By Michelle Anya Anjirbag, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
Although I’m a member of the Faculty of Education, my PhD is really in children’s literature (sort of) and doesn’t fall into the broad categories of what people might assume a degree in Education might confer. However, because I look at depictions of diversity in fairy tale and folklore (broadly defined) – specifically as produced by one of the largest transnational media conglomerates in existence, Disney – I look at hegemonic forces the shape the cultures within which other educational modes exist, in global, local, and glocal realities. What lies at the heart of my research is the question of how power can be challenged – and how we see the structures it imposes that then inform the worldviews of a massive segment of the global population. In practical terms, this means I watch a lot of Disney.
I mean, a LOT of Disney. For one paper, I watched Mulan and Moana about 50 times each in two or three weeks. For another, I ran through several series-worth of multiple Disney Channel television shows. For a different one, I read a book series most often found sold in W.H. Smith clearance houses and ASDA checkout lanes. All of this simply to try to determine where the different intersections of hegemonic messaging to different levels of society might lay, and to garner a better understanding of how damaging messages encoded in media, especially those that harm minority communities, might be addressed by the groups being harmed in ways that encourage media corporations to change. But again, in practical terms, what this really means is that I have at my finger tips and in my head the ultimate summer playlist to get through the dog-days of dissertation writing. And of course, maybe a couple of subversive ways to think about everyone’s favorite earworms, too. So, without further ado, a song for every writing mood:
I’ll Make a Man Out of You, Mulan (1998) – for when you can’t seem to get focused
My favorite memory of this song has to do with my Advanced Placement Literature  class breaking out randomly in this song on a bus to a field trip during my senior year of high school. Less favorite memories have to do with this being a song used to do pushups during track. Let the opening drums drive you to the computer in the morning and clear your mind in a not at all Orientalized bestowing of ‘zen’ while also sparing a few thoughts to wonder if a) the lyrics are really subversive or reinforcing hegemonic gender binaries, and b) how Mulan could be read as anything but an idealized American teenager dressed up in tropes of Ancient China.
Try Everything, Zootopia (2016) – for when you’ve hit a wall
So, I know a good portion of the world knows the film this is from as “Zootropolis”, but I really cannot get my head around that, and I dislike that it misses the play on “utopia” (or “eutopia,” if you prefer). While this one doesn’t come from a film that adapts fairy tale or folklore, it does riff on animal stories in some capacities. Also, Officer Hops embodies a lesson about challenging power structures to have them ostensibly forever stay the same…like when a certain corporation says that they will change their practices of representation. Nevertheless, Shakira’s upbeat message is sure to help you get in a better frame of mind to attack those statistical models, or whatever it is you’re doing.
When will my life begin, Tangled (2010) – when you’re tired of the same ol’, same old
The routine of dissertating is feeling a little monotonous? Don’t fight the feeling – lean into it and break into song with Rapunzel. I’m sure by the end of it you’ll feel a little better – especially if you do all the cleaning, baking, ventriloquism, etc. that she does. And just think, your life might be routine, and you might be feeling a little bit trapped in the ivory tower, but at least you haven’t been literally kidnapped by someone pretending to be your mother? (Because if the mother is still alive and influencing her children’s lives in a fairy tale, you know she has to probably be a little bit evil.)
“Zero to Hero”, Hercules (1997) – when imposter syndrome sets in
Graduate school is hard. Sometimes we can’t quite get our heads around the work that we need to do, sometimes we can’t get through it, and sometimes everyone else seems to be doing a bit more or a bit better than us. That’s when you need to sit back and enjoy this gospel-infused bit of pop-rock, so that, you too, can be reminded about your potential to go from zero words written to a hero in your field. Note that basically from 1997 to The Princess and the Frog’s release in 2009, the Muses were pretty much some of the only Black female characters to hit the screen in a Disney animated film, and thus, the corporation cemented its habit of using Black bodies as plot devices. Paired with the overt commercial tie-intertextuality layered throughout this film, and our Greek hero drawn as something along the lines of an awkward, ginger-ish teenage Brad Pitt, there are some very interesting politics of representation happening in just this song.
“Why Should I Worry”, Oliver and Company (1988) – When you can’t be ar—I mean bothered
This is an underrated classic from an underrated classic, sung by Billy Joel who also provided the voice for the Artful Dodger. Seriously, I recommend procrastinating with this film – Oliver Twist with dogs, and the additional voice talents of Joey Lawrence, Bette Midler, Cheech Martin, and Dom DeLuise. But back to the song; nothing quite says I don’t care anymore like channeling your inner stray causing a dog riot barking and strutting their way up a NYC avenue and halting human life.
“Go the Distance”, Hercules (1997) – When you need to convince yourself that you can get through this
Similarly to “Zero to Hero”, but when you just can’t take the upbeat pop anymore. Let the little demigod’s longing to find the place that he might belong echo your own need to have those letters after your name and find the will to “go the distance” and find where YOU belong after this current stint in academia.
Want more? Pester me enough on Twitter (@anjirbaguette) and I will make a spotify playlist….
**UPDATE** Twitter won… here is the ever-growing FERSA Summer Writing Playlist – Disneystyle:
 a high level literature class taken by seniors in high school in the USA, that often can let them skip introductory classes in their undergraduate if they do well on the test
Michelle Anya Anjirbag is a second year PhD candidate and, at the time
of publishing, one of the FERSA blog editors. Her current research
focuses on depictions of diversity in Disney’s fairy tale adaptations as
a way of interrogating global hegemonic power dynamics of