Mmmmmmmm. Pancakes. What a lovely smell to wake up to.
Before I was old enough to cook my own pancakes, I would frequently come downstairs after waking up on the weekends to find my dad hovering around the stove offering to make me breakfast. 10 minutes later, and I’d be sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of pancakes and bacon in front of me. When my dad was feeling creative (or when I would put in a request), my pancake(s) would be in the shape of Mickey Mouse, decked out with chocolate chip facial features and a bacon bowtie.
The term “packaged consciousness” was first termed by Herbert Schiller, a key theorist in the study of mass communications and the media. The majority of his writings were concerned with the private takeover of public space and stemmed from a Marxian view of the world. Originally published in 1973, The Mind Managers unfolds some of the ways through which corporate interests filter information and control what actually is presented as fact. The media controls the mind in such an effect that we are set to fulfill the business motives of the media. In Schiller’s analysis, America’s mass culture was naturally in service to their owner’s search for “maintenance of the status quo” (1973, p.29). He writes – “the aim of television and radio programming and films in a commercial society is not to arouse but to lessen the concern about social and economic realities” (1973, p.31). This book, along with a number of his others, expresses his concern for the minds of consumers, specifically Americans in this case. Schiller had a rather dark and dystopian view on the economy and capitalism and believed that consumers are being brainwashed by the media to do, think, believe, and follow the same assumptions, much like robots. Going hand in hand with the idea of “packaged consciousness,” the theory of media imperialism can also be picked out of Schiller’s writings. Media Imperialism is a theory that suggests that smaller countries are losing their identity due to the control and influence of media from larger countries.
Schiller’s predictions and observations about the undetected manipulation of the masses is exhibited in today’s society by The Walt Disney Company. The Walt Disney Company operates as an international empire in its three biggest segments: TV, theme parks, and feature films. Consumers today are often blind to the fact that many of the things we consume, specifically in the entertainment industry, are owned and run by an oligopoly of companies. As Schiller explained, “for manipulation to be most effective, evidence of its presence should be nonexistent…It is essential, therefore, that people are manipulated to believe in the neutrality of their key social institutions” (1973, p.11). The Walt Disney Company is a prime example of this idea as they own a lengthy list of companies and networks that don’t explicitly show that they are indeed owned and operated by Disney. Some of these brands are ABC Television Group, ABC Family, ESPN, Inc., Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC, Marvel Entertainment, LLC (and its subsidiaries – Marvel Studios, Marvel Animation & Marvel Comics), Pixar, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Records, Lifetime, History, Maker Studios, and the Muppets Studio. Lee Artz wrote a compelling article about Disney and the way they publish their films. He says, “Disney films are guilty of supporting capitalist globalization, marketing their films all over the world in a multitude of languages and editing content that may not be seen as favorable to particular cultures where they are sold” (2002).
According to IMDb, Disney has released a total of 463 films (2016). Keep in mind, these are only the ones that have “Walt Disney Pictures” highly noticeable in their viewing (the number does not include films released by Marvel, Lucasfilm, and all of Disney’s other brands). I remember watching The Disney Channel growing up, and wishing that I could one day be the kid that you see before a program starts that says, “I’m [insert name here], and you’re watching Disney Channel!” followed by drawing the Mickey ears with the colorful sparkling magic wand while smiling and giggling. My friends and I were able to sing along to many Disney songs, had crushes on way too many Disney actors, and spent too much time playing ClubPenguin (yep, also owned by Disney). I’ve seen a vast amount of pictures of and heard countless stories and mentions of visits to Disney World Parks and Resorts, and awe-filled descriptions of the profuse amount of fun that can be had on their rides. I’d even eat Disney when I had my Mickey pancakes!
Schiller’s writings may be considered outdated and inapplicable to some, but I can very easily stand behind his views on the media brainwashing us all into mush-brained robots. A large part of the entertainment that I consume regularly all stems from one corporate powerhouse – represented by a seemingly innocent mouse in overalls. Am I going to stop watching and enjoying Disney productions? I wasn’t planning on it – but I am aware of the systematic manipulators that dominate society and am aware of corporate chains’ conflicting social interests.
Anglica Ruskin University, 2016. Harvard System. [online]. Available at: http://libweb.anglia.ac.uk/referencing/harvard.htm [Accessed 4 Feb 2017].
Carpenter, W. J., 2015. Top 5 Companies Owned by Disney. Investopedia. [online]. Available at: http://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets/102915/top-5-companies-owned-disney.asp [Accessed 4 Feb 2017].
IMDb, 2017. Walt Disney Pictures [US]. [online]. Available at: http://www.imdb.com/company/co0008970/ [Accessed 4 Feb 2017].
Schiller, H., 1973. The Mind Managers. Boston, MA: Beacon.
Street, P., 2009. Reflections on a Forgotten Book: Herbert Schiller’s The Mind Managers (1973). [online]. Available at: https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/reflections-on-a-largely-forgotten-book-herbert-schillers-the-mind-managers-1973-by-paul-street/ [Accessed 4 Feb 2017].
wiseGeek, 2017. What is Media Imperialism? [online]. Available at: http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-media-imperialism.htm [Accessed 2 Feb 2017].