In 2001, an important film was made. This film was to change the way people all across the globe would think about culture, cultural differences, cultural adaptation, rejection, and acceptance, and an enlightened sense of cultural awareness and understanding that would shatter one’s static worldview and create a new and improved worldview—a Global Critical Thinker (Velasco, 2018).
That film was…Pixar Animation Studio’s Monsters, Inc. (distributed by Walt Disney Pictures).
OK, so maybe the film didn’t impact the field of cultural studies, but it is going to get the attention it deserves in this textbook, as the characters and storyline depict the perfect setting of culture clashes, cultural rejection (and maybe even a type of racism) based on cultural differences, and final growth and acceptance.
If you haven’t seen the movie, the basic story is this: Our human world exists, but in another dimension there exists the monster world. This monster world is run on energy produced from children’s screams, which are “captured” when monsters enter the human world through closet doors and scare children. (This idea comes from the “monster in my closet” that was commonly feared and cried over by millions of children). The children are scared, they scream, their screams are collected, and the monster world uses those collected screams to produce electricity, gas for cars, etc. It is important to note that the monsters believe that children are dangerous, and that even one touch from a child could lead to death.
The two main characters in the film are Sully and Mike. Sully mistakenly allows a child (later named Boo by Sully) to enter the monster world, and attempts to hide the child while trying to return her to the human world. His best friend Mike tries his best to get rid of the child, and becomes angry at Sully’s growing warmth and care for Boo. Mike does his best to protect himself, his best friend Sully, their jobs at Monsters, Inc., and their friendship, but each one falls apart with every moment spent with Boo.
This culminates when Sully finally makes the difficult decision to abandon Mike in order to save Boo.
Now let’s get into our analysis of this animation, and how it connects to becoming a Global Critical Thinker.
The description above sets up our first cultural analysis: the monsters as one culture and the human children as another. The monsters don’t hate the children so much as they fear them, and this fear is based on false beliefs—stereotypes—that are perpetuated by those who may not have ever interacted with any children, but continue to spread the presumption. The monsters, in essence, are conditioned from a very young age to fear the unknown culture.
Mike, although caring and kind-hearted, represents the side that rejects what is different, ambiguous, and unknown. Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov (2010) call this Uncertainty Avoidance. In essence, Mike’s own cultural identity is being threatened by this new cultural being (Boo), and he is doing his best to protect his identity and the identity of his best friend.
Throughout most of the movie, Mike even refers to the child as “It,” thus reducing her identity to a thing rather than a living creature that deserves respect. The main antagonist in the film—a chameleon-type monster named Randall—attempts to exploit human children by using them as a resource for energy, which, through his methods of extracting screams, would kill them. He disregards their human lives as being less significant than monsters, and therefore can make use of and dispose of them if it serves the interests of their dominant culture.
The child, in contrast, accepts the monsters as equal to humans, and, although she fears Randall, she understands that not all monsters are “Randalls” (i.e., meant to be feared). She enters this new country (the monster world), and views it with a wide-eyed curiosity that many people experience when traveling to a foreign destination. She does not feel out of place, but instead feels as though she belongs—as if she has a right to be there, even if her presence is only temporary.
Sully begins the movie holding the same fear and avoidance that the others monsters have of humans, but eventually opens up to this new “culture.” (Research Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov’s (2010) concept of Uncertainty Avoidance for more information on this fear of the unknown or ambiguous.)
The turning point is when he is forced to confront his own “scary” behavior that he once was proud of:
…and realizes that he is the monster to be feared, not Boo.
It is only by this harsh realization that Sully finally accepts his own false beliefs and fears, and adapts his behavior to accommodate both cultures, not just his own.
While comparing the difficulty in accepting and adapting to a culture different than our own to a popular animation film might not seem serious, the message is ultimately the same: Cultures are different, and our behavior may seem “normal” to us, but it can easily be viewed as “abnormal” to other cultural groups. Getting past these cultural obstacles is where our journey toward Global Critical Thinking begins!
What are some stereotypes of your own culture? What stereotypes do individuals from your cultural group hold (and pass on to younger generations) about different cultural groups? Try to come up with three stereotypes for three different cultural groups. Don’t be afraid to write examples down! We are not here to judge one another, but to learn from and grow with each other, and opening up about and discussing stereotypes is one way.
Stereotypes about my home country:
Stereotypes about other countries:
The term “critical thinking” has been a buzzword in education for many years, but it was only recently that the term “Global Critical Thinking” was introduced into the field. Velasco (2019) explains both critical thinking and Global Critical Thinking:
Critical thinking has been a key phrase in education for years, producing a variety of definitions. Lai (2011) provides one clear definition of critical thinking: “Critical thinking includes the component skills of analyzing arguments, making inferences using inductive or deductive reasoning, judging or evaluating, and making decisions or solving problems” (p. 2). With globalization entering education jargon, “Global Critical Thinking” (GCT) is a more of an appropriate phrase for today’s classroom goals. GCT combines both critical thinking skills and cultural understanding (in other words, one’s own culture, as well as other cultures around the world). . . . One way to accomplish GCT is to broaden students’ perspectives and understanding of the world around them. (p. 291)
It is often said that the world is growing smaller due to globalization, technology, and travel, so it is time for the citizens of the world to move away from ethnocentric beliefs and adopt a more open, respectful, and genuinely interested perspective of those who may be different from us. There are many parts of the world that are dangerous, and, yes, there are some people out there who are trying to take advantage and hurt others, but this should not stop us from developing into Global Critical Thinkers.
The overarching goal is not to make the entire world one country where everyone is the same. Differences should be acknowledged, understood (to the best of our ability), respected, and celebrated. There will always be those who fight against this perspective, but with every discussion, we move one step closer to the goal.