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Disney Corporation Through The Eyes Of A Marxist

The Walt Disney Corporation has just about dipped its fingers within everything consumer based. To give you a picture of just how much Disney is involved in our society, here is exactly where Disney has its foot in the door. From Walt Disney studios (who owns Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax Films); to Walt Disney studios Home Entertainment; to Disney Theatrical Productions (who is one of the largest producers of Broadway musicals, including Disney Live Family Entertainment and Disney on Ice); to the music within their motion pictures (including Walt Disney Records, Hollywood Records, and Lyric Street Records) (8). That is all only within the Walt Disney Studios department of the Disney Corporation. There is also the Disney theme parks and resorts.

Since its first park, Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California opened, the Parks and Resorts department has “grown to encompass the world-class Disney Cruise Line, eight Disney Vacation Club resorts (with more than 100,000 members), Adventures by Disney (immersive Disney-guided travel around the world), and five resort locations (encompassing 11 theme parks, including some owned or co-owned by independent entities) on three continents” (8).

There are also the Disney consumer products, which “extend the Disney brand to merchandise ranging from apparel, toys, home décor and books and magazines to interactive games, foods and beverages, stationery, electronics and fine art. [Disney’s publishing company,] Disney Publishing Worldwide is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and magazines, reaching more than 100 million readers each month in 75 countries. Disney’s imprints include Disney Libri, Hyperion Books for Children, Jump at the Sun, Disney Press, and Disney Editions” (8). Disney’s official shopping source is disneystore.com. The Disney stores retail chain is owned and operated by an “unaffiliated third party in Japan under a license agreement with The Walt Disney Company. [However,] Disney owns and operates the Disney Store chain in North America and Europe”. (8)

There are also the various media networks that Disney owns or is majorly affiliated with. From broadcast, to cable, to radio, to publishing and internet business, Disney is tuned into everything. Their keys networks are Disney-ABC Television Group, ESPN Inc., Walt Disney Internet Group, and ABC owned television stations. (8) The Disney-ABC Television Group is home to the ABC Television Network, the Disney Channel, ABC Family, SOAPnet, A&E Television, and the Radio Disney Network. When it comes to ESPN, however, with its six domestic cable television networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, and ESPNU) along with ESPN International; ESPN Radio; ESPN.com; ESPN The Magazine; ESPN Enterprises; ESPN Zones (their restaurants); ESPN360.com; ESPN Mobile Wireless; ESPN On Demand; ESPN Interactive; and ESPN PPV; the Disney-ABC Television Group only owns 80%, whereas a separate company (The Hearst Corporation) owns the other 20%.(8)

So, who is at the top of this money making consumer machine? His name is Robert A. Iger, and in 2008 alone he grossed $51,072,580 (3). A merchandise hostess intern makes about $6.50 per hour. A research specialist, PhotoPass photographer, and guest relations hostess makes an average of $10.00 per hour. Manager’s make about $29.00 per hour, whereas a ride & show technician makes about $23.00 per hour. (4) Why is it that there is such a gap in pay between employees and employers? What would Karl Marx think?

With all of the profit the Disney accrues annually from its vast consumerism, the distribution of its profit amongst its employees is greatly skewed. Marx would say that Disney is exploiting its employees and the Disney has far too much excess profit. He would argue that Disney pays its customer service employees close to minimum wage when they are more than capable to be paying their workers a lot more. Disney also pays its managers and supervisors a little more than who they oversee so they will still stick up for their bosses and keep the repression of the workers stable. Also, those who earn the minimum paid work may also be keeping themselves down by working these jobs because they think they too may climb the ladder to success (class reading “The Origin and Context of Karl Marx’s Thought”). If we were to classify people into Marx’s two social classes, he would describe the top Disney executives as the bourgeoisie, and the laborers (their maintenance team, retail clerks, park ride operators, restaurant employees, etc.) are the proletariat.

Alienation can be observed on both sides of the spectrum, whether we’re looking at the top executives or the laborers of Disney. In this quote from The Holy Family, Marx says that the bourgeoisie and proletarians are equally alienated, but experience their alienation in different ways. “The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence” (Engels & Marx, 1845). This may be seen that as the Disney executives are alienated, they feel strengthened by this with their own power, whereas the Disney laborers feel their alienation as a form of powerlessness.

Marx may also believe that Disney laborers are alienated for many other reasons. He would say that they are operating things that they, in turn, would never own themselves. For example, employees who work at the theme parks will never experience what it is like to be at the park for leisure, unless it’s a free ticket every once in a while from corporate. Even then, the ticket has restrictions for certain days and seasons. Also, he would say that the Disney laborers inevitably lose control of their lives and selves, in not having any control of their work. They would never become autonomous, self-realized human beings except in how the bourgeois want the workers to be realized (class reading “The Origin and Context of Karl Marx’s Thought”).

Within the corporations hiring practices, Disney is not very open to negotiations. They just pitch a package to you, which the prospective “cast member” can either accept or decline. Marx would probably use this modern day analogy, if he could, that Disney is a 750 pound gorilla in the marketplace and that they know it and aren’t afraid to use it.

For its customers Disney is a place of Imagination, magic, fantasy, romance, adventure, inspiration, family, and so much more. These are the feelings we encounter when we experience anything “Disney” as a society. Disney’s goal for its consumers is to be seen as the happiest place (and products) on earth. The Walt Disney Corporation has been a powerful force in creating childhood culture around the world. Disney’s massive success is based on “images of innocence, magic, and fun. Its animated films in particular are praised as wholesome family entertainment endorsed by teachers and parents, and immensely popular with children” (Feng Sun, 2001). Children’s imaginations have been the product of Disney for many generations now. It’s become the ultimate form of fantasy, one that never needs to be questioned.

Marx would say that we, as a society, are fools. He would argue that Disney’s bourgeois philosophy has clouded our minds to see our world as they want us to see it. The messages of innocence are really messages of passivity, domesticity, and frailty for woman; while messages of adventure and fun really have underlying tones of power, violence, and a false notions of hope in the eyes of our little boys. In a sense, the Disney Corporation perpetuates the ideas of achieving the traditional “American dream”, while these executives know full well that the society they wish to see has been lost to time for quite a while now.

Marx would describe the societal image of Disney as a secular “opiate for the people” (7). He would argue by saying that “this state and this society produce[d Disney], which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world” (7). This meaning that the aspects to which Disney is fantasy ridden is opposite from what our society is. Disney has become an escape for us. He would go on by explaining that Disney “is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality” (7). Meaning that Disney is our imagination come to life. Disney is everything we wish could be within our world in regards to fantasy, and it’s everything they wish our value system would be.

So who else could possibly shed some light on this subject but Max Weber? He would argue with Marx, saying that his thoughts of social stratification do not apply to Disney because there are many other jobs that are affiliated with Disney, but not of Disney, like independent contractors that are virtually ambiguous to the Disney executives. Weber would most likely believe that what Disney is doing is efficient and fair because what they’ve been doing is the most effective for them. In the social world, Disney is all about family. They have been trying to uphold and instill the values of the past within virtually all of their consumer products. For Weber, this has a hint of value rationality. He would think that Disney executives utilize this bottom line thinking. They have weighed the costs and benefits of their choices and have gone with whatever brings them the most profit (Phillips).

However, Weber would explain that the Disney executives would not apply to his traditional rationality approach because aspects of their corporation are continually changing. From the switch to digital animation from analog animation; updating their amusement park rides to fit today’s technology; and even answering to the calls of society to finally create an animated film featuring an African American princess. They’re not sticking with what they’ve always known. Disney is constantly innovating to keep up with technology. Socially, however, Weber would agree with Marx by saying that Disney is sticking to its traditional roots by trying to uphold what they view as good moral values (class reading on Weber).

Weber would also argue with Marx about how our society works. Marx says that we are all under control by the bourgeoisie: seeing our society in the ways they want us to view it. Disney wants us to see our society through the messages they imbed in their products. Weber would say that our society should be value free and to just “let the chips fall where they may” (Phillips). Disney is just doing what it wants to do: it is up to us to determine what way we perceive their messages.

Weber would also say that Disney is a business bureaucracy: its goal is to maximize its profit. He would describe Disney within his ideas of social stratification: a combination of class, status, and party (class reading on Weber). These three are independent, yet linked (Phillips). Disney has class in the form of having an exorbitant amount of money; status in the way that virtually everyone knows of Disney, and it’s usually a good notion; and party in the way the Disney has tremendous power within the market and media (class reading on Weber).

Within certain aspects of Disney, Marx and Weber share similar ideologies and in others they are on completely separate pages. Both theorists serve valid, rational points. There is no bias within this research: all ideas of Disney are objective and may not be what the theorists may view. All inquiries are based on their prior ideologies.

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