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Mickey Mouse Views

Recently a new Disney theme park opened up in Hong Kong and I watched a lot of media hype on Australian TV, showing smiling little Chinese boys and girls (and their parents) being entertained by Disney characters and the Disney world view. I'm sure the media showed similar coverage in Japan and other countries.

I have mixed feelings about the Disney world, finding it easy - even natural to be cynical about something so popular. Even the English language has adopted a special term from Disney - "Mickey Mouse" means something trivial or insignificant, not to be taken too seriously. For example, an easy college course with no meaningful content might be referred to as a "Mickey Mouse class" or an explanation for something that doesn't have much thought behind it might be called a "Mickey Mouse answer".

A week before the official opening of Hong Kong's Disneyland, an op-ed (opinion-editorial) entitled "Mickey Mouse morals come to Asia" appeared in the Queensland Australia newspaper, The Courier -Mail (September 5, 2005) by Dr. Karen Brooks, a senior lecturer in Popular Culture and the University of the Sunshine Coast. Dr. Brooks' article mentions that together with the theme park will come many other American/Disney related businesses - movies (and music and videos and dolls and dishes and everything from those movies!), TV stations, radio programs, hotel chains, and merchandise from Disney characters will appear everywhere. These aren't just businesses and products, but a way of life that is being promoted, the article points out. And it isn't just any way of life, but one which is very sweet and commercial. Can we call it a Mickey Mouse way of life??

As an example, the Brooks article compares the difference between the little mermaid in the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and the Disney version. In the Andersen story, the mermaid struggles with real moral issues, and looks at questions like what happens when we try to change our self in order to please someone, and dies in the struggle. However, in the Disney version, the mermaid changes herself and lives happily ever after.

A few years back I visited the Los Angeles Disneyland and took a boat trip through the Disney version of Africa. I could see that the children in the boat were very excited by the wild animals that would pop out of the river and along the shore, scaring the natives who were living in strange little huts. I wondered, what can this view really tell people about the nature of Africa or the people of Africa?

I realize that there's no way we can stop the Disney view of things, and it doesn't pay to try to prevent children from enjoying sugar coated views of the world. What we can do, as parents and educators is make sure that this is not the ONLY view that our children get. We can use Disney as a way into something deeper - for example a curiosity to learn about the nature or peoples of Africa. Once children's interest is piqued by the super sweet view of things which Disney markets, we can bring out other materials - ones that tell other stories, that give multiple perspectives on things, giving children the opportunity to think beyond the Mickey Mouse view of life.
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