The above scene from Disney animation Aladdin shows the hero defeating the evil Jafar; Aladdin is characterised as American, Jafar as Arabic, is this a parable for the clash of civilisations or simple a harmless remake of an ancient tale of heroes and villains? Michael Carmichael's article Propaganda and the Politics of Perception argues that not only does it reinforce anti-Arabic sentiments but that this movie would have had a profound influence on the attitudes towards Arabic peoples possessed by soldiers now serving in the Middle East. Using cultivation theory, Carmichael explains that the media encourage a pro-Western, Islamophobic mood to prevail within US and other western cultures that breeds distrust and discrimination. While not the first time that Disney has been accused of racism, Carmichael uncovers an interesting insight into the role of popular culture in shaping modern society.
I would suggest that this does not start or stop with the promotion of Islamophobic notions. Popular culture plays an increasingly important role in shaping perceptions of various groups within society. Think of the potential cumulative impact of programmes such as The Thick of It, My Dad's the Prime Minister, Spooks, Judge John Deed; all BBC programmes, but the BBC are not alone, that offer a view of politicians as stupid or manipulative. While all could be said to reflect a view of society, they also popularise that view so making popular culture an important tool of political communication. If you take the above clip from The Thick of It, filmed in fly on the wall style, what impression does it offer of the workings of government? Yes it is very funny, and I personally loved it, but can it also feel public cynicism and contribute to low public engagement in the same was a the characterisation of Jafar breed mistrust of people who appear Arabic? True, television, film, music etc can have a positive role; the cultivation of positive black role models like Floella Benjamin is testament to Children's television playing a social role, but whether that role is still being pursued as vigorously seems to be open to interpretation.