By Contributor Jacob Jackson
Over the last century, the Walt Disney Company has steadily obtained more and more properties, the most notable being the widely reported Fox merger that was finalized in March of this year. Even before this acquisition, Disney was the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world, with an estimated net worth of around $240 billion in 2019.
Disney’s successes in movies and television, especially recently, are difficult to exaggerate. Six out of the ten highest-grossing films of all time were produced by Disney, according to worldwide box office reports. Additionally, Disney’s TV companies accounted for 42 percent of its total revenue as of March 2018, drawing in money from various networks such as ABC, ESPN, and The Disney Channel. As of the conclusion of the Fox merger, Disney also had a majority share in Hulu, and since its streaming service Disney+ is set to launch in November of this year, it’s obvious Disney will remain a media juggernaut indefinitely.
Since such an extraordinary amount of the content we consume is produced by Disney, we should consider how art and media produced by large, money-driven corporations can differ from smaller groups.
Before the modern era, mass media did not exist, and the vast majority of art was produced because the artist had a vision and wanted to share that vision with the world. While it was often politically motivated, this kind of art was typically not designed to generate a massive profit for the artist or anyone else involved. In this way, the artist was not bound by the constraints of public approval or corporate oversight.
Artistic endeavors with the goal of turning a profit are not necessarily bad ones, but they do require audiences to be especially critical of their themes and motivations. Since the primary concern of art-for-profit—particularly movies and television—is to attract as many consumers as possible, it generally cannot afford to be bold in its stances or unique in its ideas. Art produced in this way is confined to simpler messages that are much more aligned with public opinions, rather than art that is more concerned with telling meaningful stories. This is not to say that high-budget films and TV shows cannot be meaningful—most people enjoy a wide variety of film entertainment. However, when it comes to the question of art imitating life or life imitating art, it is clear that the film industry supports the former. The large amount of money riding on the success of any particular entertainment endeavor ensures that most of them will favor being publicly agreeable rather than having a new, engaging take on a relevant issue.
The dangers of generating art for profit are only exacerbated by the expansion of megacorporations like Disney. If current trends continue, more and more entertainment companies will be absorbed by larger entities, until the vast majority of American media is produced by three or four giant corporations. Luckily, there are anti-trust regulations to prevent any one news outlet from owning access to more than 35 percent of all audiences, and the FCC holds that the top four national broadcast outlets must each be owned by different entities. For now, it appears that major broadcast news is safe from overly-monopolizing trends. However, Disney has lobbied Congress on multiple occasions to keep Mickey Mouse from entering the public domain, and its influence over government affairs will only grow as its holdings do. While it is unlikely that anti-trust regulations would be lifted anytime soon, it is not entirely out of the question.
The main concern with Disney’s ever-expanding influence is the loss of soul in art. With recent cash grabs playing upon ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia, such as 2019’s poorly reviewed “Aladdin”, Disney has demonstrated that creating profit margins, not meaningful art, is its main media objective.
It is imperative that we recognize that our art should be as diverse and individual as the people who consume it. Large corporations with increasing control over our avenues of entertainment should never limit the cultural expression of unique stories and meaningful art.