Thursday, December 01, 2005


Well, then. I've finished the book, and had an evening to turn it over in my head. Here are some of the noteworthy passages from M. Giroux for your review. I think I've captured most of the essence of his book, although I did leave out some of the more socialistic passages, since that's not really what I want to focus on.

Innocence is one of the key issues that Giroux explores. He describes it...

"As suburban America witnesses urban violence invading its schools, homes, and neighborhoods, Disney becomes a symbol for the security and romance of the small-town America of yesteryear--a pristine never-never land in which children's fantasies come true, happiness reigns, and innocence is kept safe through the magic of pixie dust."

...And then details how Disney is using it and some problematic implications.

"Media culture has become one of the most important vehicles throgh which coporate executives like Michael Eisner invoke innocence in order to express their committment to middle-class family values, the welfare of children, and their expansions into noncommercial spheres such as public schooling. Such rhetoric represents more than the staged authenticity of the corporate swindle; it also works strategically to 'celebrate innocence over politics and other forms of critical knowledge.'"

Innocence doesn't just affect the young either...

"Disney has given new meaning to the politics of innocence as a narrative for shaping public memory and for producing a 'general body of indentifications' that promote a sanitized version of American history. Innocence also serves as a rhetorical device that cleanses the Disney image of the messiness of commerce, ideology, and power."

So why would Innocence be so important for Disney to connect with its image?

"In Disney's moral order, innocence is 'presented as the deepest truth,' which when unproblematized can be used with great force and influence to legitimate the spectacle of entertainment as escapist fantasy."

Escaping is another big theme. OK, so what if Disney is providing a way for the average American to escape? Why is that bad? It seems that the problem is not so much that it's a way to escape, but that Disney is so pervasive that escape becomes a way of life, and in that sense, ever so much more real than...well, reality.

"Far from representing a benign cultural force, Disney's theme parks offer prepackaged, sanitizecd versions of America's past, place a stong emphasis on the virtes of the individual as an essentially consuming subject, transform the work of production into the production of play, and ignore the exclusionary dynamics of class and race that permeate Disney culture."

"There are no strikes in Disneyland. no history of labor unrest. No history of attacks on immigrants. No history of slavery or segregation. No Red scare, no McCarthyism, no atom bomb. Nor will one find in Disney's rewriting of public memory any mention of corporations' abuse of labor, corporations' responsibility for acid rain, or responsibility for the effects of corporate downsizing. Not in Disney's history. Walt Disney once announced that 'Disneyland is a place where you can't get lost.' Disney's rewriting of public memory echoes that sentiment and offers its patrons a history 'without classes, conflict, or crime, a world of continuous consumption, a supermarket of fun.'"

So what? Why does it matter if we are a nation of consumers?

"Disney educates and entertains in order to create corporate identities and to define citizens primarily as consumers and spectators."

Giroux argues that a nation of consumers cannot be a nation of citizens because consumption is by definition self-centered, while citizenship carries (or ought to carry) the weight of civic duty and moral responsibility. Ultimately, the more the body politic is degraded into a nation of shoppers, the more democracy is dissovled into a group of uneducated non-participants.

"Rather than being viewed as a commercial venture innocently distributing pleasure to young people, the Disney empire must be seen as a pedagogical and policy-making enterprise actively engaged in the cultural landscaping of national identity and the 'schooling' of the minds of young children. This is not to suggest that there is something sinister behind what Disney does. It points only to the need to address the role of fantasy, desire, and innocence in securing particular ideological interest, legitimating specific social relations, and making a claim on the meaning of public memory."

"When politics is cloaked in the image of innocence, there is more at stake than simple deception. There is the issue of cultural power and how it influences public udnerstandings of the past, national coherence, and popular memory in ways that often conceal injustice, criticism, and the possibility of democratic renewal. Innocence, in Disney's world, becomes the ideological vehicle through which history is purged of its seamy side."

1 comment:

The Bard said...

I don't have time to go after all his conclusion, so I shall attack the premises. He presupposes that middle class values are a bad thing--this is more of the platonic guardian's arrogance. Why is a suburban house where kids can play safely in the yard a bad thing? (Ironically, for all Giroux's pointifcation on innocence, one look at some of the smut Disney has put out should dispel the idea that Disney stands for innocence). Furthermore, the less-than-ideal incidents of America's past on which he wants us to dwell are come from a socialist viewpoint. America's past is far from ideal, but his desire to focus on the negative, and on which negatives to focus, tip his hand. I could go on ad nasuem, but the point is that he too is using rhetoric to try and tell a story and enforce his viewpoint, and I refuse to let the sword only cut one way.

On the positive side, I think his best point is that a nation of consumers cannot be a nation of good citizens. Whether the consumption is of entertainment or of entitlements, the passivity & selfishness of consumption is a deadly thing--for citizens and for churchgoers.