Wednesday 20 June 2012

Dangers of a Fairy Tale Ending

We were watching the Wiggles today and one of the sketches was a fairy-tale type story called “The Girl With The Black Velvet Band”.  It’s a simple story, the prince sees the beautiful maiden with her hair in a black velvet band, he loses sight of her in the crowd, he asks a bunch of people where to find her, he finds her and asks her to marry him.

I’ve seen it many times and it still grates my teeth.

He asks her to marry him when he doesn’t know anything about her.  Not even her name.  He sees a girl he likes the looks of and decides to make a lifelong commitment.

Now, I’ve heard complaints about this format before from feminists.  They object to the fact that the girl is selected only for her beauty and complain this gives little girls the idea that being beautiful is more important than any other quality they possess.  They say the message is: good things only happen to beautiful people.

I have a complain from the male side of things.  What a horrible message for little boys to choose their partners based only on looks or to imply that physical beauty guarantees compatibility.  Speaking as a woman, I can tell you with authority that beautiful women are not exempt from being nasty, manipulative or vicious. 

I looked back over some of my favourite fairy tales and I have to admit, none of them are good role models for adult relationships.  In Puss in Boots, the young miller’s son becomes a prince based on lies and the cat’s behind-the-scenes violence.  In both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, the prince falls in love with an unconscious woman.  In Cinderella, they do spend some time together but not enough for the prince to recognize her face. 

Of course, these stories aren’t intended as serious role models for relationships.  They’re quest stories, tales of adventure.  The fact that the object of the quest is marriage doesn’t make the story a guide.  Flip it and make the quest about treasure.  Everyone knows there are easier ways to earn money than to descend into the underworld and kill dragons and trolls.  We don’t talk about how these stories set up unrealistic plans for personal finance.  We assume the real world models will balance out fantastic tales.

Banning stories or trying to rewrite them to make them into moral-guidance tales doesn’t work.  The solution to bad free speech isn’t silence, it’s more free speech.  Find examples of good relationships and use them as counter-examples.  It’s a little harder because stories about happy couples who work out their disagreements peacefully don’t tend to be best-sellers.  Personally, I like Beauty and the Beast (the original, not the Disney version) because Beauty is an active character.  She saves the Beast at the end just like he saved her.  I like the original because the Beast always acts with gentlemanly courtesy right from the first scene.  He may look hideous but he’s not a beast on the inside.  East of the Sun, West of the Moon is another good counter-example where the girl saves the hero.

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