1. Company Values
What it is: In a company-wide Zoom call, a Disney exec said that she plans to push for more storylines featuring racial minorities and LGBTQ+ main characters in the company’s entertainment offerings.
Why it’s happening: Most media attention has landed on Disney’s General Entertainment Content president, Karey Burke, and her statements about her two children, one who identifies as transgender and another who identifies as queer. But Disney has been developing film and television projects that reflect a commitment to more diversified storytelling for some time. Burke’s comments were part of a campaign Disney has launched called “Reimagine Tomorrow.” Reimagine Tomorrow’s goals are much broader than this particular controversy suggests, and include improving accessibility in theme parks, working toward equity in the employee hiring process, and establishing inclusion standards for diverse representation across the brand’s vast media empire. As Disney moves to be more visibly intentional about whose stories they tell, it will be interesting to note how brand loyalty to the House of Mouse will evolve alongside it.
2. Fake Skews
What it is: A political PR firm paid for by Meta may have partnered with local media outlets across the US to make TikTok look bad, according to the Washington Post.
Why it’s a huge deal: TikTok’s relationship to US politicians and media has always been rocky, to say the least. Legitimate questions about data collection, user surveillance, and content moderation have followed the platform since it was known as Musical.ly. But Meta, the media conglomerate formerly known as Facebook, may have been deliberately poisoning the well of public opinion against their competitor. The Post claims the PR firm worked to place opinion pieces in local press outlets about dangerous TikTok trends, overblowing the popularity of said trends or simply repeating rumors about them. While the initial kerfuffle over this will inevitably put Meta under scrutiny, perhaps the real story here is how easy it was for a PR firm to place information about one company, at the behest of another company, on the public radar. If Meta was able to successfully execute a smear campaign on such a large scale, it raises serious questions about what is really happening in newsrooms across the country.
3. If You’re Seeing This, It’s Too Late
What it is: #spiritual has 6.7 billion views on TikTok, with many posts claiming to possess a telepathic connection to the viewer.
Why it’s so easy to fall into: #spiritual posts can take a variety of forms. Some address theological questions or moral philosophy, and some speak of the life of Jesus and reference the Bible. But some posts lean into the idea that “everything happens for a reason,” including every TikTok post you come across. TikTok’s wannabe mystics may claim that if you’re seeing their post, it means you need healing, or that you’re holding tension in your body, or that your crush is thinking about you. These would-be gurus urge viewers to cultivate psychic energy in order to empower their souls and their spirits. When you’re a teenager with loads of what the kids call “Main Character Energy,” the idea that the contents of your FYP are a message from the cosmos is practically the easiest trap ever set. But TikTok’s algorithm is a mirror, not an oracle; the reason it shows users any post is because of proprietary technology that predicts what they want to see. It’s important to keep the conversation open about what kids are seeing on TikTok, and what they believe about why it comes to their feed.
Slang of the Week
Material gowrl: from Saucy Santana’s song “Material Girl,” a cheeky, endearing description of a person who prioritizes buying the things that they want over the things that they need; can also simply refer to having wealth and a confident attitude (Ex: “Fridge might be empty but my closet’s full of Zara. MaTeRiAl GoWrL.”)
Translation: Company Values
When Disney’s Reimagine Tomorrow website says that, “By 2022, 50% of regular and recurring characters… will come from underrepresented groups,” that doesn’t mean 50% of characters are now going to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. But given employees’ recent reaction to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and now Karey Burke’s remarks, we can definitely expect to see more characters like Hawthorne from Lightyear in the near future.
We can also expect to see more racially/ethnically diverse characters, and more characters with disabilities. In fact, the only specific reference to creating more LGBTQ+ content on Reimagine Tomorrow’s “Intentions” page comes from a picture at the very bottom. But Burke’s remarks have pushed the discussion of gender and sexuality to the forefront—where this discussion has been in our culture for some time.
In 2015, Americans estimated that 23 percent of their fellow Americans were gay or lesbian. In actual fact, that year only 3.8 percent of respondents said yes to the question, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?” But when disproportionate amounts of media time are given to discussions and portrayals of LGBTQ+ folks, many conclude these identities to be much more prevalent than they are. This remains true even if 21 percent of Gen Z now identify as LGBTQ+.
With that said, we also know that Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of time with those whom the religious elites had deemed impure. He told stories with marginalized people as heroes. At times he seemed to go out of his way to do things that made the Pharisees uncomfortable. As the church considers how/whether to engage with Disney over the coming years, we should also remember the radical character of our savior—who not only calls humanity to repent, but who also leaves the 99 to find the 1.
Here are some questions to hopefully spark discussion about this with your teens:
- What do you think about Disney’s decision to have 50% of characters be from minority groups?
- Do you think LGBTQ+ people are overrepresented or underrepresented in media? What about racial/ethnic minorities? People with disabilities?
- What do you think it means that Jesus leaves the 99 to find the 1? What would it look like to do that today?