Friday, September 14, 2007

The Mouse That Roared, by Henry Giroux

I would have been able to read this little book in one or two days if it had been written in English. It is written in a sociological jargon, heavy with repetition. It's possible to open any page and find writing like this:

...Disney's view of innocence had to be constructed within particular maps of meaning in which children and adults could define themselves through a cultural language that offers them both modest pleasure and a coherent sense of identity. This suggested that Disney define innocence as part of the logic of home entertainment and also, pedagogically, as a set of values and practices that associate the safeguarding of childhood with a strong investment in the status quo and in the market as a sphere of consumption.

Or how about this:

Pedagogically, this suggests the need for educators, parents and others to analyze critically how the privileged dominant readings of Disney's animated films generate and affirm particular pleasures, desires, and subject positions that define for children specific notions of agency and its possibilities in society.

Frankly, this book is not well-written, which is a shame because it takes on an important topic. The dramatic title suggests that we are to be treated to a definitive analysis in plain language, but instead we get what reads more like a college term paper (I notice that the title is very similar to one of the magazine articles cited in the book; it's therefore not even particularly original).

The overuse of these words tip us off that the writer has bought the idea that jargon somehow adds meaning: “text” and “narrative”, as in “The Disney text” or the “Disney narrative”, “maps of meaning”, “discourse”, "pedagogical" (two particular favorites) and “public memory”. Throughout the book Giroux refers to "culture workers" without once defining the term, and takes time to define "pedagogy" in a late chapter, after having used it in almost every paragraph up to then. The author also makes frequent use of source material that is no more than the opinions of others, a trick typically used in term paper writing.

The oft-repeated theme of the book, that the Disney corporation's products educate our children to become consumers who are malleable, unpolitical and who accept an idealized view of the past, is an important one. Yet repetition in the muddied sociological language Giroux uses does not provide the emphasis or clarity needed. Nor does Giroux back up his charges with real examples most of the time. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the dissection of two Disney-funded films: Pretty Woman and Good Morning Vietnam. In these analyses we can actually see how the films represent specific viewpoints and ignore reality.

The last chapter outlines general suggestions for countering the effects on our culture of Disney and other large corporations. These suggestions are on the order of staging protests or writing letters to congress. There isn't a single suggestion that goes beyond a fuzzy feeling. I am not one who insists that everyone who points out a problem should be required to offer stunning solutions. But if you go there, take it seriously. I don't think Giroux does that.

Because the book was so wrapped in the fur of jargon, I found it very difficult to take away specific concerns in such a way that I could repeat them myself. An important topic, poorly presented.

2-1/2 out of 5 stars

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