BCM 320

Mike Smith 800041

The Lion King (1994) was, in its era, the highest grossing animated feature film of all time. The film received accolades for its wondrous soundtrack, animation and cinematography. However, because of these successes the film has gained attention in a much different pride land: Academia. Disney films are said to be a component of mass culture, a term coined by a scholar of the Frankfurt school of social theory Theodor Adorno. Mass culture items are said to have the following attributes: they are described as standardized and formulaic, bland, mass produced, superficial, lacking in stimulation, fantastical and escapist. This essay will define these terms in the context of mass culture theory. These definitions will then be related to The Lion King. When discussing mass culture theory, terminology such as standardized and formulaic can fall under the same categorization. This homogenization of terms does not intend to simplify the importance of their concept. Standardization is a large part of mass culture theory. It presents the notion that the method that makes the most money sets the standard within the industries of mass culture. Within this process of standardization, reproduction of items is rampant. Merchandising is an apt example of this; McDonalds sell Disney character figurines with their ‘Happy Meal combos’, two of the juggernauts of this industry enjoy a symbiotic relationship in this way. Leon presents standardization as synonym and antonym for individualization: The word "reproduction" is in fact an ambiguous sign, as it embraces both notions of sameness and difference. It can refer to copying, where sameness is emphasized. Contrary to the biological sense, it means giving birth to a new individual where creation is stressed…This ambiguous word is still employed because the process itself involves both copying and innovation, or in other words, standardization and individualization. (n.d.) This is essence is what The Lion King was trying to achieve, the reproduction of a similar theme under the guise of a fresh artistic phenomenon in film making, computer enhanced special effects. Cook discusses standardization as a commercial incentive that maximises profitability: Different companies competing in the same cultural sector imitate successful products, and standards become to crystallize (Cook, 1996, p. 40). It is true that Disney holds the lion’s share of the mass media industry in its paws. Disney crosses many generational gaps; their influence upon mass culture in 1

The mass culture industry depends on the consumer’s need to consume what they can comprehend at the “arrested infantile stage”. Both the reception of mass culture and the replay of genre conventions mean that many critics have dismissed these shows as bland and monotonous. (Ibid. This stands as testament to the concept of standardization. with a sequel: The Lion King II: Simba's Pride and a pseudoprequel to the sequel: The Lion King 1½. of the Los Angeles times compares the difference between The Lion King and its supposed predecessor Kimba the Lion Prince (1966): 2 . because they are produced industrially for a mass audience. 41) Seeing that the audience has been brought up in a ‘Disneyland’ world. In the case of popular music for example. the scope of individuality and creativity within them is also diminished. p.BCM 320 Mike Smith 800041 the western world is astounding due to this solidarity of brand awareness. The Lion King has become a brand within itself. 2002. people begin to become formulaic in their choice of cultural consumption: Regressive tendencies in the reception of cultural commodities also play a role in standardization. their listening has been “arrested at the infantile stage. An animated series based upon the characters Puumba and Timon is also being produced. Adorno argued that people now listen “according to formula”. with each episode being predictable in terms of storyline. The film possesses bland qualities. characterization. the nursery rhymes. (Casey. as an icon in mass culture it must be an influence upon what Casey describes about mass culture’s bland and monotonous qualities: Week in and week out the same episodes of Friends or Ally McBeal are played to tens of millions of people and are screened worldwide. By this. 10) Peter Hong. the desires of their consumption of culture will be yearning for Disney. dialogue and so on. and the hymns he sings in Sunday school”. The consumer wants what Adorno described as “natural” music a music which stems from “his earliest musical experiences.

. but the movie has distractingly undergone a renovation of “disnification”. Regardless of this allegation there is an important point made within Hong’s article. racism. as they also use the ‘apparition of the deceased father’ scene in the movie. If anything supports Disney's argument." (2002) Alarmingly. the protagonist is challenged by the apparition his deceased father to challenge the usurper of his rightful throne. Hong suggests Disney are intent on making light entertainment for children. it's the depth of the Japanese show. In Hamlet. for a profit.BCM 320 Mike Smith 800041 "Animation buffs believe Disney ripped off Kimba to create The Lion King. Moreover. and that they overlook justice and morality for capital gain. or if they are familiar with popular cartoons from the sixties. There are challenging themes in the movie such as the notion of a class system. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is said to be of influence to the plot of The Lion King. The writers of the Lion King have observably failed use their imaginations. Interestingly. Disney insists similarities. To distract the viewer from the deeper reality of the film: The inherent truth that the film regurgitating popular culture from 3 . are coincidence.. the similarity in names suggest the repackaging of the character. the film is said to have stolen its theme and storyline from a Japanese cartoon deriving in the sixties. If the crowd is at all familiar with works of Shakespeare which is encouraged to be studied in schools world wide. Many people claim Disney remade the character Kimba into Simba for its mass culture appeal. they would undoubtedly recognise the plot device and deem it bland. Where this said “light entertainment” is essential to filling theatres and expanding the Disney purse. This blandness is a reason why The Lion King had such stunning visuals. Simba’s Counterpart Kimba also is challenged by his deceased father in the form of an apparition. Christian folklore is a common victim of reproduction in mass culture. death and betrayal to name a few. The cartoon series Kimba the Lion Prince is claimed to be the main inspiration for The Lion King. The Kimba episodes deal with justice and morality. The film has been described as a variation of the biblical travels of Joseph and Moses also. Disney vehemently denies this allegation. never presuming children deserve only light entertainment.

(2004. These methods of fiscal exploitation fit well within Strinati’s account of mass production in terms of mass culture. Disney had this in mind with The Lion King. Operating as a $22 billion empire. home videos. Naturally. 10). hotels. the soundtrack sold equally well with the film.BCM 320 Mike Smith 800041 the sixties. By this. Interestingly he suggests that popular culture becomes mass culture via mass production methods. children found the music captivating. retail stores. theme parks. mass produced for a mass market. and family restaurants. 2010) 4 . The music was a large part of the film. we can say that mass culture refers to popular culture which is produced by the industrial techniques of mass production. the more one will find in the realm of merchandising. Disney shapes children's experiences through a maze of representations and products found in box office movies. Disney must have a powerful grip upon consumer’s freedom to consume culture and to be able to tell them what is popular. and power (Giroux. Manchester and food endorsements (such as “Happy Meal” endorsement) to name a few are the types of profiteering employed by Disney. There are countless examples of merchandising in the shadow of this film. television programs. The methods of mass production are crucial for the dispersion of mass culture. pivotal literature from the seventeenth century and travels of sacred icons more than two thousand years ago. sports teams. Through the widespread use of public visual space. and marketed for profit to a mass public of consumers. It is a commercial culture. p. Toys. CDs. classroom instructional films. The adults found interest in Elton John’s version of “Can you feel the love tonight?”. Disney inserts itself into a network of power relations that promotes the construction of a closed and total world of enchantment allegedly free from the dynamics of ideology. Strinati suggests this key connection: “put simply. politics. The more one searches. Giroux suggests how this is possible: Disney's image of itself as an icon of American culture is consistently reinforced through the penetration of the Disney Empire into every aspect of social life. marketed at both children and adults.

(2008) So themes mentioned earlier such as death. This leads to the final descriptions of mass culture.BCM 320 Mike Smith 800041 When an item of mass culture is said to be ‘lacking in stimulation’ it suggests that it does not challenge the consumer. 4 Lacking depth of character or understanding. As far this essay 5 . This is a description of the elephant graveyard scene: “It's clear that Simba is on the wrong side of the tracks. The low-brow humour distracts the viewer from the controversial character placement. which can also be categorized together. surrounded by "the projects" — he's caught in the inner city. Oxford dictionary describes superficial as: Superficial: 1 Existing or occurring at or on the surface. “mass culture can be described as fantastical and escapist”.” (1996) The film does well to cover this racism with the semblance of a “three stooges” ensemble of ‘baddies’. The hyenas speak in "street voices" provided by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin and clearly represent poor blacks and Hispanics. 2 Apparent rather than actual. The viewer is not asked to consider that there is a subtle form of racism inherent in what they are consuming. They are also stereotypical gang members. betrayal. Matt Roth suggests the inherent racism and alludes to the notion of a class system. cutthroat and mercenary — brawling with each other when not united by a common victim. This film suggests to the audience that darker ethnicities are a threat to their “pride lands” (suburbia) and their possessions (consumer goods). racism and a class system are simply disregarded for what they are and used allegorically in an attempt to create a sense of depth that the film lacks. for the reason that it also does not present the consumer. in a bad neighborhood. 3 Not thorough or deep. cursory. inherently criminal. The Lion King reeks of themes of racism and inherently the class system. The low-brow humour also distracts the viewer from any real individual thought. The concept that mass culture is also often superficial comes under the same category.

6 . originality. it would not be misconceived. He goes on to state: The Lion King was made by a studio run by Jews. Homosexuals and African Americans as members of society. Disney makes a profit and the machine of mass culture keeps regurgitating regardless. While on the surface level the film suggests a coming of age for Simba. because of his effeminate manipulative nature. He presents the example of the character Scar to be a homosexual who cannot be trusted. It simply reflects the "American reality" — a reality whose ugliness is not hard to discern below the slick surface of bland music and cute. (ibid) If this is the true message the film is trying to deliver. the denial of Jews. Its underlying fascism is not so much the product of a demonic individual [Walt Disney]. Roth suggests that Walt Disney and his successors wanted to promote fascist ideals in film. Serious moral and societal issues are being delved into within the film. fuzzy animals. This leaves the question of the film’s underlying message. assuming his rightful throne and restoring order to the “circle of life”. and the creator chooses to blindfold the consumer by creating the loveable icon of Simba. The only aspect of the film that impresses is the visuals. It is very difficult to discern any other political message from this film once the layers of “cute fuzziness” have been lifted. many of the characters were voiced by respected black actors. who they can obsess themselves with as much as they please. in other words the merits of imperialism. If the film is trying to convey fascist ideology to America or if it does indeed reflect the way of the times in America it does not matter. The film has assumed the descriptions of being fantastical and escapist. and Mike Smith 800041 characterization. and the writers were liberal enough to give the film a "multicultural" veneer.BCM 320 has discussed what is mediocre about the movies plot. the music was written by gays.