Moving Beyond the Consumption Myth

Consumption: the act of consuming. Americans lead the world in consumption (in many different ways) and we consume just about everything. Even those who think they aren’t consumers actually are. There are the commodities we consume, the food we consume, entertainments, education, office supplies, clothing, cleaning and beauty products, and we could probably argue that we even consume our pets.

In writing a dissertation about Disney, the Consumption Myth is something I keep running into. The Disney Critics are quick to point out that the only thing Disney offers us is stuff to consume, thus Disney cannot provide anything of significance beyond that. So, I’m constantly having to defend this point.

There are two components to Disney consumption:

  1. Disneyfication – This is when a story or fairy tale is adapted into a Disney-style visual program (such as a film or television show) that is sanitized and remarkably less “Grimm.” This process takes a story and makes it acceptable for the American mind-set, including emphasizing cultural mores that are not otherwise present in the “original” story. This is the core of the PCA paper that I realize I haven’t posted here yet. I’ll get to that one another time.
  2. Disneyization – This is the impact of the Disney Corporation’s business model on the larger society. Coupled with the McDonald’s/Ford assembly line, Disneyization has created two delivery systems for consumption: the themed environment, in which a particular theme is maintained throughout the entire experience, from the attitudes and behaviors of the employees to the general ambiance of the place; and the notion that consumption is a fun experience. Increasingly, businesses have turned to the specialized theme environment to compete for our attention, and increasingly they’ve gone out of their way to entertain us. This is, according to George Ritzer, one of the reasons why small business are getting run out by Big Box – they just don’t have the ability to keep us amused while we consume.

So then, what are some examples of Disney that I am consuming in my own home?

  • My annual D23 membership and subscription to the twenty-three magazine.
  • My Disney dvd/blu-ray collection, including the D23 exclusive Walt Disney Treasures Box Set.
  • Mouse Ear hats.
  • Mickey Mouse kitchen accessories, including apron, oven mit, and soap dispenser.
  • Epic Mickey video game and collector’s edition walkthrough guidebook.
  • Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers series, in hardcover with a couple autographed.

And more, but there’s also the indirect Disney consumption that is found on my Disney shelf: books and articles devoted to all things Disney, and not necessarily published by Disney. So in this respect, I’m consuming the idea of Disney.

But rather than criticize Disney for its mode of consumption, I think it’s time to accept that consumption is a key part of the modern American psyche. And, instead of criticizing us for imposing our modes of consumption on the entire world, consider that the entire world is guilty of linking consumption with democracy since World War II. To be able to consume is an act of empowerment and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But this equation dates back to the early eras of American history. From the first landings of pilgrims on the Atlantic coastline, we have been consuming the land. Manifest Destiny is a theory of consumption that pushed us West under the guise of a “civilizing mission.” First we consume the land. Then we consume the industries that make things more pleasurable – running water, gas light/electricity, public transportation. And so on, until we start consuming stuff. Early Mickey Mouse merchandise was not limited to only toys, but also to stuff people use: watches, writing tablets, drinking glasses, etc. Tourists would come to this country to buy these symbols of empowerment, so corporations thought to make it easier for them and sent their respective consumption modes over there.

The danger of the Consumption Myth is when the consumption turns into an addiction, which is part of the underlying message of 1999’s Fight Club. This has gotten much easier in the last 20 or so years with the push of credit cards onto younger people, who then grow up to have kids and fail to teach these new kids about the dangers of credit cards, and so on. Couple with that this pervasive illusion within America that all people should have a higher education, which has lead to a greater consumption of education (and educators, I might add…), which, in turn, has lead to greater numbers of student loan debt. Or the other channels of debt: good luck trying to buy a car or house with cash (as our grand-parents tried to encourage us) when they cost of these commodities is through the roof (and don’t get me started on Home Owner’s Associations). This is when consumption becomes worth of all of the criticisms.

I’m sure there’s something to be said about an overload of pleasure and something about fetish, but that’s an area of Freud I’m not as familiar with yet.



As a Disney-lover, dissertater, and thinker, I find myself constantly defending the Disneyfication/Disneyization of fairy tales. Fairy tale theorists have a difficult time accepting Disney’s films as one version among many, but rather see them as being the harbingers of the death of fairy tale culture. I hold the position that Walt Disney and Disney Corp translated written fairy tales into film to a) translate the fairy tale genre to the new medium that has now become predominant throughout our society and b) translate the fairy tales from an Old World/European sensibility to the American sensibility, making them rich and potent for us today. In this sense, Disney’s fairy tales are just one version adding to a millennia-old tradition of storytelling. What I tend to fail to do, and what theorists fail to see is the Grimmfication of fairy tales. I can’t decide if it should be spelled Grimmfication or Grimmification. So you heard it here first, folks! Let’s see if we can coin a term.

When the Brothers Grimm went around Germany collecting fairy tales, they were setting out to collect German culture and capture it into a handy anthology of story. Unfortunately, what they did was write down a literalized version of the fairy tales. They weren’t alone. It became vogue to do this very thing during the 1800s, in an early process of ethnography.

Fairy tale tradition stems from the oral folk tales that are transmitted from generation to generation, from elder to child. These stories often take a particular flavor specific to the region or era of the storytelling, but this is what makes them so rich and potent. So the Grimm Brothers wrote down a version which has now become to dominant version.

[Marie-Louise von Franz talks about the abstractness of fairy tales, citing this as the cause of their archetypal nature, in The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Perhaps this abstractness is really more due to the fact that that is how the Grimms wrote down the story….)

So why are the Disney Critics so concerned with the Disneyfication of fairy tales, but fail to acknowledge the Grimmification? That’s the answer I haven’t unpacked yet.

Disneyization versus Disneyfication

I was recently having a chat with a friend. When asked about my dissertation, I made some comment about the “Disneyization fairy tales.” My friend subtly corrected me, “Disneyification, yeah.” Since I use this term a lot throughout my dissertation, I thought I should make a public statement about what that means.

Alan Bryman in his most excellent book, The Disneyization of Society, defines Disneyization as the process whereby everything becomes..well, Disneyized. He proposes a formula that is applicable not only to Disney, but to other entities (including scuzzy tourist traps) that seek to accomplish a particular experience for the visitor. Bryman uses this term, and I believe coins this term, in order to distinguish this formula from “Disneyification,” which is a term with some serious negative connotations.

“Disneyification” implies the process whereby Disney takes a story (usually a fairy tale) and butchers it, sanitizing it and trivializing the child imagination. These are critiques against all thing Disney, and are thrown around within the fields of literature/fairy tale studies, child development, and culture commentators.

One of the things I hope to transcend by using Bryman’s term rather than “Disneyification” is the anti-Disney stigma. There are a lot of vocal people out there who don’t like Disney, and I’m sure this is for good reason. I definitely don’t deny that Disney’s motives trend towards control and manipulation of experience – perhaps we could call it institutionalized mythmaking (hmm, that opens several doors of possible discussion!) – but that do not mean that Disney’s motives should be seen as necessarily evil, negative, or the like. I firmly maintain (believe, whatever) that Disney is responding to the collective American psyche, and has been since Walt launched the company. As far as the whole Globalization business, consider this: with the exception of Nazi Germany, the rest of the world embraced Mickey Mouse (the Nazi’s thought he was a spy, according old newspaper headlines). The spread of Disney across the world has been welcomed by more people than not. For the countries who are completely opposed to the Disney presence, they have the power to shut the corporation out. If Disney Globalization is such an issue, then why hasn’t Disney been shut out of more countries, hmm?

I’ve developed a nasty habit with this blog of googling images that relate to the theme of the blog and I keep finding so many fun ones! Here’s a closing image for today’s post: