Disney films portray poor as 'immoral and unintelligent' murderers - uni finds

Disney films portray class in an unrealistic way, often stereotyping the poor as "immoral and unintelligent" accomplices to murder, according to researchers at a top US university.

Researchersfrom Duke University studied 32 Disney films to find out whether they portray realistic social values, norms and equality.

They found that largely the Disney films ignored the problems of poor characters, claimed the rich had more problems, and every now and then portrayed the poor as immoral and unintelligent accomplices to murder.

Bert the chimney sweep is far to happy to be poor...

The researchers studied the portrayal of poor people through a selection of films, including classics such as Aladdin and Mary Poppins. In Aladdin and 101 Dalmations they found that being being poor was made to seem "benign", and even desirable, with Jasmine believing her problems would all be fixed by becoming a poor street person, rather than the Princess she is.

They also suggested that Bert the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins is far too happy to be a realistic depiction of a poor person, pointing to his song lyrics "as a [chimney] sweep you're as lucky as can be" as evidence that the filmmakers seem to think chimney sweeps are the luckiest, happiest people in existence:

"Bert, like other characters, frames working-class jobs as devoid of difficulties. This frame minimises the hardships associated with working-class jobs."

"In doing so, this frame and those that minimise other hardships associated with poverty and working-class life suggest that social class inequality is benign as those at the bottom of the class ladder suffer little, lead relatively stable lives, and experience many advantages."

Well, that sucked the fun out of Bert the Chimney Sweep. Chimchiminey chimchiminey chimchim cheroo, everybody.

Stop smiling and get back up the f*cking chimney, Bert the Chimney Sweep.

The poor are murderers - according to the Lion King

The researchers pointed to the Lion King as being an exceptionally bad portrayal of poor people. The hyenas are shown to be "immoral and unintelligent" murderers accomplices, the study says, despite the fact that they really only want a share of the food. Scar actually uses the line "join with me and you'll never be hungry again" as a way to get them on his side.

The rich in the Lion King, on the other hand, are shown to have earned their "rightful" place, and Simba and Nala marry because they are from the same class and have known each other for years - in a flagrant display of nepotism.

The poor are under-represented, whilst talking cars and the rich are over-represented

The researchers divided up the characters within the films into categories based on their jobs (or lack thereof):

  • There were the upper class characters - The royalty in Disney films (e.g. Princess Jasmine)
  • The upper middle class - Included managers, mayors and, weirdly, Santa
  • The working class - Who had low paid jobs, or were soldiers etc e.g. Bert the Chimney Sweep and Mulan
  • The poor - who had no jobs (e.g. Aladdin)

The researchers found that in most cases the main character in the films was wealthy and that 56 per cent of the characters were in the top two classes. The poor were extremely unrepresented in Disney films, compared to wealth distribution in the real world (ie there are far too many Disney princesses, and not enough toilet repair workers).

The researchers discovered that Disney films did not send a good message to child viewers, as they 'erased' the problems endured by working class characters. They even suggested that the Seven Dwarfs should be more miserable because they work in a mine, rather than singing songs about how happy they are to be digging.

"Rather than experience their jobs as problematic, nearly all working-class characters perceive their jobs as invigorating, fun, and allowing substantial autonomy and authority".

Or to put it another way, they sing "To dig dig dig dig dig dig dig is what we really like to do" whilst they head off to the mines.

It wasn't studied by the group, but had they looked a little harder they would have found talking Jamaican crabs are vastly over-represented in Disney films.

Another issue the researchers found is that lower class characters are never seen as potential romantic partners - e.g. in Snow White, Snow White never considers marrying Sneezy, Bashful, Dopey, Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy or Doc even though she's known and liked them for ages, whereas she was happy to marry the prince after meeting the creep only once, when he kissed her whilst she was in a coma.

This displays that the poor are seen as "unthinkable romantic partners" by the rich in Disney films, according to the researchers.

Mater - too poor to find romance in a Disney film? Will we never see a lovemaking scene betwixt Mater and Lightning McQueen??

The poor have got it easy in Disney films, whereas the rich are "under threat"

The study suggests that in Disney films, being poor is portrayed as being secure whereas being rich is a difficult life. The researchers point to a scene in Aladdin where Aladdin and Princess Jasmine compare how bad their lives are and find their problems comparable, despite the fact that Princess Jasmine is living in a palace having food brought to her whenever she likes, and Aladdin is dodging sword attacks every day and splitting his food with a monkey.

The study says this is wrong because it draws a "false parallel" between their circumstances despite the insurmountable wealth gap.

Working class lives are shown to be fun as hell, so much so that the rich will voluntarily give up their wealth to join them (e.g. Mulan - where she thinks it would be a bit of a jolly to become a soldier, and does so).

Think before you show Disney films to your kids

The researchers from Duke suggested that parents may want to think about what kinds of films they show their kids in future.

You know, in case they start to believe that all working class people are either happy, singing chimney sweeps or thick, plotting murderers assistants.