Sample two (Library/Qualitative study)
Cultural Values and Journalism Ethics: The Nigerian Experience
Culture consists of the totality of values, beliefs and norms that shape the lifestyle of a people. Socio-cultural values spell out esteemed life style and routine aspirations cherished by a society. At the core of any culture is a system of values which defines what people live for and how they live. This paper adopts the analytical approach in examining the link between value systems of a society, news values which determine what is reported by journalists, and adherence to ethical tenets in journalism practice in Nigeria. It establishes that the Nigerian journalist exists in a society whose value system seems to glorify variants of corruption, and that this leaves the journalist ever battling with conflicting values—negative value system of the society vis-à-vis professional (and ethical) values. The paper agues for value re-orientation, journalism training, meaningful remuneration/welfare package, among others, as springboards to realistic quest to curb media corruption brought about by extraneous societal pressures on journalists.
Key words: Culture, value system, news values, journalism ethics.
Journalism profession in Nigeria is not practiced in isolation. Journalists exist in specific societies and are influenced in one way or the other by cultural forces, aspirations and convictions that make up the society. The mass media have in fact been described as cultural institutions through which cultural products flow in an increasingly fluid way (Murdock and Golding, 2005: 68). As Murdock and Golding (2005) have observed cultural products do not only flow between and across the media, but media workers are also influenced by cultural forces within the society they operate, in the discharge of their duties. This postulation is buttressed by the fact that institutions in any society exist in a social matrix, that is an interactional relationship which ensures that what affects one institution has a ripple effect on other institutions in that society. This interactional and mutually inter-dependent nature of structures in the society is premised on the functionalism theory which according to Udoakah (2007) personifies the society as an organism which is made up of a system of interdependent parts that variously serve functions that ensure the survival of the system. In the same vein, these institutions have an interactional relationship with the culture of the society within which they exist.
Culture encompasses the totality of human behaviour, life style, beliefs, customs, values and value system that shape any society. The nature of any society or distinct group of people is given expression through the way of life of persons identified with that society or group. What people value gives meaning to their culture. The value system largely determines how a people live, think, act, what they cherish, what they wish to be associated with, and what they strive to achieve in order to be recognized in the society. Socio-cultural values spell out esteemed life style and routine expectations that give cultural identity to a people. Ethics constitutes one of the indices for ensuring professionalism in the practice of journalism in any society. Without sincere adherence to the need to decipher what is good from what is bad in the line of duty, as spelt out in a professional code of ethics, journalism practice could lose the bite which is essential in effectively watch-dogging the society. However, the value system of a specific society plays positive or negative roles as the case may be, in determining the adherence to ethical standards by journalists.
In Nigeria, corruption has eaten deep into the value system and moral fabric of the society. To a large extent corruption has been glorified by certain cultures, thereby giving value to activities, aspirations and pursuits that should have otherwise been condemned. The Nigerian society is such that a person who is known today as an unemployed idle person having little or nothing to make ends meet, suddenly becomes wealthy tomorrow and nobody asks questions about the source of his wealth. Instead, he is recognized with chieftaincy titles; he makes contributions to political office holders, builds churches and gives scholarship to students. There have been instances where even known convicts of various crimes have ended up as political god fathers. People no longer want to grow gradually or create wealth gradually, but rather aspire to become wealthy by all means because that is what society seems to glorify. Today’s journalist in Nigeria seems to be caught up in this scenario.
Mfumbusa (2008: 140) has asserted that “media professionals in Africa operate in a context marked by the politics and culture of the larger society that are essentially dishonest and corrupt.” Mfumbusa’s postulation is from the perspective of the influence of negative culture on ethical issues in journalism practice. Value systems largely breed conscious journalism practice on corrupt or unethical foundations. It is also possible that positive cultural practices could influence journalism practice premised on professional ethics.
This article discusses the interplay between value systems, news values and professional ethics of journalists in Nigeria. The article explores cultural convictions of journalists and the struggle to adhere to ethical standards in their line of duty. It looks at the journalist as existing in the larger society which not only determines how he lives and what he thinks about but what he values and strives to achieve. This work contributes to the debate on the media and culture by arguing that the cultural environment within which the Nigerian journalist exists and operates which, according to Mfumbasa, is essentially dishonest and corrupt, exerts pressure and often times leads the journalist to go against the ethics of his profession to make money. The paper emphasizes Mfumbasa’s observation concerning the relationship between the media, politics, culture and values, using the Nigerian media environment as an example.
The way people engage in daily transactions, their inspirations and aspirations in life are largely determined by their value system and cultural convictions. How does this postulation relate to journalistic ethics? In what ways do journalists factor in cultural convictions shaped by value system of the society in which they exist, in the discharge of their duties? These are questions this article seeks to answer.
This paper is based on studies on ethics in the media, especially the influence of culture and poverty on journalistic ethics regarding journalists’ attitudes towards corruption. Studies show that poor remuneration (Okoro and Ugwuanyi 2006; Adeyemi and Okorie 2009; Nwabueze, 2010; Mabweazara, 2010) and the media in Africa exist in an atmosphere of politics and a culture that are essentially dishonest and corrupt (Mfumbasa 2008). These exert pressure on the journalist leading to corrupt practices such as acceptance of gratifications from news sources, and willfully not adhering to journalistic ethics. This work establishes that there exists a relationship between societal pressure and journalistic ethics (Nwabueze, 2010) but argues that the way out is adherence to professional tenets even in the face of challenges and temptations. The journalist ought to realize that there also exists positive values in the society which uphold integrity and credibility, and men of integrity still exist in Nigeria. Engaging in media corruption on the grounds of negative value system is definitely not an excuse. There are also positive cultural values which should be pursued.
Kasoma’s (1999) argument on journalism education as a panacea for professionalism receives credence of this point. Kasoma argued that although practicalizing what was taught in journalism training schools is a different thing all together, journalism education remains essential to professionalism in journalism. His point is that journalists who did not receive journalism training are most likely to fall prey to inducements and temptations to operate unethically either due to negative value system or other factors and this costs media organizations their reputation. Ignorance, Kasoma (1999) argues, is the bedrock of inability to resist extraneous pressures that discourage professionalism:
It is true that knowing about journalistic chores from the classroom is one thing and putting them into practice is another. But it is also true that unless journalists know what they are supposed to do, they cannot be expected to perform accordingly… It is precisely the act of trying to use people who are ignorant of journalism that has cost many independent newspapers in Africa their reputation, credibility and, often their very existence and greatly endangered press freedom on the continent.
Kasoma’s argument on the significant relationship between unprofessionalism and lack of journalism education is to an extent debatable. This is because research evidence has shown that some trained journalists in Nigeria and some other African countries engage in media corruption (acceptance of gratifications or what is commonly referred to as brown envelope) due to various other factors among which is poor remuneration/salaries (Okoro and Ugwuanyi 2006; Adeyemi and Okorie 2009; Nwabueze, 2010; Mabweazara, 2010) and societal value system. However, the argument by Kasoma (1999) could be considered in an effort to ensure professionalism in journalism. Kasoma’s argument receives support from observations by Mpagaze and White (2010) who, after a study of Tanzanian journalists’ perception of their ethics, established the existence of bribery in the media (acceptance of gratifications from news sources). Mpagaze and White (2010) therefore called for better training programme for journalists as one of the ways out of this ethical challenge. They also saw the need to establish clear criteria in news values and in dealing with pressures from news sources, especially in detecting and controlling bribery in journalism, which can be translated into enforced codes of ethics for media houses and better training of journalists to make the media houses’ codes of ethics more effective. This paper shares the view that professionalism premised on better training can contribute immensely in checking corruption in the media.
Conceptual Clarifications: Culture and Value Systems
Values constitute one of the major pillars that give identity to the culture of a people. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines values as beliefs about what is right and wrong and what is important in life. If a people recognize an act or idea as essential in life, such act or idea becomes an accepted norm in the society and invariably translates to acceptable cultural component of the people’s existence.
Values, beliefs and norms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, specific definitions have looked at values as beliefs or what people believe in. Values are core aspects of a people’s culture. What then is culture? The term ‘Culture’ simply refers to the lifestyle a specific people are known for. Culture has variously been defined as manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively, the customs, civilization and achievements of a particular time or people (Sinclair, in Onyeisi 2007: 48); all the material and spiritual characteristics and products of human intelligence acquired from the remote past, in the advancement of humanity (Mbagwu 2007: 64). Culture is also seen as patterns of behaviour and thinking that people living in a social group learn, create, and share (Encata Encyclopedia 2006); the entirety of norms, values, belief systems and life patterns that give a group of people an identity (Nwabueze, 2007: 184); a complex concept that refers to the common values, beliefs, social practices, rules, and assumptions that bind a group of people together (Dominick, 2009: 45). Culture is an important social reality which manifests in various aspects of life – religion, language, technology, sports, education, media, etc.
Life in itself is to an extent, a reflection of a specific culture. Most definitions of culture mention value as a major component of culture. Whether viewed as cultural, moral, social, or educational values, they shape the life of a people. Gemstone (2009: 1) has this to say about values in any society:
Values are the fabric of any society. They influence the beliefs and morals of the people. The values of any nation determine what is important to the people. They influence aspirations, thoughts, words and actions.
Value system, therefore, is an organized, accepted or functional set of common thoughts, words and actions which give a people cultural identity and determine what they cherish and recognize as important. The value system influences aspirations, thoughts, words and actions of a people. The value system cannot be divorced from a people’s culture. It has been described as “a major component of a society’s culture”, that is, ”systems of values and beliefs which are characteristic of that society” (Learning Commons, 2009: 1). Belief/value system significantly influences the culture of a people.
Culture has also been defined as consisting of learned behaviour. Beliefs and values affect virtually every learned behaviour; thus, these systems are a central component of the larger cultural systems in which they exist.” (Learning commons, 2009: 1).
Culture and News Values: The fusion
The basic role of journalism in any society is to inform, educate and entertain. Dominick (2009, p.31) also refers to the information role as the surveillance function of the media. This, he says, is closely related to the interpretation function which consists of providing information on the ultimate meaning and significance of events.
News values are factors considered in determining which event, topic or issue to be covered as news. Journalists use news values to decide what the audience would be interested in. The routine news values are impact, timeliness, prominence, proximity, conflict, oddity, and currency. However, the focus here is not just on journalists’ perception of what makes news based on the routine news values mentioned above, but also on the other extraneous factors that inform the criteria for determining news stories. Some of the common criteria for determining “good” news stories are defence of human rights, exposure of social injustices and the need to inform and guide the public (Ogongo-Ongong’a and White 2008: 159). Also considered in determining what makes news are the classic journalistic norms of accuracy, faithfulness to sources, avoidance of economic and political influences and critical loyalty to the news organization and to one’s colleagues (Ogongo-Ongong’a and White, 2008, p. 159). These factors – routine news values, and classic journalistic norms – influence the shaping of news template by journalists.
News values as used in the context of this article consist of what journalists generally consider in determining what makes news, what forces influence what should be given prominence, or what should be considered timely, what should be treated as current, or what should be treated or selected as proximity–based news story. The news value concept here also includes the criteria considered in seeking out stories or picking out the important aspects of a story. For instance, after a study of young journalists in Kenya (Ogongo-Ongang’a and White 2008) found that the following factors shape the news values of the studied young journalists – setting the agenda for personal and public decision making, educating the public regarding their rights, representing the views of the excluded, contributing to social and political reform, and providing information for critical and discerning voting. These are the criteria upon which the young journalists decide what should be given prominence, what should be considered current or timely, what proximity-based news should be selected and worked on or which report should be considered based on the impact value.
The interest of this discussion is specifically on how cultural values influence news values in relation to Nigerian journalists. What aspects of culture are considered in shaping the news? The interaction between cultural values and journalism practice cannot be ruled out. The journalist exists in the society which has a cultural identity. There exists an interplay between the journalists and cultural forces in his environment. Mfumbusa (2008: 140) notes that “media professionals in Africa operate in a context marked by the politics and culture of the larger society”. Elliot (cited in Ogongo-Ongong’a and White 2008: 162) observes that “the bases upon which individuals develop value systems are unique and complex combinations of religious beliefs, education, family and cultural norms, individual rationality and consciously or unconsciously accepted conventions of the many subcultures in which one lives”.
Culture is measured in terms of the attitudes, beliefs, norms and values which the people of a nation have and hold on to in general (Aluko 2003). In the Nigerian context, how has cultural value system played out on news values and journalistic norms? The individual cultural convictions of specific journalists and the more general value systems and norms of the society in which the journalists exist and practice their profession possibly exert pressures on the journalists. Such pressures could lead to conflict of interest capable of affecting credibility of the reporter and the profession in general. The pressures could also further encourage professionalism in journalism practice, depending on the perspective of cultural pressure at work on a reporter.
Value System Versus Journalistic Ethics: The Nigerian Experience
Ethics is concerned with what is morally good or bad, right or wrong. A code of ethics is a set of moral principles, guidelines or rules that guide activities of a person or group of persons. This discussion specifically deals with journalistic ethics which is a set of moral principles guiding the practice of journalism. For instance, a journalist is not expected to glorify violence, sex and indecency in his/her report. He/she is not expected to identify relatives or friends of accused persons/crime suspects without their consent. A reporter should not make discriminatory or disapproving remarks about any gender, ethnic group, class of society, religion etc. These are among many ethical issues associated with journalism practice which the journalist is expected to factor into his/her actions in the line of duty.
However, the value system of a society could exert pressure on a journalist and possibly cause the reporter to operate from an unethical pedestal if he/she is not strong enough to resist the culture-induced temptation (Nwabueze, 2010: 499). Also, Hanson (2005: 419) writes that “ being fair and balanced are the core of journalistic values …. At times, however, other factors can overwhelm that value”. The argument being raised here is that cultural values could overwhelm the basic journalistic values of an average Nigerian journalist. Germini de Alwis and Senathiraja (2003) write that work ethics in a society is largely influenced by its culture and it has a direct relationship to its value systems. Cultural values and journalism ethics are constantly at war (Nwabueze 2010: 499). Journalism ethics is played up where a journalist is faced with conflicting values in the society, especially values that are incompatible with tenets of professionalism. Kasoma (1999: 447) notes that journalism ethics is concerned with making sound decisions in journalistic performance, and that it assumes the presence of societal morality. Morality consists of actions guided by generally acceptable human values and responsibilities which, according to Kasoma, constitute a moral system. Human beings subscribe to several moral systems at any point in time and “ethics begins where elements within a moral system conflict, and a person (Journalist) is called upon to choose between various alternatives” (Kasoma 1999: 447).
Inherent in the postulation above is that the journalist is always battling with conflicting norms, values, and interests in the society which derive from the culture within which he exists and the need to foster professionalism in his profession. Professionalism in journalism, in Kasoma’s view, simply means “performing journalistic chores responsibly by following the tenets of the profession whose function lies in disseminating news and informed opinion to the public” (Kasoma, 1999, p.446). A journalist battles with meeting the challenges of living in an environment shaped by a specific culture and the challenges of allowing ethical codes to guide the practice of his/her profession.
Culture has been defined as the totality of way of life evolved by a people in their attempt to meet the challenges of living in their environment which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and modes of organization, and thus distinguishing them from their neighbours (Emeana 2001: 43). The journalist is part of the society, living in a value system cherished by people in that society.
Today, the culture of corruption has permeated virtually every sphere of life in the Nigerian society, as in some other African countries. After an examination and analysis of Nigerian culture from the perspective of the three major local languages in the country (Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba), Aluko (2003) observes among others that the craze for wealth is high, the culture of corruption has been institutionalized in most work places, and Nigerian workers are largely motivated by monetary rewards. In some parts of Nigeria, success is largely measured by how many houses an individual builds in the cities and the type of house he builds in his village, not minding the source of his wealth. Integrity and moral values play little or no roles in such societies. The emergence and boom of certain weird crimes in Nigeria such as ritual killings and kidnapping largely derive from the value system that seems to glorify unquestionable wealth. Recall that the journalist exists in the same society with the noveux riche, where culture has virtually and gradually accommodated values premised on corruption. The journalist, in order to meet with the challenges of existing meaningfully in such society, finds himself/herself battling with conflicting values – that of the society in which he exists and that of his profession. It looks like negative values tend to override positive values in a decaying, corruption-infested society in Nigeria. While describing the gravity of corrupt value system in the Nigerian society, Dele Momodu, a renowned columnist in Thisday newspaper observed that “even our society frowns at you if you remain as poor as you went into government” (Thisday, November 7, 2009, p.72).
Within the context of the clash between negative societal value system and the attempt by journalists to exist meaningfully in the society, brown envelope syndrome (acceptance of gratifications from news sources) often thrives. Brown envelope syndrome is an unethical issue, although attempts to justify the action exist even among journalists. Some journalists have even taken the brown envelope issue too far; they have resorted to black mail and various forms of extortion in the name of brown envelope syndrome. Aiyetan (2002: 32), quoting Nosa Igiebor of Tell Magazine, condemns the act of collecting gratifications under any guise and describes it as “brazenly demanding bribe from people to publish or kill a story and failing which they resort to black mailing you, blacking you out or out rightly concocting stories that would embarrass you”. Some other factors may be responsible for the growth of brown envelope syndrome but societal value system also plays a pivotal role in perpetrating it. Aiyetan, (2002: 34) refers to the observation by Reuben Abati of the Guardian Newspapers that,
The journalist is also a member of the society and if we agree that we are an exceptionally corrupt society, then the media cannot be innocent. The media is just as corrupt as the society.
It may be suggested that a journalist guided by morals in the line of duty ends up struggling to make ends meet. Studies on corruption in the Nigerian media show that poor remuneration/welfare package are among the basic reasons why journalists accept gratifications (brown envelopes) from news sources (Okoro and Ugwuanyi 2006; Adeyemi and Okorie 2009; Nwabueze 2010). Similarly, while carrying out a study on when your “take home pay” can hardly take you home with regards to the Zimbabwean press, Mabweazara (2010: 433) observes that bad treatment of editors, repressive conditions and poor salaries are undermining the professionalism of journalists not only in Zimbabwe but in many other African countries. “These conditions not only differentiate African journalists from their counterparts in the economically developed world of the North, but also illuminate how the conditions of material deprivation tend to subvert conventionalized ethical canons of journalism such as independence and impartiality” (Mabweazara 2010: 433). Also, Mare and Brand (2010: 408) write that many media organizations operate on shoe-string budgets, and journalists working in African media are poorly remunerated. This invariably means that if journalists do not accept gratifications, their salaries will not be adequate to meet their needs; as a result they will struggle to make ends meet. Where the journalist attempts to get recognized in the society or overcome the challenges of existing in a value system that glorifies corruption, he/she slides into the realm of unethical practices.
The question then is could the journalist have been able to live a decent life if the value system of the society he exists in did not glorify the noveux riche syndrome or the get-rich-at-any-cost syndrome? The fact remains that the quest to make ends meet within the context of the present value system exerts pressure on the journalist and invariably affects news values. The journalist that engages in brown envelope syndrome defines news based on who gives him/her what. Collection of gratification (or brown envelope syndrome), including other forms of unethical practices distort the definition of news. The values used in judging what makes news are defined by what the news source is willing to offer to the journalist. Mfumbusa (2008: 151) asserts that cavalier attitude towards corrupt practices exists in most African newsrooms and that journalists pretend to be objective. Mfumbusa further notes that open remuneration (brown envelopes) that journalists get from political and economic patrons is a prevalent practice, which is largely condoned in the African media circles. This unethical practice seems to have permeated journalism practice in most African nations.
Conclusion: Looking Towards the Future
The interest of this article on Nigeria, with specific focus on how societal value system fosters unethical practice has also examined the link between value system, news values and journalism practice. What possibilities exist on how to get journalists focused on professionalism even in the face of besetting value system that glorifies corruption?
Value re-orientation has become a cliché which now makes little or no meaning to the citizenry. The truth, however, is that value-reorientation remains the the key to a meaningful reversal of the increasing level of corruption in the Nigerian society. Most times, agents of corruption are moved by the urge to meet the challenges of surviving in a society whose value system seems to glorify or condone the get-rich-at-any-cost syndrome. The journalist finds himself/herself struggling to remain socially and financially afloat in such a society in the face of conflicting values – negative societal values and professional values.
Professionalism can hardly thrive on empty stomach. A well paid journalist possesses the possibility of resisting pressures from conflicting values and is likely to uphold the tenets of professionalism more than a poorly paid journalist.
There is also the need for further empirical studies to establish whether there exists a link between value system and news judgment by Nigerian journalists. What has been presented in this article is a qualitative analysis of the topic. A research–based study will establish the degree of relationship, if any, and also reveal specific societal values that exert the most pressure on journalists in the line of duty. The findings will provide empirical facts upon which to base the campaign on value re-orientation for journalists and the need for adherence to journalism ethics/professionalism even in the face of a challenging value system.
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cultural Background of the Entrepreneur on Management and Business Practices of Selected Small and Medium Scale Businesses in Sri Lanka. Paper presented at the 9th international conference on Sri-Lanka studies. www.freewebs.com/slageconr/9thicslsflpprs/fullpaper103.pdf
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(This is Abridged references. Most of them were removed to protect the paper from copyright infringement).
Sample three (Library/Qualitative study)
Critical Appraisal Of Disney’s Use Of Animation Movies To Propagate Homosexual Culture Among Children: Implications to Image of Disney Animation Movies
This study examines select Disney cartoons to show the hidden expression of gay contents in them. It adopts the qualitative analysis technique in studying popular Disney cartoons with a view to establishing that the giant animation movie company embeds traces of gay culture in movies which are targeted at consumers. The objectives of the study were to ascertain whether Disney cartoons have gay contents, and to ascertain the kind of gay contents featured in the select Disney movies. The findings show that Disney cartoons feature but covert and explicit gay contents as a way of getting children to see gay culture as normal part of a life. The study recommends that parents should critically watch the cartoons their kids are exposed to in order to ensure that movies with explicit or hidden gay contents are kept away from them.
Key words: Gay, gay cartoons, Disney cartoons, animation movies, homosexual culture
Von and Reinacher (2016) observe that story telling is an integral part of human community, a phenomenon that Griffin (2009) calls a basic human vehicle for gaining and imparting knowledge. There is no where that this thinking is truer than in Africa where folktales form a pre-eminent part of our cultural heritage and oral tradition history. In a typical African setting, individual and communal exploits in history are passed down from forbears to the young generation through story telling. With the coming of Mass Media Technology, there have been deliberate efforts in television programming targeted at children to re-enact this halloed tradition in different parts of Africa. In Nigeria, for instance, the Nigeria Television Authority’s (NTA) network programme, “Tales by Moonlight” is a good example. Using the medium of television, children from different families sit around a story teller on set to listen to animal and human character tales of old in a manner that is commemorative of the old practice.
Curiously, children are inextricably drawn to cartoons in the same way as the children of old were drawn to the live storytelling renditions of their elders. Nowadays, cartoons are the first and most common among the types of broadcasts that children watch on television (Kosker, 2005). Irkin (2012) avers that children in elementary school watch cartoons the most with a rate of 72.1%. According to the American Academy of pediatrics, the average American child spends about seven hours a day on entertainment media such as television, computers or tablets (Media & Children, 2015).
Animation film making is big business and so are the players. Among the big players in this industry is the Walt Disney Company, makers of Disney films. According to Rogers (2017), Disney’s iconic movies have captured the attention of children worldwide for over eighty years and they are profoundly popular .To Von and Reinacher (2016), Disney holds one of the largest shares of the Animation industry market in the world and thus one of the most influential in the Industry. Ever since Disney released its fully animated feature film and with it, the introduction of the first Disney Princess, Snow White in 1937. (England et al. 2011), it has continued to influence the world children‘s impressionable minds (Van & Reinacher, 2016). Given that children are more susceptible to media influence than adults, and particularly vulnerable to discriminatory and unrealistic type casts within the Disney films (Strasburger et al. 2009), it has become imperative to critically examine the perceived Disney propagation of homosexual culture in its animation movies.
Statement of Problem
Cartoons are one of the daily habits of our children. Studies have proven that an average child with a facility of a television and a satellite connection at his home watches approximately, 18,000 hours of television from kindergarten to high school graduation (Habib & Soliman, 2015). This is why Kosker (2005) worries about the fact that cartoons have been presented to children on many channels without recognition of their useful or harmful aspects. This position underscores the fact that the exposure of children to cartoons can be useful and harmful at the same time! By identifying with cartoon characters they choose as role models and integrating them into their social lives and games, children reflect the positive or negative manners of such cartoon characters in their lives (Irkin, 2012).
Disney is a household name in the animation movie industry and cartoon movie people grew up on popular movies such as Beauty and the Beast, and Hercules which Disney movies. With the gradual growth of gay culture in the Western world, it becomes imperative to examine popular Disney movies to ascertain whether they have gay contents and how they expose children to gay cultures through such movies. Studies on this qualitative analysis of carton films in search of possible gay contents are scarce; it is this gap in knowledge that this work intends to fill. The works intends to expose parents to the fact that a number of popular cartoon films could have gay contents which would gradually make children exposed to them begin to see gay culture as a normal part of life.
Objectives of Study
- The objectives of the study are to ascertain whether Disney cartoons have gay contents.
- To ascertain the kind of gay contents featured in the select Disney movies.
Operational Definition of Terms
Gay: A person who is sexually attracted to a person of the same sex as portrayed in the cartoon films examined in this study.
Gay culture: The lifestyle of being sexually attracted to a person of the same sex as portrayed in the cartoon films examined in this study.
Animation movie: In this work this refers to Beauty and the Beast, Hercules, Pcahontas, and other cartoon films examined here.
Disney: A movie giant based in the United States of America which produces animation movies.
Homosexual culture: The lifestyle of being sexually attracted to a person of the same sex as portrayed in the cartoon films examined in this study.
Homosexual: A person who is sexually attracted to a person of the same sex as portrayed in the cartoon films examined in this study.
Children’s Exposure to Cartoons
In the introductory part of this work above, several evidences were supplied to show that children, being the primary target of cartons, are inexorably exposed and attached to them. Therefore, the interest of this sub – heading is not to debate the obvious but to examine children’s patterns of exposures to cartoons and how it impacts on their character traits and behaviour in society.
This is why Kosker (2005) worries about the fact that cartoons have been presented to children on many channels without recognition of their useful or harmful aspects. This position underscores the fact that the exposure of children to cartoons can be dialectically useful and harmful at the same time! By identifying with cartoon characters they choose as role models and integrating them into their social lives and games, children reflect the positive or negative manners of such cartoon characters in their lives (Irkin, 2012). This is especially so for primary school children because the content of the programmes they watch and the influence the programmes leave on them increases more because attention, focus and cognitive functions form in the children of this age group.
Given the serious behavioural and societal implications of this seemingly simple process, it has become necessary that closer attention be paid to the children’s patterns of exposure to cartoons. This is particularly so in the case of the highly popular and influential Disney cartoons. Giroux (2010) claims that Disney’s prominence in children’s lives enables the films to do more than merely entertain. Buckingham, (2001) is in agreement. He believes that Disney films have shaped the socio-cultural perceptions of children for more than eight decades. He explains that this follows the perception of the Disney brand as wholesome family entertainment. Consequently, children, parents and teachers may be inclined to overlook the potentially harmful messages that are cultivated in Disney’s full length animation features. It is against this background that Dill and Thill (2007) caution that Disney’s audiences are more likely to informally watch and become engaged in their visual narratives rather than critically and consciously analyse the films. In other words, there is need to ensure that children’s pattern of exposure to cartoons and animation movies are parent-controlled. Infant, popular scholarly positions extol the need for circumspection and control on the kinds of movie suitable for children’s exposure and consumption.
Incidentally, Walt Disney himself, founder of the company and foremost promoter of the Walt Disney brand was quoted to have said that: “A child is helpless in choosing what is to be engraved on his mind during the formative years. The awesome responsibility is assumed, for better or worse, by us adults.” (Smith, in Von & Reinacher, 2016). Tovani (2004) stresses the point further by insisting that teacher guidance is essential for children to become critical consumers of media items like cartoons and animated movies.
Disney and the Propagation of Gay Culture through Movies
The subject of whether or not Disney films are being used for the propagation of gay culture is still being debated. On one side of the divide are those who hold strongly that Disney movies are used for the propagation of gay culture; on the other side are those who think otherwise. There is also the category of those who strike a middle point position on the issue. For this particular category of debaters, they see the allegations of Disney’s involvement in gay culture as mere speculation-fueled-insinuations. At the background is the equally interesting presence of powerful teams of lobbyists and agitators on both sides of the divide that are poised on influencing the cultural content of Disney movies based on their groups’ cultural biases. This portion of the work will focus on these disparate and divergent perspectives.
Allen (2014) is in the same argument as Ryan. He asserts that there have been hints of queerness in Disney movies for years now, using ‘queer coding’ which he defines as, the use of stereotypically negative queer traits to demonize characters. In his view, several Disney villains are queer-coded: from the Scar in “The Lion king” to the magenta-clad Governor Rattcliffe in “Pocahontas”. He goes on to state that Disney films do contain some positively portrayed characters who also carry connotations of queerness such as Genie in “Alladin”. He explains further that resulting from the split representation of potentially queer characters, Disney movies have been quietly reinforcing cultural notions about what kinds of queerness are ‘bad’ and what kinds of queerness are “good”. In other words, Disney movies implicitly teach us how to be gay within the confines of acceptability and respectability as adjudged by mainstream standards. He concludes that although several Disney characters are queer-coded, Disney’s classic canon of live-action and animated movies include no out queer characters.
However, unlike the preceding submissions, the evidence of former Disney animator, Tom Sito, seems to invalidate the allegations of gay culture complicity against Disney movies (Bradley, 2014).Tom Sito provides technical explanation to some of the scenes that may have fueled the speculations and insinuations that Disney movies propagate gay culture. For example, on the purported use of the word “SEX” in THE LION KING, Tom Sito explains that the word that was used on set was SFX, meaning special effects. This was then construed as a subliminal sexual massage. According to the Tom Sito account, a similar misunderstanding in terms happened in “Alladin”. While having some trouble with Rajah, Alladin seems to say, “Good teenagers take off your clothes” Again; this perceived line triggered off a subliminal gay message in the minds of many and speculations were rife. But as the famed animator explains, the line is actually an ad-lib to extend the scene and it is supposed to say something like, “Good tiger. Take off. Scat. Go.” Invariably, the animator Tom Sito leaves the impression that these controversial lines, like other probable ones like them, were misheard and inadvertently triggered off the speculations and insinuations. In essence, Disney movies are not propagators of gay culture!
From the foregoing arguments, it is evident that Disney movies possess some elements of gay culture messages, especially at the subliminal consciousness level. The question of whether they are deliberately implanted to influence is another issue entirely. However, the fact remains that as suggestive and implicit as these gay messages have been, their intended meanings have been successfully decoded, interpreted and understood in certain quarters, especially so in the gay communities. The evidence for this claim can be gleaned from the reactions from the gay communities, and the non – gay communities alike.
For instance, reactions from gay groups all over the world indicate that, they expect the Disney management to move up the subtlety ladder and boldly proclaim the gay culture message in their movies. This attitude explains their clamour for a Disney princess that embodies LGBT traits as conveyed in the “GiveELsaAGirlfriend” campaign (Kenny, 2016).
On the other hand, there are correspondent reactions from the bodies of conservative groups who espouse traditional values of heterosexual relationships. Such a reaction came from far away Malaysia where the country’s film and censorship board approved Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast “with a minor cut,” which was big enough to cause the management of the Disney company to pull the production from the Malaysian market.
Method of Study
The qualitative content analysis method was used for this study. Textual analysis which is a form of qualitative content analysis was used to study select Disney cartoon films. The full-length movies studied are Beauty and the Beast, Hercules, and Pocahontas. These movies were selected based on their popularity and researcher’s discretion. Two other television series – Doc McStuffins, and Star Vs Forces of Evil were also examined.
Textual Analysis of Select Gay Movies by Disney
This section of the work will focus on three select gay movies of Disney, namely: Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast and Hercules. But before that, the point needs to be made that these movies are considered gay because of the suggestive, implicit and subliminal gay culture messages that abound in the textual presentation of the works. Hence, in the textual analytical treatment of the chosen movies will dwell on the construction of the characters, their relationships, the story lines, stereotypes and the evidence of gay messages implicit in the movies.
Pocahontas is a full length, animated film about the meeting of two different cultures and races during a period in history (Aidman & Rees, 1996). The story was set around 1600s in present day Virginia where Native Americans and European explorers/ settlers were embroiled in racial and cultural struggle with each other. Much more, the movie is a romantic piece presented in the form of an extended metaphor of an interracial romance between a man and woman of different cultures. While Pocahontas represents Native America; John smith is representative of England and their romance, reflective of the historical and political encounter between both nations in the early 1600s.
At the level of characterization, Disney retains its typical stereotype presentation of female characters in the physical sense but deviates in the personality traits imbued in Pocahontas. She is presented as a young woman with great beauty and grace. Her physical attributes are presented as those of a tall girl, with long, muscular legs and arms, huge breasts, a tiny waist, long neck, long flowing black hair, dark skin, high cheek bones, big black eyes, a full-mouth and an ethic nose. As if her exquisite and enchanting physical looks are not enough, Disney characterises her with the personality traits of an independent, courageous, adventurous and athletic woman. In Pocahontas, Disney presents viewers with the compelling picture of a voluptuous, sensuous, self-confident, energetic, defiant and dominant female figure (Aidman & Reese, 1996).
Instructively, Disney complimented Pocahontas impressive physical looks and emotional stability with a strong mind. Unlike Disney’s archetypical female characters who are portrayed as brainless and male-dependent, Pocahontas proved her independent nature to the male characters in “Pocahontas”. She defiantly refused to marry her father’s Powhattan) choice of a husband, (Kokoum) for her; stubbornly rejects Kokoum’s advances of marriage and exercises her individuality by marrying John smith, the racial stranger, against all odds and protestations by her father and people. Even at that, she retained her personality by refusing to follow her husband back to England when an accidental gunshot that wounded him badly warranted his return.
On gay culture message, it is the opinion of critics that “Pocahontas” refusal to many Kokoum, a tribal warrior and preference instead for a strange suitor is implicit of a gay attitude. The Journey always involves rejecting parental and societal expectations, and exercising a “freedom to marry whomever you love” spirit that is endemic to gay rights (Nikolas, 2014).
Beauty and the Beast
The story of “Beauty and the Beast” is apparently simple. As punishment for his actions, a young prince is transformed into a monstrous beast by a mysterious enchantress. Only condition is, if he can learn to love someone and earn their love in return, the curse can be lifted. Young, beautiful and bookish Belle stumbles upon the castle and is taken prisoner by the Beast while attempting to rescue her father. With help from the Beast’s servants, Belle comes to appreciate and love the Beast. Their confession of love broke the spell and the beast is restored to his human form, just as everything in the kingdom returns to normal. And they lived happily ever after.
Simple as the above synopsis may seem, scholars and parents alike are becoming concerned about the portrayal of certain stereotypes, discriminations and cultural innuendos that may have a powerful influence on children behavior (Guenther, 2009).
In particular, “Beauty and the Beast” portrays severe gender stereotypes in the main characters of Belle and Gaston, as well as discrimination towards the Beast.
In the opening song of the movie, the schemas of Belle and Gaston were established. Belle is introduced as a beautiful but ‘odd’, ‘peculiar’ and ‘funny’ girl just because she reads a book. This rendition immediately betrays Disney’s stereotype of a female character whose only qualification for success is beauty. In other words, a beautiful woman has no need to read to acquire knowledge or intelligence. All she needs is a simple gift of beauty and a husband. The scene where three beautiful girls swoon around Gaston, infatuated with him and the idea of becoming his wife, further reinforce this stereotype of a woman’s body being her only valuable commodity; and marriage, her highest aspiration.
On the other hand, Gaston is portrayed as a typical Disney male. He is big, strong – muscled, with “biceps to spare”. He prides himself as deserving only the best and that Belle was ‘lucky’ that he picked her as his bride. This scene is a further reinforcement of the stereotype of male domination and the subservience of the female to male superiority.
But perhaps more worrisome are the subliminal gay culture messages deducible in “Beauty and the Beast”. Drawing from the background story of Lyricist Howard Ashman, proclaimed associate of Disney family, who died of AIDS in 1991, the movie, “Beauty and the beast”, has been viewed as Ashman’s personal story and an allegory: shunned from society, his body hideously transformed, and his life wilting away like the enchanted rose, the Beast is a figure of degenerative disease. Belle’s love and the ultimate breaking of the curse is the fantasy cure that Ashman was denied (Nikolas, 2014)
According to Moerder (2013), Disney movies are widely considered to be the staple of educational viewing experiences for kids. However, despite the inconspicuous appearance of these movies, they are packed with stereotypes that manifest through the portrayal of characters and plot development.
A textual analysis of “Hercules” shows that these stereotypes are equally evident in the movie as seen in the treatment of issues such as race, gender roles, body image and implicit gay culture message. The stereotypical depiction of racial conflict follows the white and black motif. While the protaganists of the movie represented by male characters like Zeus, the olympian god, Hercules himself and their living abode are resplendently white in direct reflection of the their divinity, candour and benevolence; Hades, the antagonist, even though a god, is cast in bland and black, in a desolate underworld abode of dark colours that emphasize his place as an agent of darkness and malevolence (Mourad, 2013). In otherwords, reinforcing the stereotype that everything white is good and everything black is bad.
On body image, Disney replays in “Hercules” its standard figure of overly slim, to the point of incredulity, female characters, and the massively built and highly physical male characters that exude power and dominance. Regrettably, Disney’s stereotype gives both female and male characters such impressive physical qualities without corresponding mental capacity that renders them anachronistic in today’s world. This leaves a dangerous message for today’s children who should revere more in mental capacity than physical ability.
Just like in most other movies of Disney, the portrayal of womanhood in “Hercules” is archetypical and disempowering. She is portrayed as weak, vulnerable, passive and lacking in intelligence initiative and brawn. On the contrary, the male is imbued with a larger than life physical attributes that behoves on him the heroic expeditions of countlessly rescuing the helpless female from danger for his personal sport and reward. This hapless and helpless female character contrasts sharply with the portrayal of Pocahontas in “Pocahontas” and definitely more so with the women of our modern day world. Which is why, Mourad (2013) makes the interesting submission that, by exposing these stereotypes, we become better viewers, able to consume such products with full awareness of their debilitating effect on culture and society,
Finally, Hades effeminate mannerisms in “Hercules” hints of a subliminal gay message in the movie.
While the argument on hidden gay characters in Disney movies rages on, the movie giant has moved ahead to present explicitly gay characters to the audience. Chretien (2017), observed in that Disney featured two lesbian ‘moms’ in an animation movie targeted and preschoolers. According Chretin, in a report published in LifeSiteNews.com, an online news platform, an August 5 episode the Disney Junior channel show “Doc McStuffins” featured a family headed by two lesbian “moms.”
August 5 (2017) episode of the Disney Junior channel show “Doc McStuffins” which featured a family headed by two lesbian “moms.”
While providing more explanations on this particular episode where gay moms were featured, Chretin (2017, p.1) wrote:
The show is about an aspiring doctor who “fixes” toys with help from friends.
In the August 5 episode “The Emergency Plan,” a lesbian couple and their children (they’re a family of dolls) have to flee their house because of an “earthquake.” The purpose of the episode is apparently teaching children the importance of having an emergency plan.
“With this episode, they see a family that looks like our family,” said Wanda Sykes, a lesbian actress who plays one of the same-sex partners. “We’re two moms… it’s going to be very exciting for [my kids] to see our family represented.”
During the episode, one woman and a child are separated from the other woman and child, and then reunited at the end.
Sykes tweeted that she was pleased with the episode promoting same-sex relationships.
The LGBT advocacy group GLAAD launched a petition asking people to “thank Disney for elevating LGBTQ voices.”
What Disney is doing is to normalize homosexual relationships among preschoolers. This means that since television plays an early window role for children (Dominick, 2002), preschoolers will begin early to see gay life as normal before growing into the society. The big question is: are parents in Africa able to decipher this hidden propagation of gay culture in animation movies and keep their kids away from such screenings?
What could be described as the first attempt by Disney to premier an animation movie with openly gay characters actually exploded as a rumour in November 2014. It was widely reported especially in the social media that Disney planned to release a movie which was an adaption of Jeffery Miles’ picture book entitled The Princes and The Treasure. This is a tale about two handsome princes who go on a quest to save a princess, but ultimately fall in love with each other, get married and live happily ever after. But this news was dismissed as false (Hooton, 2014). Whether the information was false from the beginning or that Disney was forced to withdraw the plan due to the rage expressed online, is not yet known.
News about Disney’s plan to release a gay movie themed around two princes who got married, apparently enraged the American society but ended up false. It was shared 60,000 times on Facebook (Hooton, 2014).
However, Disney showed gay kiss in a children’s cartoon for the first time in February, 2017 (Bourne, 2017). Several same-sex couples were shown kissing in that week’s episode of Star vs. the Forces of Evil, a cartoon geared toward children and adolescents that airs on Disney XD, the company’s digital cable and satellite television channel.
A same-sex kissing scene on Disney’s Star vs. the Forces of Evil animated series
The cultural danger here is that parents in Sub-Saharan African countries may see these Disney cartoon films in the market and mistakenly buy them for their kids thinking they are the usual Disney cartoon films. The introduction of homosexual films, according to Disney and other American animation film producers is to teach children tolerance and the modern family. This could lead to culture chock among adults in Sub-Saharan Africa who eventually discover that their childhood has been ruined after finding out that the animation movies they grew up watching were actually promoting gay characters.
Implications to the Image of Disney Movies
Disney, like most major movie organizations in the United States of America, projects covert homosexual culture in some of its movies. This could come as a culture shock to parents in Africa if they realize that such movies which they get their kids exposed to have such contents. Culture shock is a term coined by anthropologist Kalervo Oberg to describe a state of anxiety and frustration resulting from the immersion in a culture distinctly different from one’s own (Zaykowski, 2008; Pitts, 2010). The implication is that Disney movies could begin to have low patronage especially in societies where homosexual culture is prohibited, although there is need for empirical studies to establish whether low patronage of such movies is related to perceived gay content in them.
To a vast majority of Africans, the thought of gay relationship is an aberration that is completely at variance with their cultural and religious upbringing. In the words of Molefe (2014), Gay relationship is an unacceptable social behaviour and a taboo that is antithetical to the African culture. This explains why Nigeria’s same sex marriage (prohibition) law of 2014 signed by President Goodluck Jonathan was greeted with unanimous approbation that defied the country’s ethnic divisions.
The analysis done in this work has shown that there are covert and explicit gay contents in Disney movies. It is worthy to note that Disney cartoon films with explicit gay contents may not be common feature as the propagation of gay content is done covertly in order not to be noticed and condemned by anti-gay right activists.
The variegated views on whether or not Disney animation movies are used for the propagation of gay culture messages have been thoroughly examined in this work. Evidently, the innuendoes of Disney gay messages are so strong that they give easy vent to the accusations about the company’s complicity in gay culture propagation. But even if this is not the case, and the company were to be given the benefit of inadvertently implying the gay message in its movies; the recent inclusion of the gay moment sub plot in “Beauty and the Beast” reinforces the earlier allegations of a long drawn gay agenda. This explains why the new project has elicited mixed reactions from both sides of the divide: a resounding applause from the so-called progressives of gay communities around the world; and an equally uproarious condemnation from groups of straight-living conservatives across the world.
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