with the FTC is the gathering a personal information from children over the internet. Over the past few years, internet use by children had increased dramatically. The internet seems to be a whole new world of excitement. Many websites that attract children require them to be a “member” in order to play games, often louring them in with a prize incentive. But before they can play the game, they must enter their name, gender, age, geographic location, and other personal family information.
It is obvious why this method of market research would be questioned by the FTC. As a result, there have been regulations about this successfully put into place.
Upon hearing of peoples’ opinions on these issues, most would say it is the parent’s responsibility to protect their child from these deceitful advertisements, unethical practices, and continuously perpetuated ideologies. But, in fact it is not all the parent’s responsibility. Parents can only control their child’s amount of media consumption when they are under their guidance. But, what happens when they go to school? Or, when they go to a friend’s house?
So, it seems to be the social responsibility of citizens along with parents need to realize that children are constantly under a spotlight and are persuaded by hegemonic ideologies.
So, now to answer your “So what?” question…
It is said that the current trend in childhood obesity is perpetuated by children's addiction to media. They would rather stay inside than play outside.
It is important to realize that political economists examine media from 360 degrees. It views childhood consumerism through the eyes of multiple viewpoints including gender, sex, culture, ethnicity, and the industry vs. the critic perspectives.
The industry’s perspective of the media is that it has short term effects. But, the critics perspective sees it as having latent, long term effects that manifest over time.
It is up to political economists to determine just how the media institutions establish and maintain existing hegemonic power of elites through media texts and practices.
It is also important to understand that the U.S. in a state of deregulation of the media. So, it is up to parents and citizens to re-regulate the types and amount of media their children consume. This is important because children are blank canvases that are looking to find their way into the world, and figure out who they are. They learn how to do this by observing media texts (and, of course through real human interaction as well).
Thank you for reading!
I hope this topic of ideological criticism was just as compelling to you as it was to me. I also hope I have opened your eyes to the various ideologies (good and bad) that are convayed through media that help shape the way humans interact with one another. I am curious to know what route the media will take next in shaping our culture and our values on consumerism.