Monday, May 11, 2009

Fairy Tales, Fairness, and Modern Sensibilities

Since Vinny is a boy, we've been (luckily) mostly isolated from the whole fairy tale business. Nobody buys him pretty princess outfits or anything, since he has the "wrong" private parts for all that.

But he has received a few of the less princessed Disney fairy tale DVDs, such as Pinocchio and Peter Pan. It's quite a relief now, watching these from an adult perspective, that I finally have the words to express what felt so wrong about them years ago.

Pinocchio, in the eponymous movie, is simply a very naive and trusting lad. And why wouldn't he be? He has no experience in the world. But the consequences for his naive, unwise choices are inappropriately steep: if he doesn't "behave," he won't become a real boy.

Yet he has no idea how to behave! He doesn't understand anything about how the world works -- in the fraction of a day between the moment he came into being and the moment he set off for school, he had no chance to acquire even the limited wisdom of a young schoolboy!

It strikes me as an incredibly unfair burden on this naive little child -- why does Gepetto not walk him to school, at least on the first day? How is Pinocchio, who has only just learned of the existence of school (not to mention the theater!), supposed to understand the importance of school? How is he supposed to know that the men who lure him into the theater are not trustworthy?

Pinocchio's future depends entirely on him making good choices, but he has no ability to discern good and bad choices. It's a frightening spot to find yourself in. Perhaps this incenses me so because as a child I faced a similar nightmare situation when age-inappropriate behavior was expected of me (e.g., being "thoughtful" at the age of 4 -- the age at which I was firmly in the middle of the preoperational period of cognitive development and essentially incapable of seeing any viewpoint different from my own).

I don't want my son growing up with that kind of burden on his mind, so I don't think Pinocchio is going to be a staple in his viewing schedule.

Peter Pan won't either. I didn't watch that one myself, but Jeff did, and he found it sexist and racist. I guess some of the "oldies but goodies" aren't so great from a modern perspective.


Anonymous said...

You're right, the Disney versions are so foul, esp. Peter Pan, with that bitchy Tinkerbell and the depictions of native Americans that make your stomach turn. But the book is soooo good. Kids need fairy tales-- just because a story has a princess in it doesn't necc. mean it's bad news! Boys as much as girls...

Rebecca said...

I agree with you, Anonymous, that kids need stories. I cringe at the inequalities inherent in royalty, however, so even if a princess has better traits than just being ethereally beautiful, I'm still not real happy about her. And the patriarchal narrative that most of these stories reinforce makes me shudder. There are better fantasy stories with more positive messages than the classic fairy tales that I'd prefer to see children latch on to.