NM3224: Culture Industries
Disney: A corporate powerhouse
Name: Tang Chen Xi
Matriculation number: A0070708H
Tutorial Group: W1 (Monday 12 ~ 1pm)
Tutor: MS Anuradha Rao
Walter Elias Disney was an accomplished genius of the 19th, 20th century and is responsible for establishing one of the largest media and entertainment corporations in the world: The Walt Disney Company. The Walt Disney Company generates some US$40 billion in annual revenue (“Disney CEO,” 2011) effortlessly; theme parks like Disneyland and DisneySea draw visitors by the millions every and merchandise are available everywhere. Nevertheless, as this consumerist culture becomes even more prominent in the 21st century, cultural production of Disney products has definitely changed and Disney increasingly finds the need to adapt to different situations and accommodate to the on-going process of globalization. How Disney manages to become a successful multi-media conglomerate is of particular interest to me. Disney is also notoriously known for promoting the capitalist system and this is worth researching especially in a globalizing age where cultural products have the capacity to permeate transnational borders. This paper aims to analyze the production of Disney products and its relationship with capitalism amidst globalization and the strategies Disney uses in the political economy approach. Scholars such as Adorno (1991) see standardisation of cultural products as a homogenising process in capitalist societies. Other scholars such as Wasko (2001) and Ross (1999) discuss about ‘Disneyfication’ and these are areas of interest in my study of Disney. I would also explain how it engages in cultural imperialism and how it exerts its hegemonic power. Exploring how Disney diversified into various media platforms and genres (films, music) to achieve a pervasive effect are other areas central to Disney’s method of production.
Disney’s marriage with capitalism in a world of commodities As Disney continues to expand in order to occupy a more significant place in the hearts of consumers, commercial pressures have forced Disney films and products to become more conventional, thereby commodifying culture for the masses and legitimizing the capitalist ideology in the process. While Disney fanatics and people worldwide still celebrate almost anything Disney, the formulaic quality of its products has become more apparent over the last few decades. Adorno (1991) argues that the production of culture in capitalist societies are inevitably standardised. Standardization (and the associated concept of pseudo-individualization) occurs when products are produced as variations of each other – they are distinguished from another, when in fact, they are similar with different packaging. The Disney Princess franchise, for example, uses the same stereotypical portrayals of women. Each princess seems different as a product, but all of them bear similar characteristics: beautiful, lively and musical. Such standardisation steers Disney towards being represented as a symbol of capitalism itself, where Disney products are churned out to create market value and gain vast profits. Walter Benjamin (1968) stated how “the conventional is uncritically enjoyed,” and this points towards the passivity of consumers in their pursuit of standardised and homogenised products. Many embrace popular, mass produced images of Disney and become subservient to the commercialist nature of Disney’s commodities. Disney is seen as a “machine” that produces “plastic” – a form of mass production that is incompatible with authenticity (Meehan, Phillips, Wasko, 2001), hinting at some form of cultural decline and debasement due to a lack of quality and diversity in Disney’s products. This is in tandem with Benjamin’s (1968) idea of the “destruction of the aura” of products, meaning that genuine aspects of cultural products are lacking, as they are merely mass reproductions of each...
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