Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty: Developing a Course on Disney and Fairytale Movies

Article excerpt

I developed and taught a course titled The Psychology of Disney and Fairytale Movies. This course examined the psychological effects of mass communication on behavior and thought, specifically the stereotyping of women and men and the concept of true love as portrayed in Disney and Fairytale movies. This paper describes the (a) development of the course, (b) selection of course content, (c) course format and assignments, and (d) students' reactions to the course. The paper concludes with ideas for future courses on the topic.

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During the summer of 2006, I developed and taught a course titled The Psychology of Disney and Fairytale Movies. In this paper I (a) describe the course, including the reasoning behind it and the selection of course content; (b) present the format and course assignments; and (c) examine students' reactions and ideas for future directions.

Developing the Course and Course Content

The Psychology of Disney and Fairytale Movies is a course that examined the psychological effects of mass communication on behavior and thought, specifically the stereotyping of women and men and the concept of true love as portrayed in Disney and Fairytale movies. I wanted to develop a course devoted strictly to gender portrayals in Disney and Fairytale movies for copious reasons. First, many college students love Disney and Fairytale movies, having grown up watching them repeatedly. Second, sometimes individuals assume that if the movie is a Disney movie, it is a "safe" movie for children to view, posing no potential for negative consequences. However, Disney and Fairytale movies contain many examples of gender stereotypical portrayals that may influence young viewers in a variety of ways. I wanted students to be aware of the existence of these portrayals and become educated consumers of the possible consequences. Finally, I developed the course to allow students to apply psychology to the "real world." I believed that students would be more interested in the subject matter when they could see how easily it related to their lives and in many cases the lives of their children.

Richard J. Harris' textbook (2004), A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication, provided the content for the course. Specifically, Chapter 1 "Mass Communication in Society: Swimming in the Media Sea," Chapter 2 "Research and Theory in Mass Communication: How We Study Media Scientifically," and Chapter 3 "Media Portrayals of Groups: Distorted Social Mirrors" were of interest. Chapter 2 provided information on how media is studied scientifically. I presented information regarding media research frameworks; for example, looking at media content via studies on content analysis. For purposes of this course, we discussed the prevalence of gender stereotypical portrayals in Disney and Fairytale movies. Next, I presented the framework of looking at media exposure. The students and I discussed who watches these movies and with what attention level. The final media framework presented looked at effects; we hypothesized about potential behavioral, attitudinal, cognitive, and physiological effects of viewing gender stereotypically portrayals. Also from Chapter 2, I covered important theories from psychology and mass communication. Examples included: social cognitive theory (e.g., Bandura, 2002), cultivation theory (e.g., Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, Signorielli, & Shanahan, 2002), and various socialization theories (e.g., Heath & Bryant, 1992). Finally from Chapter 2, I encouraged students to think about the question, "Do media reflect the world or create a new reality?"

Information from Chapter 3 provided the foundation for the course by outlining gender stereotypical portrayals found in media. For women, the course covered the portrayals of physical appearance (e.g., young, beautiful, very tall, very thin, small hips, large breasts), concerns of women (e.g., trivial concerns such as spots on the dishes), and the superwoman (e. …