Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fairy tales don't just suck

If you and me have ever sat down for a chat, odds are you've heard this argument in some form or another. It always comes up and never fails to stir angry thoughts in my head. Why did it come up now? Because every time I go into a toy store to buy my little nieces a present, I am bombarded with fairy tale princess pillow covers, balloons, cups, dresses and barbies. And I know that if I got any of them, I will score points with the girls. And that always bothered me.

Fairy tales don't just suck, they are stupid, criminally superficial and probably evil. And this isn't simply a feminist argument about them making little girls wish and wait for their prince charming, although there is much to be said about that. The problem is more profound: fairy tales emphasize the importance of wealth, status and beauty and send a clear message that one cannot be happy without them (I would argue that happiness cannot be attained with or without them, but that's for another, more morbid post).

In many fairy tales, like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, the female protagonist meets her prince charming just once before the kiss of life, after which marriage is inevitable (I'm actually going with the Disney interpretation. In the original story, they never even meet before the kiss). But because he's a prince and she's a pretty girl, the union is bound to be successful. Isn't it obvious? Cinderella only gets one dance with the unnamed prince (Has anyone ever noticed that prince charming never has a name? Why aren't guys ever insulted by that?). Rapunzel's case is a little less extreme, for she spends time with her prince and gets to know him - but it's only because she has no other choice. He's the only male who knows where she is.

Of course the worst one by far is Rumplestiltskin, in which the prince actually threatens to kill the girl if she doesn't spin hay into gold. When she does, he marries her! And that's supposed to be a happy ending! Luckily though this specific fairy tale did not find its way into recent literature and was never adapted by Disney.

Now I know that modern fairy tales have been trying to shed these conservative notions. A great example is Shrek, which is an awesome parody of fairy tales that actually plays out as one. But I can still find remnants in some of the stories I'm reading or movies I'm watching. Disney's Beauty and the Beast, in essence, has a commendable moral: Look beyond appearances and you will find love. But let's face it, her name was "Beauty" and the beast turned out to be prince charming after all. I felt uneasy seeing him transform at the end, because she was ready to accept him as he was. Instead, she was "rewarded" for being capable of loving such an ugly creature.

So I say let's close the curtains on this antiquated part of our history, because even though I am not insulted by all these stories as a woman, I am insulted as an intelligent human being, who would take a beast over a prince any day. And you know what, I've never heard of a single real life prince who is in the least bit charming. Have you?


Zainab said...

Lama, as one of your followers Khaled always says, I felt like u r in my head :)

These stories only awakens my cynicism towards the triviality of the current human relationships, where some ladies actually argue that they are waiting for Prince Charming uuuurrrrghhhh

When my cousin first watched beauty and the beast, she started sobbing when the beast turned into prince charming... and when I asked her why are you crying? her answer was because the beast is so nice to her and she loved the beast not the other person. I told her but he is more beautiful and he is the same person, her answer was: "7atta law" so what?!?! Bless her :) I thought I'd share this with you to cheer you up

Matt said...

Princes are people too.

samah said...

hmm, wait till your nieces are teenagers and they think life is that MTV hip hop video, they want to look and act like those girls.
'But what happened to prince charmings and one kiss and you will marry him?'

Brice said...

Well actually, fairy tales are not just happy endings. Psychologist B. Bettelheim for instance explains how fairy tales are key instruments to let children grapple safely with visceral emotions such as fear of abandonment, of being hurt or killed or disfigured, or of becoming orphans (and even sometimes all at the same time !).

Of course, I mean the original fairy tales which by the way were not written at all for children.

Your gripe is with Disney Megacorp in general, which looted our collective public domain culture, only to sue whoever remotely threatens their business model (c.f. the lawsuit against Roberto Begnini for daring to make a "Pinocchio" movie, a story that has been in the Italian public domain for centuries !) and permanently lobbies governments across the world for copyright law extensions. Can't wait to print my own Mickey t-shirts !

Annika said...

Like Brice said the original fairy tales are much worse than the Disney adaptions.

Hansel and Gretel is built on abandonment and fear. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and several more Brothers Grimm tales' focal point is the abandoning of the beauties by their stepmothers.

The way in which parents are described angers me most: the fathers in the stories are friendly, replaceable guys, loving their daughters while the mothers are dead and the stepmothers are evil.

Love your take on it.
So, what do you get your nieces? Do you tell them "the truth"?

Danya said...

I know this is a bit late, but I just recently started reading your posts.

Just wanted to say very interesting take on the matter, couldn't have put it in better words.