Saturday, November 27, 2010
Fairy Tales And Reality
I took my 3 year-old princess to see Tangled, Disney's latest movie about Rapunzel, a princess who goes through some adventures and then lives happily ever after with a dashing young man. There's nothing like laughing with your kid in theater with other kids and their parents, and it was fun to watch her cover her eyes when things got all mushy (they're kissing!). She enjoys imagining she's a princess and I think it's pretty harmless, no less unrealistic than my boys' worship of superheroes.
But the thing is, there's some truth to these fairy tales. Elderly spinsters would probably be missing most of their teeth giving them a pronounced jaw, be very thin, have advanced scoliosis, and the cartilage in her nose grows monotonically throughout life, leaving an old woman circa 1600 looking very much like your average caricature of a witch. There were many step-mothers, because the odds your mom would die having another child were pretty high, and they probably favored their own children over the step children.
Most important to Prince Charming stories, on occasion royalty would add to their gene pool by pulling in a beautiful commoner. A recent example is King Leopold II of Belgium--the guy who created The Congo and sold it to his own country in 1908--who at age 65 fell in love with 16 year-old prostitute Carolyn LaCroix. He had two sons with her. When he died he left her a fortune and the boys were given honorary titles. Even when royalty isn't involved, you have cases like Playboy Playmate and stripper Anna Nicole Smith, who at 26 married Smith met 86 year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall, who lived for a little more than a year and then left her a fortune.
So, except the part about the prince being young and dashing, and leaving out the fact that the best way to meet such men is by being a hooker or a stripper, it can happen.
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"The Uses of Enchantment" is a good read, though a little too Freudian in places:
“Bettelheim argues convincingly that fairy tales provide a unique way for children to come to terms with the dilemmas of their inner lives.”
Watching movies with my kids is great, I don't get people who don't have TVs. Last weekend I turned on Mighty Ducks with my 5-year old boy and left the room. Boy kept wandering in asking me to watch. (Adult Goofus: hell no, I'm doing something more interesting. Adult Gallant: go, the boy looks nervous and wants your company.)
I did watch the movie and watched him, too. Hollywood's fake drama is highly effective. My boy laughed, got nervous, pulled for & against characters, and was tortured/angry when the Evil Dudes looked to triumph, so the standard ending delivered serious elation.
The dramatic intrigue propels lessons deep into my boy's conciousness that otherwise bounced when delivered by lecture (especially after heated fights with siblings). The boy recognized the good guys, their foibles & their essential "good" behavior, how they achieved the right result by glory. Each realization offers an emotionally tangible stepping stone to an abstract, culturally shared sense of justice.
Of course, bad movies screw up the pedagogical progress. The older princess movies imply to my daughters that a Prince Charming will come save their day and manage their prospects. Creepy and unsuitable.
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