Editor's note: This is the ninth in a series of articles written by students enrolled in Jennifer Bloom's graduate seminar on academic advising at the University of South Carolina during the spring 2009 semester. As part of her course syllabus, Dr. Bloom required each student in her class to submit an article to The Mentor or other publications for consideration.
For more than seventy years, Walt Disney films have touched the hearts and minds of individuals, young and old alike. This imprint expands far beyond nursery walls and impacts people of all ages, including college students. Disney films feature both heroes and villains. Interestingly, many of the advisers in Disney films are villains, or they at least offer bad advice to other characters. Today, as students on college campuses turn to their advisers for help in making their dreams come true, are they subconsciously predisposed to negatively stereotyping academic advisers as a result of their exposure to Disney films?
The purpose of this article is to share the research on the impact of Disney films, categorize the types of Disney adviser characters, and then identify some advising frameworks that may help advisers overcome any negative perceptions students may have of them due to their exposure to Disney films.
Research on Disney
Robinson, Callister, Magoffin, and Moore (2007) found that Disney shows and films tend to reflect a negative bias toward authority figures, especially mid-life and older characters. Many of these figures are depicted as angry, senile, crazy, wrinkled, ugly and/or overweight (Robinson et al., p. 206). Further, the study found that the most negative older characters in the Disney animated films were the villains (Robinson et al., p. 209). Examples included Madam Mim in The Sword in the Stone, Cinderella's wicked stepmother, and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. Robinson et al. concluded their article by stating:
For children who spend a substantial amount of time watching Disney animated films and whose experience and exposure to older people is limited, such images and depictions can have a powerful impact on their perceptions of older people and can influence the way in which they interact with older individuals. (p. 210)
Each Disney film has an entourage of key characters, including heroes and heroines, sidekicks, villains, and advisers. Often these are not exclusive roles and can be intertwined character types. Some advisers are clearly labeled, such as Jafar, the Adviser to the Emperor in Aladdin, while others can be a little harder to identify, such as Ursula in The Little Mermaid. In fact, many Disney films feature multiple advisers. Some films feature good advisers alongside bad ones, as occurs in Pinocchio. In the film, Pinocchio has good advisers in Jiminy Cricket and Geppetto, but a bad adviser in the Coachman who leads Pinocchio down the wrong path. Other films present multiple bad advisers, which is the case in Mulan, where bad advising is not necessarily from an evil source but is poor advising in both the mythical instance of the family guardians and self adviser in Mulan.
Disney Adviser Styles
To better understand the stereotypical Disney adviser styles, this article divides them into four categories: self adviser, mystical adviser, self-involved adviser, and withholding adviser. For each adviser type, a Disney film example will be shared as well as links to short film clips that illustrate the particular adviser style.
In The Emperor's New Groove, Kronk, the Assistant to the Emperor's Adviser, finds himself talking to his shoulder angels and using them to think out loud. Students' shoulder angels often represent the voices of friends and family who may present conflicting opinions to the student. This is sometimes demonstrated when a parent or other authority figure in the student's life wants a specific outcome from a student that is not necessarily in sync with the student's wants, and there is an inner struggle to satisfy others.
In the clip Kronk's Mission (see Figure 1), the student is confused by an internal power struggle between doing what might be considered easy versus what might be right. Some other examples of this self-advising student can be seen in The Hunchback of Notre Dame when Quasimodo brings to life three gargoyle statues to talk with and help him work through his issues, and in Pocahontas when the Indian princess is found deciphering her dreams in the woods and reading into the events in her life to make decisions about her future.
The Little Mermaid features a young girl who must choose between her parents' desires and her own. Faced with no one to talk to, Ariel turns to Ursula, a mystical adviser. The mystical adviser seemingly comes up with advice out of thin air, and advisees are not sure what happened or how. They just know the problem has been resolved and they can now move forward. Advisers who do not allow students to learn how to make decisions by helping them understand the rationale behind any advice offered have missed a golden learning opportunity. This can be dangerous, because students will often make up a rationale for what has occurred and inadvertently misadvise their peers.
In the clip Poor Unfortunate Souls (see Figure 2), Ursula informs Ariel, I fortunately know a little magic; it's a talent that I always have possessed. In this act of self-disclosure, the adviser provides the basis of ability and confidence that helps the student believe in the adviser, but the student basically has no idea what is happening to resolve the issue. This is also seen in Sleeping Beauty when the three fairy godmothers use magic to smooth the path for Aurora without her knowledge, and in Alice in Wonderland when the tricky Cheshire Cat eerily offers unhelpful advice to the lost girl.
In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the self-involved adviser is showcased by Frollo, Quasimodo's caretaker. This adviser is one who gives no choice to the student and suggests that staying in the current situation is the only way to survive. This lack of choice can occur when an adviser is wedded to the major or a specific path and not the student's needs. The student often feels defeated by the adviser and unable to clarify his/her needs.
In the clip Out There (see Figure 3), Frollo tells Quasimodo about the cruelties in the world and the hurdles he will inevitably trip over if he goes out on his own. Later the student is unhappy with the adviser's guidance and wants something different. This type of scenario is also found in Cinderella, when the evil stepmother locks the girl away and gives her no choice or say in her life, and again in Peter Pan when Peter denies the needs and wishes of those who follow him, so he can stay young and carefree forever.
The final adviser type is the withholding adviser, who has the answers but will not share the information with the student. Disney's most infamous withholding adviser is Rafiki in The Lion King. Rafiki, a wisecracking baboon, knows all the answers but will not impart the information he holds without first humiliating the student.
In the clip entitled Simba & Rafiki (see Figure 4), Rafiki brings Simba face to face with his past and present, ultimately forcing Simba to find the answer on his own. Similarly, this withholding presence is found in Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas as she advises the young girl about the signs and paths she is seeing in her life and dreams. Another example can be found in Bambi, when Friend Owl gives the impression he is too old to be bothered by the youngsters and is unwilling to answer their questions.
Tips and Suggestions
Advisers can combat these negative stereotypes by focusing on the needs of students, sharing appropriate information with students, helping them understand the rationale behind advice, and involving them as equal partners in the advising process. In addition, there are two positive frameworks that may be helpful in accomplishing the above advising objectives. Using positive tools such as the FISH! Philosophy and Appreciative Advising can help to combat those negative examples and lead to more positive interactions with students.
In 1998, the FISH! Philosophy emerged from a film called FISH! Catch the Energy, Release the Potential that highlighted the positive energy of the famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle and its impact on employees and customers (FISH! Philosophy, 2009). The overall message of this philosophy addresses four practices: Be There, Play, Make Their Day, and Choose Your Attitude. Advisers can infuse these four components into their advising to create an inspirational, creative, and fun experience for students and advisers alike. More information on this philosophy can be found at ChartHouse Learning (www.charthouse.com/content.aspx?name=home2).
Much like the FISH! Philosophy, Appreciative Advising is a positive approach to working with students. Appreciative Advising found its roots in Appreciative Inquiry and requires a positive and appreciative mindset as adviser and advisee move through the six phases: Disarm, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver, and Don't Settle (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008). The bedrock of these phases involves the positive, open-ended questions that advisers ask advisees in order to learn students' strengths, skills, hopes, and dreams (Bloom et al.). Further information on can be found at Appreciative Advising (www.appreciativeadvising.net/).
This article highlights how students subconsciously may be wary of advisers due, in part, to students' exposure to Disney films. Being aware of bad-adviser stereotypes that are perpetuated in Disney films may convince advisers to warmly welcome students and correct any misconceptions they might have. Princess Briar Rose in Sleeping Beauty offers advisers this tip: If you dream a thing more than once, it's sure to come true. It is important for advisers to respect students' dreams and work with them to help make those dreams come true, because at the end of the day, advisers are really in the dream-making business.