How Dangerous Is Disney?

In October 1923 Walt Disney, together with his brother Roy, founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio They started a tradition of entertaining children and adults alike that endures to this day

Disney has grown from a small cartoon studio to an 882 billion dollar conglomerate, owning many assets including ABC, Marvel, the Star Wars franchise, as well as 14 theme parks around the world However there are those who believe that Disney’s success in business means its facade of joy hides a dark heart Is Disney dangerous? One of the most common criticisms levelled at Disney is that its representation of women and minorities is regressive and harmful to children Authors Lyn Mikel Brown and Peggy Orenstein argue that Disney presents growing girls with two options for their future

Either be ‘girly’, relying on beauty and sexuality to get ahead, or be defiant, proving you don’t need a man to win, but run the risk of ending up alone And according to a study by Karin Martin and Emily Kazyak, romance in Disney stories is always heterosexual and magical The females are only there for the men to admire and adore Even then, the men are only shown to be worthy if they’re rich and handsome, otherwise they’re comic and not to be taken seriously This is not to mention the huge racial bias in Disney’s stories

A 2011 study by Olaiya Aina and Petronella Cameron found that these biases can negatively affect children – in how they approach their own identity, how they form relationships with others, and when they determine their academic ambition However, Andy Mooney, former chairman of Disney Consumer Products, states that Disney’s problematic Princesses simply meet consumer demands In 2000 Disney products were suffering a year-on-year decrease in sales of 30%, until Mooney introduced the Princesses range In the space of 5 years, sales went from $300 million to $3 billion Of course, Disney’s empire of merchandise has to be produced somewhere To meet demand, Disney contracts out to factories in the developing world, with known links to Haiti, China and Bangladesh

But these factories are known to have substandard working conditions Employees are forced to accept long hours and high-pressure workloads In Haiti workers earn 30 cents an hour, and there are numerous reports of underage workers In 2011 Chinese sweatshops supplying Disney were found to be forcing staff to do three times the amount of work allowed by law These shops promoted a bullying culture, which is believed to have led to one case of suicide

And when in Bangladesh in 2013 a clothing factory collapsed and killed over 1000 people as a result of unsafe working conditions and unauthorised operations, Disney responded by pulling production out of the country instead of personally guaranteeing the safety of the workers In the US Disney has taken a decidedly anti-union stance In 1984 more than a thousand park workers walked out for three weeks over a planned pay freeze Disney hired replacements and continued to work In 2013 Disney World in Florida fought against a bill to provide workers with legally protected paid sick days and refused to accept petitions from local families who would have benefitted from this

Disney’s stance on piracy is also notorious It publicly lobbied for SOPA, the US bill that received worldwide condemnation for its attempt to stifle the internet Meanwhile in 2011 the FTC fined Disney subsidiary Playdom Inc $3 million for illegally collecting the personal information of hundreds of thousands of minors who played their online games Disney also has a habit of lobbying local governments into partly funding their business ventures

In 1993, during California’s severe economic downturn, Disney demanded that the city of Anaheim contribute $800 million to the expansion of Disneyland They also demanded $200 million to improve parking and $30 million to renovate Anaheim stadium, which at the time was used by the baseball team owned by Disney Environmentally Disney has a poor record too 90 acres of land on Great Guana Cay have been left partially developed and abandoned by the company, with dangerous material, leaking fuel tanks, and invasive flora and fauna left behind And in 2004 and 2005 Greenpeace and the Center for Environmental Health alleged that 19 countries were being supplied with branded childrenswear containing hazardous chemical agents and potentially illegal amounts of lead in Disney jewelry

Despite these questionable business practices, Disney is still behaving like any other major multinational corporation, in as much as they are defending their interests to satisfy shareholders This alone does not make Disney any more or less dangerous than any other business Yet Disney is still in a largely unique position in that it dominates worldwide media aimed at children, and that gives it power Whether Disney is negatively affecting successive generations of children is still the subject of much debate, however the influence they wield both in business and in the home, is undeniable

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