Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Taco for Snow White

A Taco for Snow White

A Taco for Snow White (1999)

Oh, the counting-sheep sleep balm of fairy tales. A sure tonic to have little ones peacefully drifting off to sugarplum land? Or else boarding the nightmare commuter lane to hell? Yo, Morpheus. What's up?

From Fairy Tales and After by Roger Sale seen on the Snow White Criticism Page:

Let's start with the mirror, mirror on the wall, because that shows at every point that this is a story about the desire to be the fairest of them all. The term "narcissism" seems altogether too slippery to be the only one we want here. There is, for instance, no suggestion that the queen's absorption in her beauty ever gives her pleasure, or that the desire for power through sexual attractiveness is itself a sexual feeling. What is stressed is the anger and fear that attend the queen's realization that as she and Snow White both get older, she must lose. This is why the major feeling involved is not jealousy but envy: to make beauty that important is to reduce the world to one in which only two people count.


The queen's desire to eat Snow White's lungs and liver implies only her desire to include Snow White's beauty and power within herself, and whatever sexual feeling is involved in that is included in the original passion to be fairest.

Then we come to the three temptations, where Snow White is at last able to chose. . .Whatever we might say the stepmother wants, it is clear that what Snow White wants is to be laced, to have her hair combed, and finally to eat the poisoned apple. Her attention is directed toward what will make her beautiful, what will make her sexual even...

Um, wait. Eat her lungs and liver? What is this? The Silence of the Dwarves? But, of course, it is -- as writers like Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment have shown, the Brothers Grimm are grim indeed. Cinderella's stepsisters go beyond cutting behaviors straight to extreme self-mutilation as they sever heels and toes ever desperate to jam their bleeding stumps into the glass slipper. Later, the wicked stepmother has her eyes furiously pecked out by beyond-Poe crows. Good night. Sleep tight.

How'd we get to this state? Mary Sharratt, in "Through a Dark Forest," observes:

The original fairy tales were not romantic children's stories. Only very recently with Walt Disney have these raw and very ominous stories been reduced to little more than cute cartoons. Until the 17th century, fairy tales were adult entertainment, the way of passing a dark winter's evening. Many older fairy tales are quite bawdy. Allocation of fairy tales to the nursery took place in the 18th century when the educated upper classes rejected the irrational and supernatural aspects of the tales in favor of a more rational and scientific world view, thus dismissing these tales as nonsense and only good for amusing young children.

Ah, blame it on Disney cuteness outsourcing. And some of the cute challenged are quite pissed at the cultural whitewash -- like Kay Stone in "Things Walt Disney Never Told Us":

Walt Disney is responsible not only for amplifying the stereotype of good versus bad women suggested by the children's books based on the Grimms, he must also be criticized for his portrayal of a cloying fantasy world filled with cute little beings existing among pretty flowers and singing animals.

Yeah -- even if Bambi's Mom does get whacked in the most cloying Precious Moments glade.

Fortunately, some cultures are able to resist the long animated arm of Disney:

Hi Ho.  Hi Ho.  It's off to the socialist state we go...

Don't these Japanese dwarves look more likely to be reading Chairman Mao rather than whistling while they work?

[Play poster seen at Nagoya University]

I remember well, years ago now, the night my daughter first asked me to tell her a bedtime story. The incident went something like this:

"Okay, honey. Here's one. Once upon a time, there was a brother and a sister named Hansel and Gretel who had a slight problem. Their parents didn't want them. So, their father blindfolded them, dumped them in the woods, and left. Now, the woods -- just so we're clear -- do not symbolically represent the mall or the toy store but always always always mean death. Got it? Okay, so Hansel and Gretel were wandering in the super creepy woods, sad at being abandoned and fearful of being lost -- but, thinking ahead, they carefully laid out a trail of bread crumbs to be able to retrace their steps. But a bunch of birds came along and ate all the crumbs. Bwa ha ha ha. Before long, the two children came to a clearing and saw a house -- and what do you think it was made out of? No, not straw. Not high-density aluminum siding. CANDY!!! Oh no, they're not going there, right? And in the front yard were like-sized gingerbread cookies -- which were once real children but whose heads and limbs are now crumbling and melting in the sun. Bwa ha ha ha. So, Hansel and Gretel approach the door of the House Made of Snickers and knock. And who do you think lives there? Mother Teresa? Nooo, it's a cannibalistic witch who scoops up the children, claps Hansel in irons in a hanging birdcage, and preps him for Hamburger Helper. But, with luck and against the tone of the story, before the witch can set the stove to broil, Gretel head butts the crone into her own oven. And quicker than you can say microwavable, the witch becomes a briquette. Gretel frees herself, brushes the seasoning salt off Hansel, and the children run back outside. And guess who's standing in the gingerbread crumbs? Smoky the Bear? Nooo, it's Dad, who slaps his head and says What was I thinkin'? And he sweeps the children up in his Paul Bunyan arms, and they cruise in a Hummer through the drive-thru for some Happy Meals, and they all lived happily ever after. Good night, honey. Sleep tight."

And my daughter, her eyes big as twin moons, screams, "Never leave me...."


Tim said...

Hansel and Gretel is definitely one of the worst. What's amazing is that children don't appear to be overly disturbed by it. That's odd because, as you mentioned, it's really a very horrifying story, especially for children.

Me and the kids read a real brutal one about the "Hubiyahs" who come at night to kill a poor girl's grandfather and grandmother and carry her off. Each night the dog scares them away by barking which also wakes up grandpa. His response is to cut off one of the dog's limbs. After several nights of this there's nothing left of the dog but a headless torso. The hubiyahs tear down the house, kill the grandparents and carry off the little girl. Fortunately a hunter finds the girl in a bag in the hubiyah's hollow tree and rescues her. My kids retold the story several times to each other. Isn't that wierd?

Anonymous said...

The Executrix and Her Mother

The executrix has all the animals
safe in their cages: horses
in their stalls, cats in their pens,
and mother in her big, rambling house.

If only the executrix could have
everything in its proper place,
she could then get her work done on time
without any additional hassles
or the guilt that only a mother can inflict.

The executrix would like her mother
boxed in two or three rooms,
with attendant nurses, guaranteed meals,
and a social community of other mothers
to keep her mother occupied
in the long wait toward death.

But unless her mother qualifies
for admission to the final resting home,
who will take her shopping,
make sure she eats balanced meals,
or supervise her driving so she doesn't hit
any pedestrians or careen up on the sidewalk?

Dr. Mike

cruelanimal said...

Tim: Yeah, the "Hubiyahs" story is really gruesome. The kids obviously like telling and hearing it, though. The dog reminds me of the flesh wound knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Good thing hunters consistently roam the fairy tale woods.

DrMike: I continue to enjoy these.

Eleny said...

Ooooh, I love this post!

Don't stop - tell me another story!

thelily said...

The Red Shoes. My fortuneteller grandmother used to read to me about the little girl who fools her blind grandma, then gets the red shoes instead of the staid black ones. And she dances and she dances until, in agony, the little girl begs the woodcutter to chop off her feet. And he does. The End.

I loved that story. My grandmother bought me red patent-leather shoes and told me to dance whenever I felt like it. And I do. The End.


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