The 21st Century: A Century of Transformational Tales, S Beauty, S White

Tags: Snow White, fairy tales, Zipes, Grimms' Fairy Tales, patriarchal society, Kristin DeSutter, Professor Jenkins, University of Illinois, Walt Disney, Jack Zipes, Hansel and Gretel, Germany, sex and violence, Matthew Kelly, Wilhelm Grimm, Disney Spell, Culture Industry, Fairy Tale, Kristin DeSutter Zipes, University Press of Kentucky, the 21st century, Sleeping Beauty, child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, German society, Prince Charming, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney Studios, American children, Bettelheim, The Princess and the Frog, Walt Disney Studios, Grimms, power structures, literary scholars, abuse statistics, dominant American values, Robert Jenkins
Content: GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter The 21st Century: A Century of Transformational Tales When I had the opportunity to listen to world-renounced Matthew Kelly in Foellinger Auditorium at the University of Illinois on October 17, 2011, the motivational speaker pointed out, "Tell me the last ten books you've read, and I can tell you what type of person you are." His statement most definitely contains a ring of truth. This is the very reason why the themes of sex and violence in Grimms' fairy tales are so critical. In their collection of stories, women are often submissive, passive, and obedient to at least one male authority. But out of the thirty-one tales analyzed in GER 250 this semester, men are never presented in such a subservient position. As a result, it is essential to examine the relational power structures from the original Grimms' tales to their influence in society today. After all, it is only when individuals look into the past does it becomes possible to equalize socio-cultural relationships today in the 21st century. By examining the relational power structures within Grimms' Fairy Tales, a collection of stories that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published in 1812, the cultural norms and values of Germany from nearly 200 years ago can be uncovered. Like many other nations in the 1800s, Germany was also a patriarchal society. Some travelling European husbands even forced their wives to wear chastity belts, ensuring their spouse did not have an affair with another man in their absence (Jenkins, November 2, 2011). Another reason women may have been depicted as overly submissive in stories such as Bluebeard, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White is because mostly men received an education: few women actually knew how to read or write. For centuries, a woman's role within German society could be defined by three words: 1) Kinder ­ children; 2) Kirche ­

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter church; 3) Kuche ­ kitchen (About.com). It is important to note that the value of women's education was not even mentioned in this time period. Perhaps this is the reason why many of the Grimms' stories contain a wicked stepmother and absent father. Yet not the only men published works containing sex, violence, and hegemonic relational power structures in Germany during the 19th century. According to Robert Jenkins, Professor of Grimms' Fairy Tales at the University of Illinois, there were several women who wrote fairy tales under the disguise of a male pseudonym in the 1800s. But Professor Jenkins also noted that these stories still appealed to the male patriarchal structure of German society at the time, and therefore tended to depict women as passive and subservient (Jenkins, November 28, 2011). Although the root cause of women painting themselves in such a negative light is a cause that will most likely never be discovered, there are several potential explanations for their unfavorable self-portrayal: 1) 19th century women were so ingrained into their cultural norms of German society that they did not even question the hegemonic patriarchal society of the time; 2) Women were afraid their real identity would be revealed if they transformed their traditionally subservient role in an equal and therefore conventional angle; or, 3) Women feared progressive writings would not be accepted if they presented themselves with the same thoughts, opportunities, and relational rights as men. Despite the fact that this is a question that can never be answered and will never be entirely understood, it is nonetheless a most valuable question to consider. But perhaps some of these progressive women did do their best to write their way to equality. Although male figures in tales such as Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Cinderella are portrayed as weak or unavailable, literary scholar Sheldon Cashdan

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter remarked, "This does not mean the fathers are unfeeling; it is just that fairy tales are maternal documents and so place greater emphasis on the relationship between the mother and child, particularly as it relates to the development of the self," (Cashdan, 94). This explanation is perfectly portrayed in the Grimms' original version and Disney adaptation of Cinderella. Because the stepmother is the central antagonist in Cinderella, there is less emphasis on the father. Cashdan emphasizes Cinderella's father ­ the one person who might shelter her from harm ­ is blind to her situation or simply self-absorbed by hunting, business, or engaged in other pursuits (Cashdan, 94). Like the Grimms' version of Cinderella, the father in Snow White is barely mentioned, with the exception of the line, "When a year had passed [marking the time since Snow White's mother died in childbirth], the king married another woman, who was beautiful but proud and haughty, and she could not tolerate anyone else who might rival her beauty," (CFT, 181). From the Grimms' Fairy Tales analyzed in GER 250, the patriarchal order is most arguably challenged in Hansel and Gretel because the father lets his wife abandon their children twice. In response to his wife's suggestion, the husband replies, "No, wife. I won't do this. I don't have the heart to leave my children in the forest. The wild beasts would soon come and tear them apart," (CFT, 53). But the wife continues to harp until her husband finally caves, agreeing to abandon their two children. Although the children do make their way back home because of Hansel's pebble trail, it is not long before the country is ravaged by a second famine. Again, the father is "saddened" at the thought of abandoning Hansel and Gretel, but his wife "scolded and reproached him" until he surrendered to her demands once more (CFT, 55). As the

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter narrator pointed out, "Once you've given a hand, people will take your arm, and since he had given in the first time, he also had to yield a second time," (CFT, 55). These few excerpts are by far the most passive a man is ever depicted out of all thirty-one Grimms' Fairy Tales read in class. Perhaps a woman did write these parts of the tale after all. However, the ending of Hansel and Gretel is another story altogether. According to literary scholar Jack Zipes, Wilhelm Grimm took great pains in 1857 to demonstrate why the children were abandoned and why the father should be the one parental figure exculpated in the finale. Although Wilhelm ensured the aberrant actions were rationalized, the explanation of the father's deed is conducted in a way that reinforces a patriarchal order on two levels. First, children may read the text believing their father to be more caring than their mother. Secondly, Young Readers may be misled to trust God the Father will always restore order in their lives (Zipes, Breaking... 50 ­ 51). Both cases lead to another problem: the domestication of the imagination. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Rьdiger Steinlein noted the proliferation of this literary abuse. By his concept, "the domestication of the imagination," Steinlein illustrated how the narrative strategy of stories, especially fairy tales, had become ordered in such a way that children could become reconciled to the hierarchical structures in their daily lives. As a result, children may accept the imbalanced social arrangements of men and women as authoritative and just, explicitly in the middle class, the social class that most often reads such tales (Zipes, Breaking... 51). Likewise, Professor Jenkins also pointed out that stories such as Bluebeard, The Bloody Chamber, Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty would be greatly problematic if readers strictly identified with fairy tale heroes and heroines. Although

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim articulated that internal processes are externalized and become comprehensible by the figures in the fairy tale (Bettelheim, 25), there is also the possibility that children can take these stories a step too far. If children do literally portray themselves as the dominant male and female characters in Bluebeard, The Bloody Chamber, Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, there would be serious destruction: murder, sadomasochism, hegemony, great jealousy, focus on outer beauty rather than inner beauty, belief in magic, hope for infinite luck, and complete faith in the resolution of personal struggles ending in marriage to a handsome prince or beautiful princess. The problem with a child's reliance in a happy ending is that the children may not personally work to resolve their own situation, but rather wait on a charming significant other to save them from their sufferings. In Someday My Prince Will Come, Marcia Lieberman suggests that the child who dreams of being a Cinderella dreams not only of being chosen and elevated by a prince, but also of being a glamorous sufferer or victim (Zipes, Don't Bet...194). If Lieberman is correct in arguing that children wish to become elevated through suffering, then strictly identifying with fairy tale heroes and heroines could be very detrimental to a child's physical, emotional, and psychological health. Jack Zipes takes this danger of literal self-portrayal a step further into the Walt Disney Studio spotlight. As the philosopher points out, one of the reiterating themes in Disney animation is that sequential frames follow the same prescribed plot: a daring prince must rescue a disenfranchised or oppressed heroine. Heterosexual happiness and marriage are always the ultimate goals of the tale. A more significant challenge lies in the fact that no character development occurs. Characters are portrayed as a recognizable

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter type that remain unchanged throughout the film. In this dichotomous world, "good cannot become evil, nor can evil become good," (Zipes, Happily Ever After... 93). This strict identification could be quite devastating in two ways: 1) "Good" children may believe they are innocent no matter how much destruction they do; or, 2) "Bad" children may misbelieve they cannot overcome their previous mistakes and change their destructive behavior. Professor Jenkins also questions the impact of authority and obedience, domination and submission, and sadism and masochism in Grimms' Fairy Tales in relation to society. By examining abuse statistics among children, women, and men, the answer quickly becomes obvious. In 2009, approximately six million American children were abused (Childhelp), three women were murdered by their boyfriend or husband each day (domestic violence Statistics), and a 2010 report revealed that 40 percent of men in Great Britain are victims of domestic violence (The Guardian). Naturally, these statistics reveal how much worse society would be affected if Grimms' Fairy Tales were interpreted in a literal sense: the rates of abuse would only climb much higher not only in American, but also around the world. But not all literary scholars believe the often frowned upon themes of sex and violence is bad for young readers. Rather, Bettelheim believes children of today are far more "grievously bereaved" because they only meet fairy tales in prettified versions. He feels the simplified TV and film versions subdue the tales' original meaning, therefore robbing them of their deeper significance, becoming empty-minded entertainment (Bettelheim, 24). Bettelheim is not alone in questioning the prevalent adaptations of

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter modern-day fairy tales. According to Zipes, Walt Disney re-tells the Grimms' stories himself in order to enforce his own ideology, an ideology that is much too prettified. In his version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, individualism and male prowess are two dominant American values emphasized throughout the film (Zipes, Happily Ever After... 90). Although Prince Charming sings to Snow White at the beginning of Disney's film rather than play a seamlessly negligible role in the opening of the Grimms' original version, it is not long before Snow White offers to wash, clean, and mend for the seven dwarves in exchange for her room and board ­ a scene that does not appear in the original version. While certain scholars such as Zipes do characterize this scene as a hegemonic one, it is quite important to remember Snow White was first produced in 1937, more than seventy years ago (Zipes, Happily Ever After... 90). Because power relationships and stereotypes have greatly evolved since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first released, it is more important focus on the present. In 2009, Walt Disney Animation Studios produced The Princess and the Frog, a movie inspired by the Grimms' tale, The Frog Prince. In Christmas 2010, Disney Studios debuted Tangled, a spin-off from the Grimms' tale Rapunzel. Although The Princess and the Frog takes place in New Orleans during the Roaring Twenties and Tangled takes place in a faraway land during an undefined time, both characters truly are heroines: one overcomes many hardships to follow her dream of running her own seafood restaurant while the other escapes from her tower to discover exactly what "the glowing lights" really are (Disney). One way to examine the relational power structures in the two hit movies is by exploring the music produced by Walt Disney Studios.

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter In The Princess and the Frog, two theme songs especially promote the equality of men and women. One such example is Tiana's popular song, `Almost There.' In this reverie, Tiana sings about her passion for culinary arts, and how she has finally saved enough money from her two jobs to open her own restaurant. While her mother wants her 19-year-old daughter to find her happiness in a man, Tiana remains persistent in following her restaurant dream ­ saying she doesn't have time for dancing and men ­ that will have to wait awhile. Another lyric that jumps out is when Tiana sings, "People down here think I'm crazy, but I don't care. So look out boys, I'm coming through..." while pushing her way through two lines of butlers. Even though The Princess and the Frog is set in New Orleans during 1926, the idea of Tiana opening her own restaurant is much more progressive than the actual era of 1920s, as women had just earned their right to vote for the first time in 1920. In this light, Walt Disney Studios encourages girls and women to follow dreams such as opening a business, signifying that they are behind the times if they are not pursuing their own passions. The Princess and the Frog has a sharp turnaround: while the traditional Grimms' Fairy Tales and even classical Disney movies have princesses such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella depending on their prince for self-improvement and happiness, it is Tiana who turns Prince Naveen's life around, who is disinherited African royalty. Characterized as a smart, hard-working, and independent woman, Tiana teaches the penniless and unskilled Prince Naveen that the true meaning of life does not rest in money, but rather in the giving of oneself, laughter, and friendship. Prince Naveen's gratitude toward Tiana is best captured in his song, `Best Thing I Never Knew I Needed,'

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter recognizing her for the way she changed his plans and proclaiming he never wanted to live his life without her. Walt Disney Studios also produced more songs promoting the equality of women in its 2010 hit movie, Tangled. In the princess and soon-to-be prince's duo, `I See the Light,' Flynn Rider proclaims that everything looks different now that he sees Rapunzel ­ he had been chasing down a daydream, living in a blur, never really seeing things the way they actually were ­ but since she is so warm and real and bright, it is crystal clear that he is meant to spend his life with her, her being the one who has lifted the fog in his life. Again, it is a woman who has turned a man's life around, a complete switch from the classic fairy tales. Before meeting the princess, Flynn Rider had been a notorious thief, living out his orphaned dreams of being a "good" hero such as Robin Hood. Not only does Rapunzel transform Flynn Rider's inner value system into a virtuous one, but she also literally saves his life as well. Being a former thief, palace guards naturally chase Flynn Rider, but Rapunzel uses a combination of her handy frying pan skills, clever wits, and charming character to outrun and outsmart their hunting party. Although Mother Gothel fatally wounds Flynn Rider, Rapunzel is able to save her love through her magical tears, and the two are happily married several years ­ not a day ­ later. Most importantly, Walt Disney Studios characterizes Tiana and Rapunzel as independent women who follow their heart and their passions, whether it is opening a restaurant or discovering what the mysterious floating lights actually are. Zipes' earlier claim of individualism and male prowess being the two central Disney themes is now only half correct. Individualism is most certainly emphasized, but individualism is an important skill all men, women, and children should develop. Meanwhile, the focus on

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter male prowess is no longer valid. If anything, it is Princess Tiana and Princess Rapunzel who enable the men in their lives to reach self-actualization, shaping them into becoming more caring and virtuous characters. The reason movies such as The Princess and the Frog and Tangled are so valuable to society is because they proliferate the message of equality for men and women. Although Walt Disney Studios has certainly received much criticism as well as praise throughout the years, it is critical to recognize the prominent entertainment company is now generating a beacon of hope for relational power structures across the globe, a tradition that will surely endure for many years to come.

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter Works Cited Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: Life Divined from the Inside. New York: Knopf, 1976. Pages 24 ­ 25. Cashdan, Sheldon. The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales. New York: Basic Books, 1999. Pages 85 ­ 86, 92 ­ 105. "Domestic Violence Statistics." Domestic Violence Statistics, 2011. http://domesticviolencestatistics.org/ Visited November 7, 2011. "Germany ­ status of women." About.com, 2011. http://womenshistory.about.com/ library/ency/blwh_germany_women.htm Visited November 6, 2011. Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Trans. Jack Zipes. New York: Bantam Books, 2003. Jenkins, Robert. "Gender-Focused Interpretations of Fairy Tales." Roger Adams Laboratory, University of Illinois. November 2, 2011; November 28, 2011. "More than 40% of domestic violence victims are male, report reveals." The Guardian, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/sep/05/men-victims-domesticviolence Visited November 7, 2011. "Movies: New and Classic Disney Films." Disney, 2011. http://disney.go.com/movies/index Visited November 9, 2011. "National Child Abuse Statistics." Childhelp, 2011. http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics Visited November 7, 2011. Zipes, Jack. Don't Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England. New York: Routledge, 1986.

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GER 250: Essay 3 Kristin DeSutter Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tale as Myth: Breaking the Disney Spell. University Press of Kentucky, 1994. Zipes, Jack. Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the Culture Industry. New York: Routledge, 1997.

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S Beauty, S White

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