Over Christmas I went to see the new Mary Poppins film with Emily Blunt in the title role. I’ve written before about the social agenda in a Disney film, and this one got me thinking again about the world view it presented to the audience.
This latest Mary Poppins made me think of a recent comment by Existential Comics on Twitter:
The film is supposedly based shortly after the great crash of 1929 and yet social conflict is mostly absent. A queue of working men is seen in the opening sequence which we can assume is for a soup kitchen or similar, but other than that pretty much the only working people encountered are the lamplighters and a milkman, all of whom seem very cheerful.
The working class figure more prominently as a cause supported by Jane Banks (played by Emily Mortimer) in the guise of an organisation known as “SPRUCE” or the “Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Underpaid Citizens of England”. This is presented as something worthy, a little like the protection of an endangered species perhaps. No socialist parties, strikes, or self-organisation by the working class in sight here. No, the language is instead one of protection brought to the workers from outside, something offered by a benevolent bourgeoisie. Disney cannot bring itself to use the word “socialism” never mind revolution, not even as a threat to be warded off.
Now obviously this is a family film and not a gritty historical docu-drama, so I understand that this might seem like I’m taking things a little too seriously. The point I want to make though is about how embedded the middle-class way of life (their “values” if you like) is in modern popular culture. This can also be seen in other parts of the film such as in the aversion to debt, and the careful saving which saves the day – reversing the slightly subversive desire for immediate consumption (supporting the poor bird seed seller as a side effect) in the original film.
So perhaps I should relax, it is only a film after all. But I do wonder what vision of the world we are presenting to our children, and what that means for the future. If nothing else it strikes me that this is Gramsci’s vision of hegemony in action.
Over Christmas this year I watched the Disney live action version of “Beauty and the Beast” with my family. I was fascinated by two specific parts of the film which are revealing about US politics and Disney’s place as a prop for the status quo. It’s easy to believe that Disney promotes a reactionary view of society through its depiction of women, gender, and the family. In Beauty and the Beast we are presented with a right wing view of political economy as well.
At the beginning of the film we are presented with an aristocrat whose lifestyle brings down on him the curse of the Enchantress which turns him into the beast. His most important crime is given as impoverishing the villagers by imposing too much tax.
This is the world view of Trump and his tax cutting bill. The prince stands in place of the state and the film gives us the morality of the Tea Party, where the state is considered too intrusive and all tax is bad. Nothing else is said about where the prince’s wealth might have come from or how it will be sustained once it is no longer derived from ‘taxes’.
At the end of the film the prince is released from the curse. His position in society, and therefore presumably also his ability to extract surplus value from the villagers is reinstated. The film ends with a party where the villagers celebrate the return of the prince and his engagement to Belle. Having realised the folly of his earlier life, the prince is now keen to include the villagers. In their turn they no longer present themselves a supplicants or workers but as well dressed and middle class, they fit seamlessly into the etiquette of the castle in both dress and behaviour.
In other words it is not the prince that has changed, but the villagers who no longer seek to challenge the prince’s behaviour but rather accept it and seek to fit in. This is a standard charge by the status quo against those who seek progressive change, the attempt to change the prince was simple the “politics of envy“. The villagers ought to accept that the prince’s lifestyle is one they should aspire to achieve themselves (presumably in competition with each other).
This film then brings a very specific world view to its depiction of the life of the prince and the village. In some ways this is similar to Downton Abbey in its embodiment of conservative values.
I didn’t watch the film closely, but these two fragments stood out to me. Perhaps it is not surprising that a major film studio should reflect the current status quo, and Disney is well known for conservative “family values”. But I must confess that I was surprised to see the political economy of the neoliberal right as well.