Wednesday, May 05, 2010

So, latest random thing that got me thinking? Fairy tales. Don't worry, there's no sappy, fluffy-fuzzy talk about happy endings with a side of glitter here. If anything it's the opposite. I started to think about the types of lessons these "innocent" stories really give to kids. The more I thought about it, the more twisted I thought these stories were. You might as well skip the fairy tales and just read your kids the latest tabloid with Lindsay Lohan on the cover. Every single story I thought of had some sort of inappropriate lesson or terrifying statement about the world we live in. Here are some of the common themes I found (once again, I've turned my random thoughts into a sort of categorized drawn-out essay... making sense of nonsense). Anyways....

1) It's okay to treat badly those who treat you well. Not only is it okay, you will be rewarded for it.
First example here is The Frog Prince. The frog helps out the princess by fetching her fabulous golden ball she simply couldn't live without. What does she do next? She lies to him, breaking her promise to befriend him, and leaves him (quite literally) in the dirt. If that's not enough, when the frog shows up and kindly reminds her of her promise, she repeatedly is rude to him, turns him away and refuses. The story we all know ends with her kissing the frog and wha-zam!, he's a prince. Allow me to share the actual, original ending.... princess throws frog against the wall and when he hits it (wha-zam!) he turns into a prince. In some versions she instead attempts to be-head him or burn his skin. Lovely, right? Pretty gosh darn close to a kiss. All this violence and lies and what's her punishment? A handsome prince and happily ever after! Great lesson there.

That's right, try to kill that frog. The more violent and malicious you are,
the more handsome he'll end up!

Next example, Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack climbs up the beanstalk and runs into giant's wife. She not only warns Jack to steer clear of her husband (rather than attend to her wifely duties of providing her giant-husband dinner), but when Jack stupidly ignores her warnings and asks to be fed she obliges. She feeds the boy a nice meal before sending him on his way. She feeds him on his next visit too. How does Jack repay her for her kindness? By stealing their gold, their hen who shoots out golden eggs, and their magical harp thing. Naturally, Jack ends up rich and happy while the kind giantess and her husband are killed. By Jack none-the-less. Because the only thing to do if someone catches you stealing is kill them. Of course. Jack the protagonist hero is really Jack the thief and murderer.

Jack's mother is praising him for being a good little thief

This leads me to sub point, 1a. It's a sub point because it's not really a cohesive, separate thought and I'm trying to cover for my lack of ingenuity by hiding it within point #1 rather than separating it out on its own. Of course, mentioning my intention like that completely counteracts it. Regardless,

1a) It's fine to steal from or mislead someone if that someone is ugly or you simply don't like them.
Both The Frog Prince and Jack and the Beanstalk work here too. Princess thinks frog is heinous so she treats him like crap. Jack steals from Giant for no reason other than he's big and ugly and has nice things. (He wants to eat him too, but I doubt Jack's purpose in stealing was revenge on the Giant who has yet to even see him... It's an established practice to side-step points that contradict one's argument. If other people can do it, I can too. So from now on, expect me to ignore contradictory points instead of offering a side note in parentheses.)

Another good case-in-point here is The Emperor's New Clothes. These swindler folk demand insane payment and more expensive gold thread than they could ever use (because they use none) for making the King a bunch of nothing. Yet they're the clever ones in the story... the closest thing to the "good guys" that this story has. They steal from the King and make a complete fool out of him. But it's okay because the King is vain and all vain people deserve to be taken advantage of. At the best what they're doing is teaching the King a lesson, but is even that a lesson we want to teach to kids? That it's okay to steal or humiliate someone so long as they deserve it? Probably not. Okay, back to full fledged, important enough to be bold, points.

2) If you take someone's food you could literally die.... or have your baby stolen.
Some people are protective of their food. When I was younger I knew not to take one of my brother's french fries or I'd risk being attacked. And god forbid I get the piece of the cake with the flower on it. If I eat someone else's left-overs in my house I may be ignored for the rest of the week until I decide to go to the same restaurant, order them the same meal and hand it to them as a peace offering. But all of that is nothing compared to what happens in a fairy tale if you take someone's food. Seriously, I'm surprised children ever try to sneak a grape at the grocery store after hearing these stories.

Goldilocks eats some porridge. (She also breaks and enters... and vandalizes a chair. Ignore that part of it.) Goldilocks eats some porridge. Next thing she knows she's facing three bears ready to tear her apart. She's so scared she jumps out the window... we never really learn if she lands safely or not. Allow me to share a direct quote from the original story, simply because it's too humorous to not share. This is legit, I didn't make this up. "Out Goldilocks jumped; and whether she broke her neck in the fall; or ran into the wood and was lost there; or found her way out of the wood, and was taken up by the constable and sent to the House of Correction for a vagrant as she was, I cannot tell." Anyway you look at it, Goldilocks paid for eating that porridge. And there's a good chance it cost her her life.

Goldilocks dead from a bowl of porridge?

Next case in point, Hansel and Gretel. Yes, they were starving, yes it was actually someone's house they were eating (a slightly more criminal offense), and yes, it was the house of an evil witch who put it there to lure them, but still, these two kids were tortured. One was starved, the other over-fed, and both were nearly burned alive and eaten... all for consuming some of this witch's house. No sympathy for the starving?

In Rapunzel the pregnant woman (more commonly referred to as Rapunzel's birth-mother) wants some of her neighbor's radishes. So her husband, loving and doting as he is to his wife's pregnant cravings, goes and gets some for her. Neighbor turns out to be a witch (surprise!), finds out about the radishes and demands that they give her their child once it's born. I don't think this was the main lesson in Rapunzel, but because of this story I was terrified growing up to even look at my neighbor's garden. Don't take someone's food or they will take your baby. Clearly an equal exchange.

3) Do good things for others only if you will get something in return. 
One story here we already touched upon. In The Frog Prince the frog will not simply help out the princess by going for a swim and getting her her gold ball. Before jumping to her assistance (ba dah ching!), he asks her "what will you give me in return?". It's a little bribe action going on here. Sure, I'll help you out... but only if you help me out.... Rumpelstiltskin feels bad for the miller's daughter who can't weave straw into gold. But he won't just use his magic to weave it for her and save her life. No, she'll die unless she gives him something. So she offers some trinkets which appease him for awhile. But, in the end he's not happy unless he gets her (unborn) kid. Won't just save her life and weave some gold to be nice.

Another good one is The Elves and the Shoemaker. The elves help out the shoemaker, doing all of his work and making him hundreds of pairs of luxurious shoes that earn him loads of money, but the minute the shoemaker shows his gratitude by making the elves some clothes so they don't have to run around all naked the elves peace out forever. (Complete side note: this reminds me of Dobby from Harry Potter. You give a house elf some clothes and they're free to go. I'm sure it's related. End side note.) This also seems to say to kids don't acknowledge someone's kindness or else they'll up and leave you. Let others do your work for you and don't so much as say thank you. It will make you rich. But main take-away from these three stories? If you're going to do something for someone, make sure you get something out of it too. Or else don't do it. Simple as that.

4) Beware of family members. They will abandon you during walks in the woods, try to kill you or turn you over to be killed.
Some of these examples are obvious. Evil stepmother anyone? Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White all had them. I think Sleeping Beauty's was actually a mother-in-law. Either way, they all had new female additions to their family who were intimidated by their good looks and therefore hated them and wanted them dead (or in Cinderella's case, it's toned-down considerably by just making her do chores and wear rags rather than attempting murder). It's no wonder kids aren't supposed to like their step-parents. They learn it from these stories. Let's talk blood family here though. You may have thought nothing of these at the time, but you're going to look back now and be shocked that you didn't pick up on the disturbing qualities of the following stories.

Our favorite evil step mothers

Three Billy Goats Gruff. A goat's walking along and is nearly attacked when crossing a bridge. How does he save his life? By offering up his brother's. "Don't eat me. I'm too thin. My brother's coming along. He's fat. Kill him, not me." Now there's a lesson. Let your siblings fend for themselves. Feed them to the enemy and hope they can get out of it. If not, at least you're safe.

The most common theme though in terms of why you should fear your family has nothing to do with stepmothers who want you dead or siblings who will sell you out to save themselves. Instead it gets at the most primal childhood fear. Being abandoned. I'll start out soft with this one... the less offensive abandonments, if you will. Perhaps the one we're most ready to forgive is in Beauty and the Beast. Belle's father runs into the beast who basically tells him "bring me one of your daughters or else I will kill you." Because we know the story, we know the Beast's intention wasn't to kill this said daughter, but the father sure didn't know that. In his mind he would bring the Beast one of his daughters who would be killed in place of him. Yes, the father was a good guy... urged Belle not to go, etc. etc. but he still let her, expecting her to be killed. Some protective parental urges in action there.

Another one we're more likely to forgive is the woman for promising her unborn child to Rumpelstiltskin. At the time she had no idea if she would ever even have a child, and it's easier to give up something you don't have yet. Also, if she didn't agree the king would kill her. And, she tried relentlessly to not give up her child once it was born by trying to think up some ridiculous name. But still, she offered to abandon her kid to a strange little man. There's another example in Rumpelstiltskin, and that's the father who subjects his daughter to have to turn the straw into gold in the first place. He wants to impress the King so he says he has this wonderfully talented, magical daughter. That move right there would have cost him his daughter's life if Rumple Stilt Face hadn't shown up. But no matter. At least the King was impressed by him.

I already glossed over another example earlier. In Rapunzel the parents essentially just hand over their child as payment for taking the witch's radishes. Do they die before letting her go? Do they go searching for her after? Shout out in the woods for her to throw down her hair? Or do they accept that giving up their child is a fair price for some pregnant craving? That's right. Choice d.

The worst case of being abandoned though I think is in Hansel and Gretel. The family is poor and starving. So naturally the only option left is to go for a walk in the woods with the kids and then purposefully lose them. Time to celebrate, now there's only two mouths to feed rather than four! Seriously, between this and Snow White, where she's led into the woods to be killed, I would not trust going for a walk in the woods with anyone. Or at least I wouldn't let them leave to "collect firewood" without tagging them with a GPS first.

Look at us sad little German children left to die in the woods.

5) Love ugly people because odds are, they'll become handsome
Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince, Snow White and Rose Red... in all of these stories the ugly creature is really a prince in disguise, telling us... go ahead, love that unfortunate looking, acne prone boy with the abnormally large nose... not because he has a good heart or is fun to be around, but because he's going to surprise you and be strikingly good looking some day. Shrek and Fiona are seriously the only case where the ugly stay ugly. And that's not even a real fairy tale... it's a hollywood cartoon creation of a fairy tale that makes fun of fairy tales. In real life if you're unattractive, you more or less stay unattractive throughout your life. There are exceptions. But it's rare. Let's not lead children into a false sense of hope. The Ugly Duckling is another good case. Don't let others make fun of you for being ugly... not because you love yourself and have high self-esteem, but because some day you're going to be gorgeous and show them all! Again, a false sense of hope. The message sent here is about as far from "love others for who they are inside" as you can get. It says if you're different, you will be made fun of. And you won't become popular and well-liked until you magically become pretty. And for those who end up seeing past the unattractiveness and love someone for who they are, their reward is that their beast is transformed into a suddenly beautiful person. That's like saying we should reward someone who gives up all possessions and devotes their life to charity by giving them millions of dollars. Or maybe it's nothing like that. I don't know. I'm confusing myself. This blog is too long.

Keep thinking that's what you look like because some day it will come true! Everyone will stop hating you because you're no longer ugly! Hooray!

Literally every single story I thought of had some sort of negative lesson or theme. According to The Three Little Pigs the only way to deal with someone trying to break into your house is to kill them. The Princess and the Pea tells us to be high maintenance and rude and you'll be rewarded. (Seriously, your provided accommodations is a set of 40 luxurious mattresses and you're going to tell your host you had a bad night's sleep? Apparently her rudeness worked cause she got the prince!) Even Little Red Riding Hood which has a pretty clear cut, valid lesson (don't tell strangers where you or your relatives live if you don't want to die) has a subliminal, deeper sort of disturbing message. Steer clear of the road less traveled; conform to society and stick to "the right" path or else you'll get what's coming to you. A little dark, yes. But perhaps valid.

In summary, avoid telling fairy tales to children. They're chock full of bad lessons and are bound to lead to criminal behavior and irrational fears. I'd stick to more wholesome forms of entertainment. You know... sex toy parties, uncensored episodes of cops, strip club outings, listening to the latest Britney Spears song.... stuff like that.