Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina looked at 32 films, many of them from Disney, that were rated G … They put the characters into classes based on their job. At the top are upper class characters – royalty, chief executives and celebrities.
The working class have jobs like soldiers, sailors, miners and sweeps. The lowest category is the jobless poor.
Their analysis showed that in most cases the main character is wealthy and the majority of the cast are either upper or upper-middle class, meaning that poorer sectors are under-represented.
The depictions of working-class people are also unrealistic, the researchers said, as nearly all ‘perceive their jobs as invigorating, fun’. In Mary Poppins, Bert sings that ‘as a sweep you’re as lucky as can be’.
The study says: ‘Bert, like other characters, frames working-class jobs as devoid of difficulties.’
Many children’s films, it adds, ‘suggest that social class inequality is benign, as those at the bottom of the class ladder suffer little, lead relatively stable lives, and experience many advantages’.
Disney’s Aladdin is taken to task because of a scene in which Princess Jasmine and the impoverished title character compare their different backgrounds and conclude they both have hard lives.
Working-class lives in children’s movies are often portrayed as so fun and cosy that rich people will voluntarily go down the class ladder to join them, the researchers say. Poor people are portrayed as happier too – in The Sound Of Music, humble former nun Maria teaches her upper class employer how to love his children.
The study concludes that, overall, children’s films make poverty and class distinctions seem like a case of the lower orders getting their ‘just deserts’. It says the films make class divisions seem ‘legitimate by erasing, downplaying, and sanitising their effects – by portraying poverty and inequality as benign’.
It adds that this ‘erases, downplays or sanitises poverty and class inequality, implying that poverty and inequality are not particularly problematic as few people suffer from them’.
I wonder whether the Dukes will tackle North Korea next? This video, “Excellent Horse-Like Lady” from the People’s Paradise depicts some really cheerful textile workers – of course the star, Hyon Song Wal, was Kim Jung’s girlfriend at the time, and was probably doing okay in the material goods department.