restricted access From Toddlers to Teens: The Colonization of Childhood the Disney Way
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From Toddlers to Teens:
The Colonization of Childhood the Disney Way

As I read both Kristine Moruzi's and Kristine Alexander's articles on girlhood, I am struck by some of the similarities that underlie their work and mine. It seems to me that our understanding of children and youth is grounded in the same theoretical logic, particularly a poststructuralist approach that appreciates the power of discourse to produce rather than reflect reality. Poststructuralist epistemologies recognize that categories of being such as girlhood are socially constructed by a complex interweaving of dynamic forces. In each of our essays, we attempt to unpack these dynamic forces in three very different sets of texts and practices. Moruzi's essay focuses on British and Canadian girls' periodicals and novels, while Alexander looks at the Girl Guide movement. My work is essentially about the relationship children have to the media marketplace. I am particularly interested in how the media and market research build their sense of children as consumers. My scholarship is based in the discipline of communication studies, which is itself partly grounded in political economy. The purpose of political economy is to understand the complex, synergistic processes that take place between the various sectors of the marketplace as each sector works to produce economic value. In my work, these two theoretical perspectives intersect in an analysis of the market segmentation of young people into categories that meet the logic and needs of the marketplace in late capitalism.

As a parent of young children, I am continually reminded of the corporate power of the Walt Disney Company as it seeps into virtually all facets of my children's lives: from the birthday parties they attend to the clothes they wear to the books they read at night, Disney is there. Children can immerse themselves in the Disney brand and move through it as they age, [End Page 146] never leaving the warm, cuddly embrace of the Disney Company. This immersion can begin even before children are born, when expectant parents can furnish their baby's entire nursery with Disney Baby products. These parents face many possibilities. Do they choose the delicate and sweet Minnie Mouse line of products or the whimsical line of Winnie-the-Pooh? Once the baby has been brought home, Disney's Baby Einstein media products can entertain the little bundle of joy for hours.

As children grow into toddlers and need more stimulation than Baby Einstein, they can graduate to Disney's multi-platform preschool brand, Disney Junior, which is also a global television channel. Then, as children become school-aged and start to segregate into gendered categories, girls can migrate to the Disney Princess line of toys, clothes, movies, and books, while boys can move on to the Disney XD channel, play on the Disney XD website, and buy the whole accompanying line of products.

Once these products become too juvenile for children, Disney offers a whole slew of "soft" teen media franchises such as Camp Rock, High School Musical, and Hannah Montana, as well as newer media franchises such as Austin & Ally, A. N. T. Farm, and Shake It Up. These franchises all work on the same formula of showcasing the zany hijinks of musical teens as they navigate the trials and tribulations of high school clique culture. They omit anything too edgy or close to the realities of teen life, offering instead a nice, bubble-gum version of adolescence.

Finally, when children become teenagers and start to think they are too old for Disney, there are franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean to prevent them from ever needing to leave the corporate cocoon of Disney. Beginning as a ride at the amusement park, this franchise has since spawned a full transmedia platform that began with a cycle of films but also includes online games, books, soundtracks, and even board games. When these teens eventually become adults and have their own children, the cycle can start all over again.

As a scholar of critical advertising studies, what I find so frightening about the corporate power of Disney is the extent to which it contributes to the framing of these narrow segments of young people...