Saturday, 17 December 2011

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

I am a dreamer. However, I am also somewhat cynical and a pragmatist, which may appear to be contrary to my previous assertion. A well known fact to some although unbeknownst to others, I am a 'die-hard' fan of old school Disney, in particular the Disney princess movies. As a child, I spent most of my free time sitting in front of the television, watching cartoons or VHS'. We owned most of the Disney Princess movies on VHS (except the Little Mermaid which I bought later as a teenager to complete the collection although in a DVD format) and I cannot begin to fathom the amount of times that I have watched each movie. My favourite was and still is, Beauty and the Beast. The animation, the songs and the story captivated me; as embarrassing as it may be, I used to re-enact the musical sequence from 'Belle'. Subsequently, I am a fan of the appropriations undertaken by Disney of the classic fairytales.

However as I have grown older, I have often felt as though my interest in Disney's fairytales warranted immediate judgement from my peers. On numerous occasions - both in real life and on the cyberspace- I have had people rant, complain and effectively insult me due to my connection to those stories. The most common complaint regarding the old school Disney films (and fairytales in general) was consistent with a feminist perspective. It was always related to the misogynistic nature of the story which objectified the female princess, depicting her as helpless, the damsel in distress, and only achieving happiness when she fell for her prince and lived happily ever after. To some degree, I can understand the disdain that some feel towards the films who perceive that they somehow 'brainwash' children to conform to the traditional and stereotypical gendered roles. I do not deny that the degree of gender equality has vastly improved since the conception of the fairytales (some stemming back to 13th century). However, I believe that it is ignorant for some individuals to assume that that is the only message that children -in particular girls- would draw from the films. It is too superficial and simplistic. Personally, I am a fan of stories as they should impart some message to the reader (assuming that the story was of a relatively high caliber). I think fairytales are not so different from fables as I feel that they teach very important lessons upon closer inspection. Is it so wrong to teach children to not judge an individual by their appearance but by their individual characteristics? Is it so wrong to teach children to not stay where it is safe, to challenge the boundaries if they truly believe that it may result in happiness? Is it so wrong to teach children that by having hope, faith and perseverance, your aspirations may come true? Is it so wrong to teach children that connections to friends and family is integral to your personal satisfaction of life? Is it truly that offensive to modern society where there are films that ultimately teach and show young children on how to be a better person? I do not think so. I do not hope so. Those messages are the ones that I have drawn from Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella/ Peter Pan and The Lion King. Apart from Sleeping Beauty, the only fairytale that I truly detest, I never understood the argument that the films were teaching girls to be complacent and subordinate to men, merely waiting for their 'true love' to sweep them off their feet. From memory, falling in love with their prince was subsidiary to their goal. Cinderella wanted to go to the ball, Belle wanted to save her father, Ariel wanted to visit the outside world and their encounters with their prince was a later development. Thus, I find that argument flawed.
What do you think stories are for? These stories are classics. There's a reason we all know them. They're a way for us to deal with our world. A world that doesn't always make sense.
Mary Margaret Blanchard - Once Upon a Time

If anything, I would say that fairytales have the capacity to delude children into believing the binary nature of the world; that there is good and evil and that the perfect significant other exists. As perfectly encapsulated in Taylor Swift's quote,

When I was a little girl I used to read fairy tales. In fairy tales you meet Prince Charming and he’s everything you ever wanted. In fairy tales the bad guy is very easy to spot. The bad guy is always wearing a black cape so you always know who he is. Then you grow up and you realize that Prince Charming is not as easy to find as you thought. You realize the bad guy is not wearing a black cape and he’s not easy to spot; he’s really funny, and he makes you laugh, and he has perfect hair.

Perhaps it is a problem that can be attributed to fairytales. And yet, are they so much different from chick-lit, fantasy or even romance novels? However, I am confident that as people grow older, experience life, they do change their perspective and hence why I am a dreamer and yet cynical. I do not believe in Prince Charming or happily ever after's per se, but what those stories taught me is something I try to live by.

Notwithstanding, I am aware that Disney's appropriation of the fairytales are substantially different to the original fairytales which I believe cannot be justified on similar grounds. However, it was created in a vastly different context and that may be enough justification.

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