jasonsteinfairytales

Finito with the Fairies

May 5, 2012
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After reading all of my blog posts in reverse order, I realized that (1) I must have been on some kind of drug when writing half of them and (2) I have finally figured out how to apply my skills to subjects and thematic material with which I am completely unfamiliar. I really was clueless about fairytales at the beginning of this course, but now I am able to digest all of these little stories by picking out the overarching themes that appear throughout most fairytales (since I am now aware of a growing canon of stories) and then spending the rest of the time playing devil’s advocate to every analysis I read or hear about regarding the stories. I find that the first few readings threw me off track because I was not able to figure out my comfort zone of reading and analyzing text: was I too formal, not imaginative enough, looking for the wrong themes, pretending to see something that is not there, etc? But after a while everything just clicked, and I was able to go off on the wildest tangents of thought because I related the stories to subjects with which I am more familiar, like psychology {Jung/Freud, the mind and collective unconscious), and then by playing devil’s advocate I was able to see the entire spectrum of analysis. Thus, I found ways to challenge myself in the readings as well as adapt to the new material by finding ways to analyze the text using more familiar methods. 

Unlike some individuals in the class, I always read the works and took little notes in the margins. And it was this meticulousness that really gave me the upper edge in being able to discuss the topics brought up in class. Writing something down every few sentences allowed me to more or less memorize the plot sequences occurring in the stories, allowing me to then have a base for analysis when called on. 

And I keep having to remind myself that three months ago fairytales, to me at least, were some bogus child-rearing articles that derailed children’s normal intellectual gains. And now I cannot help but think the opposite, having seen myself, in a time between childhood and adulthood, grow from these tales. Not that I need more moral support or anything like that, but these tales really do mean something to everybody, and it is that individuality to fairytales that makes me believe in them and in myself, having taken this course. Obviously a great decision. Thank you.


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Boy Have I Got a ‘Laberinto’ For You…

April 26, 2012
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Dr. Deveny’s lecture on “Pan’s Labyrinth” brought a new, modern historical perspective to fairytales we had never seen before. Taking place during the Spanish Civil War from 1936-9, the film injects fantasy into the volatile environment surrounding little Ofelia, stepdaughter of a Fascist military captain. Weaving the fantasy into reality, director Guillermo del Toro parallels the fight between socialism and fascism during Franco’s reign with the fight between Ofelia/Mercedes and Captain Vidal. And he inputs almost all of Propp’s 31 Functions of folk tales into the story.

Ofelia is the victim, having been taken away from her city home to live in the woods; being persecuted by the captain for sickening his pregnant wife, Carmen (with the mandrake root); and being told she can never venture through the labyrinth in the backyard or else she will get lost. Of course she does not obey that last interdiction, and her finding of the faun (an ambiguous creature who, in representing half man and half animal, we do not know if he is a helpful guide or a hindrance) is what starts her three-part journey. She must complete three tasks in order to return, before the full moon occurs, to another world where she is actually a princess. The crescent birthmark on her left shoulder proves so; she must then prove to the faun that she is the actual princess and worthy of being a princess by completing said tasks. She receives all sorts of magical items (fairies, chalk, a healing mandrake root, enchanted stones) and must test her bravery in using them to gather all sorts of items and evade death. In the end she is able to complete the third task after what seems like disobeying the faun, and after the captain kills her, she goes to her other world and indeed becomes a princess.

What Dr. Deveny forgot to mention in his grandiose speech picking apart every goddamn symbol in the movie was the big picture and its subtleties. del Toro relates Ofelia’s journey to the political situation abound because the poor girl uses these little fantasies to cope with the psychological trauma of both living in a new home with a new, abusive father and living in time of war. They are both a distraction and a self-proof that she is brave and worth the trials through which she puts herself. Her mother is sick and pregnant and unfortunately has no clue that her only daughter is clawing for her attention and needs her support. Having always been a reader as a child, Ofelia uses the fairytales she knows to invent new ones to explain the natural phenomena around her, just like fairytales do for many cultures. For example, Ofelia must be scared of the woods knowing that there are people in them and the captain is constantly hunting through them for infidels. Thus, she puts herself through a treacherous journey in the forest so she can face her fears; she uses the large, overbearing frog that eventually dies at her hand to provide an allegory to her fear of the unknown. Furthermore, she creates her own fairytale of sorts when she uses the chalk to draw a door into another realm in the house where the pale man lies. She uses this task to prove to herself that she can abstain from delicious foods during a time of famine, and she ultimately fails. But of course she does not die; this is just a fantasy of hers. Then, when she escapes and closes the door, we hear bumping noises coming from the place where the door used to be, implying that she is using this fairytales to explain why this new, wooded house creaks at night. She is using the pale man as a coping mechanism for her fears of what goes bump in the night as well as digressing from her famine and the famine that is plaguing the citizens around her. I could keep going but you understand my point; del Toro uses her journey to prove the lengths a little girl will go to to distract herself from the emotional and psychological torture of war and political instability as well as familial uprooting. And when she dies, she dies; her return to the fantasy world we see actually occurs befoer she completely dies, when she is satisfied that she sacrificed her life for the baby’s. She smiles when she comes to terms with her existsence–thenshe dies. Unfortunately, there is no happy ending where she goes to heaven; rather, she has just compelted her life’s journey, even if that life is tragically short.


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“There’s Too Many of ‘Em”: Dr. Shabbir Mian’s ‘Folktales from Bangladesh’

April 21, 2012
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Having read “Blue Lotus and Red Lotus” previous to listening to Dr. Mian’s presentation, I predicted that we would be discussing the similarities between Bengali fairytales and traditional European fairytales. For example, the story shares many archetypes on common with Grimm tales: burying the gold and iron balls underneath the bamboo tree is analogous to a sister burying her brother’s bones beneath a juniper tree in the Grimm’s Juniper Tree. Both situations use the tree as a source of rebirth, because the two young boys pop out of eggs within the stalks as two princes, as the boy becomes reborn as a phoenix. Both stories then cary on the plot so that the reborn individuals can address their initial cause of death: the evil mother figure. The lotuses kill the Rakkhashi, and the phoenix drops a stone on his stepmother. This plot twist also intimates another obvious archetype beign shared: the evil stepmother. These shared themes make me believe more in poly-genesis, where stories contain similar themes because they share the same underlying morals or lessons common to the collective unconscious of all humanity.

However, we did not really go over any of this in extravagant detail; instead, I learned about his unique concept of fairytales and how differently Bengali fairytales are formulated than traditional European fairytales. For example, many Bengali fairytales come from the Sanksrit “Panchatantra” collection of fables from ~550 AD. And these fairytales, collectively called Rupkothas, do not ever really contain “fairies.” A more tangible difference is that the common theme of Bengali fairytales is that virtue is rewarded and evil is punished; that is, an individual who starts out evil in a story will succumb to the good that other characters represent, and there is no redemption or lesson-learning from within the tales. Rather, that is up for the readers, or more appropriately listeners, to discern for themselves. There are similarities, as well, between the different cultures of fairytales. For example, Rupkothas have a large emphasis on talking animals, and that theme is also abundant in European fairytales. There are demons and monsters and witches, characters we always see in Grimm tales and the like.

So, I suppose that by understanding that these fairytales are unique in that they do have a Bengali cultural base and come specifically from old Sanskrit texts rather than being ripped from verbal tales during trade (as was the case in many European fairytales), that they can also be similar since, overall, people must share a collective unconscious (or common sense, if you will).

Look at that! Brown people!


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They’ve gone wild–the girls have gone Wilde!

April 16, 2012
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In true Mean Girls sense (anybody catch the titular quote?), Oscar Wilde lived a life “as artificial as possible.” Nevertheless, he sought a deeper understanding of human motive in capturing sorrow through fairytales. His intended audience, unlike the common Grimm tale or even Andersen’s tales upon which he based many of his works, is “childlike people from eighteen to eighty.” Almost all of his fairytales characterize magical individuals, but they never end happily ever after. In fact, they almost always die, or were never alive.

The Selfish Giant, for example, poses a mean ogre-like character who prevents children from playing in his garden and causes a chilly winter around the garden. Wilde animates the seasons to illustrate the giant’s emotional state, loneliness; it is no surprise, then, that when the ogre finally finds the little boy he was looking for (the one who snuck into his garden during the first winter period and made it spring again), the overshadowing winter pales in comparison to the white blossoms of the tree in the corner of the garden. The ogre asks who could have put nails in the no-coincidence Jesus-like boy, and the boy responds that it was out of Love and tells the ogre he will take him to Paradise. The ogre then dies, lying peacefully under the tree.

He dies–not the best message to give to young children, who may see that the only way to be happy is to die. But the ogre dies having found a reason to live–to entertain and facilitate the children’s play. It is this complex emotional paradox of figuring out one’s personal reason for existence and then being happy to die once it is found out that surrounds most of Oscar Wilde’s stories. He injects regular moral-telling fairytales with deep existential undertones to allow more adult readers to be able to learn from the stories, not just children who have yet to learn the “rules of society.” Wilde differs from other fairytales, despite using magic and marveling over a cute canon of typical fairytale characters, in that he fixates on figuring out the purpose of life and understanding one’s own situations instead of transcending an entire society’s worth of lessons.


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No Wonder Everybody in the South Eats So Much Fried Chicken

April 8, 2012
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African American folk and fairy tales are unique to the African experience, considering the diaspora traveled from the continent all over the Americas. Most went to Brazil, but some came to America by way of Barbados or straight to Charleston. The storytelling tradition began in the country continent of Africa with the Griots and Griottes who were associated with royal families and kept history alive through storytelling. Considering the Africans came to a racist, conservative, traditional American culture during the times of slavery and afterward (unfortunately), they had no option but to resort to their traditions to keep themselves sane and preserve the values of their own culture. For example, the basket-weaving tradition carried over from Sierra Leone, and traditional African stories were brought into American literature with Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby and Anansi the Spider.

But beyond the sense of cultural preservation, what makes African American folk and fairytales so unique is that they go beyond repeating African traditions: they narrate the clash of African and American cultures. W.E.B. DuBois tells us about the grit of the double identity in his work The Souls of Black Folk. In his tale, he digresses about how the African American is responsible for representing and maintaining his community, but he is also responsible for living in the American culture with an American lifestyle. It is a delicate balance between conceding to live like the ‘white folks’ and being too stubborn to be able to be successful in what some African Americans could perceive as a foreign culture. He also stresses that there is a mixture; no African American is pure Africa, he is a mix of white, black, and anything in between. One must embrace this mixture, inspiring the African American folk and fairytales spawned in post-slavery America.

The Brownies’ Book is the best example of African American folktales because it collects all of the magazines designed by the NAACP for African Americans and presents one sum picture of the 1920s culture. It is indicative of cultural identity surfacing in the Harlem Renaissance, and even simple fairytales in it like “How Mr. Crocodile Got His Rough Back” exemplify the unique African American culture. It combines the traditional African theme of explaining natural phenomena through personification with the African American identity of describing the torn family lifestyle. The father works in Florida, away from his family, just to win the daily bread; meanwhile, it is unsafe for a colored child to play outside, so he is forced to distract himself with his Granny’s tales. These African American folk and fairy tales are a ‘tool for edification,’ allowing the unfortunately-confined African American culture to blossom into a population of global citizens.


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Everytime something is written about Jews, they always choose that Hebrew-looking font. Way to go

March 30, 2012
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While it may appear to some people (Joel) that I’m quite the bigot for being Jewish and “hating on Jews,” I’m actually rather fascinated with the whole culture behind such a conservative following in this modern society. Because of that, these rabbinical stories resonated with distinction far beyond “normal” Germanic fairytales.

From a purely mechanical standpoint, the main character is almost always a Rabbi, and he is always wise. When the tales narrate about the Rabbi’s wife, she is usually nagging and just as unappreciated as in traditional European fairytales. A lot of the Jewish fairytales identify the Rabbi by his trickery that allows him to overcome the typical obstacle of some Christian fellow or a biased judge. The major themes from these Jewish fairytales revolve around dealing with oppression, rising up out of a pit; these underdog themes reflect the culture of Judaism, which, in being such a minority, resorts to its strong sense of community and togetherness that keeps the religion and culture alive (and, thanks to Israel’s sometimes questionable actions, in the news as well). It is this community that pervades the fairytales: the Rabbi acts on behalf of his community, not to better himself.

The fairytales show that (1) regardless of current state, it could always be worse, (2) God is within you, not surrounding materials, (3) a little cunning will always beat out brute force, and (4) people share a collective thought process regardless of religion or culture. Some of these are common morals that mirror Jung’s collective unconscious theory (4) and can be applied to many other fairytales (3). (1) and (2), however, seem more unique to Jewish fairytales (not conclusive).

Perhaps the only fairytale that nearly parallels traditional fairytales is “The Rabbi Who Was Turned into a Wolf.” From the overzealous wife who wants her man, to the common theme of homoeroticism (rabbi around boys all day long), to the archetype of the wolf (carnal animal in bed+intelligent man at heart=female desire), the fairytale reeks of Germanic tradition. And who’s to say it isn’t Germanic, considering it is in the Mayse Buch, a Yiddish (Hebrew+German) collection. And in the end, the woman gets “what she deserves” for trying to cheat her husband with the Godly powers of the ring. The interplay between the Divine and the Earthly (the ring and the wishes granted to the Rabbi and his wife) further reinforces the common theme that one cannot interfere with the gods or their heavenly powers; one must rely on external forces for that (like letting the fairy godmother swoop in at the most ooportune time).


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Rags to Ritches: Turning Mistreated Women into Bitches

March 25, 2012
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The “rise tale,” as Cinderella’s “rags to riches” plot conveys, gives a false message to the young female audience that the mistreated girl who keeps her mouth shut will eventually live a happy, validated life. However, this fantastic motif leaves no room for reality, especially considering ti only exacerbates the misogynist roles given to women. We see that in the common Cinderella story, the mean, domineering stepsisters almost rip the shoe out of the Prince’s hands to try to fit in it; they even cut their toes and heels to physically cut off their masculinity so they can fit into the “dainty” shoes. Yet the entire time they forget that by actively taking the shoe, they are assuming the masculine role by putting the shoe on themselves. The submissive Cinderella bides her time sifting around in the ashes, waiting for the Prince to slip the shoe on her, allowing him to assume the “proper masculine” role. Only then can he find the right girl, the virgin prototype female that is his soulmate: Cinderella. Thus, the end of the story in which the Prince settles with his destined woman only furthers the premise in the majority of Grimm-era fairytales that women are submissive and men make all the important decisions.

How can a child read this fairytale, amongst others, and NOT think that she should just let the right man come to her, that from the “ashes” she lives in now will burst forth a bright, perfect future. Now, just because these fairytales feed children these socioculturally backward morals does not imply that they never come true; a woman can always woo  a rich man with her breast implants and find herself bathing in dolla dolla bills instead of ashes. What these stories always fail to recognize is that money and marriage to a “Prince,” whether that implies rich beautiful man or just means the one man whom a woman honors and feels a special attachment, often does not translate to a rich life in terms of self-fulfillment and productivity. Money cannot buy everything, and that statement is cliche only because it is true the majority of the time!

Telling anybody that putting things off now for a future full of awesomeness does nothing but keep people looking towards the future. Nobody seems to notice that this motive plagues our current society; always looking ahead to a future full of money/a perfect family/a perfect car/ a perfectlie, Americans skip the present and keep working themselves into a hole (forgetting that the body can only run on so few hours of sleep and so many Big Macs and Starbucks on the go before it shuts down). No wonder our population continues to get more and more obese and less and less happy working longer and longer hours at jobs where title matters. So perhaps people have bought into the rags to riches motive, thinking that working toward a future will only make it perfect. Except people in reality don’t have birds to help them sift through seeds, or more realistically, tax and mortgage papers.

And do not even get me started on magic. The fairy godmother that always appears to help Cinderella (yes, that’s you, Whitney Houston, when you helped out poor Brandy) is obviously just the powerful helper that emanates the glory and divinity Cinderella’s biological mother possessed in comparison to the dreck that is currently the stepmother. But thatneverhappens in real life. People are too concerned with their own futures to take a step back and look at someone else’s.

I wouldn’t let them give me that hairdo even if it meant $5 million and a co-starring spot in a movie.


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Seeing the Voice, Hearing the Words, Making Signs All Over Neighborhoods that Declare “Deaf Children at Play,” Wondering How to Get Their Attention if They’re in the Middle of the Street…

March 9, 2012
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Mark Rust gave an insightful presentation exhibiting the benefits and limitations of deaf storytelling. Whereas literature is obviously written and is thus “composed for the eyes,” poetry and prose translate into ASL through kinetic shapes and movement. The deaf culture relies heavily on emotive performances to stress the impact of their signing, and signers rarely adhere to spelling out all their words. Rather, they interpret what they want to say through their movements and facial expressions and essentially fabricate their own signs based on how they convey meaning at that point in time in which they are expressed.

By individualizing their own symbols and images, signers mirror the passage of fairy and folk tales through  generations because each narrative, story, cinematographic story is simply an individual’s interpretation of  the message being conveyed. Thus, the deaf culture stresses individualism in defining what symbols/images/movements mean, as folk and fairy tales stress that each culture redefines and edits stories to better align with their morals and ideals. In a way, the deaf culture is its own myopic representation of folklore because each individual has his or her own code in which they communicate and tell stories, but almost anyone can decipher what they are saying by what Jung may call the “collective unconscious:” a canon of associations by which all people associate certain symbols and movements with meaning. Deaf culture is our current society’s folklore! 


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Reviewing Joel

March 6, 2012
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I’m almost positive Joel thinks I’m going to rip him a new one in reviewing his blog; in reality, I was quite impressed with how concise his statements were for how much thought and input they each have. I thought his comparison of Cupid and Psyche with the Frog Princess was incomplete and disorganized, but that doesn’t mean that it was devoid of material; I still understood the ideas he touched on.

Furthermore, knowing that I write incredibly lengthy and detailed blogs, I am always looking to improve my precision with words, and Joel provides an excellent example of sticking to a less imaginative, yet fully detailed analysis. For example, his Snow White vs. “Sonne” comparison was fairly short, yet it said more about his actual in-depth analysis of the video and his own opinions tied in than I could ever incorporate into those few paragraphs. What Joel may leave out in expressive voice in his pieces he certainly makes up for in content and validity of analysis.


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Rammstein Yet Again Tells Us Something About Fairytales

March 4, 2012
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Never mind that I actually enjoyed the music in “Sonne” (a first for the usually metal Rammstein), the video touts a perversion of the classic Snow White tale in its removal of the Queen in favor of a more sinister Snow White herself.

The original tale pairs a beautiful and ignorant Snow White as the daughter of a jealous stepmother, who bans her from the premises and tries to kill her three times, the last one being temporarily successful. The stepmother, without much of a physical presence of the king in the story, instead broods masculinity within herself by calling on ironically feminine objects (a lace corset, a poison comb, and a white/red apple) to murder her stepdaughter. Rammstein’s Snow White reflects the same overt masculine qualities in the queen because, instead of cleaning the house and playing the role of chipper subdued housewife, the monstrously tall Snow White spanks the miners (dwarves) for not getting her enough to gold to snort. She portrays greed and consumption, taking from the dwarves both goods and services (like shining her apples). She casts aside the traditional female role of housewife in favor of playing dirty with the miners who keep her company; she steals the main role in the story from the queen.

The video continues with Snow White’s self-inflicted death from overdose of what we presume is something produced by the miners. There is no queen to test Snow White’s ability to adhere to the dwarves’ advice; instead, Snow White consumes herself in greed. Her self-absorption mirrors that of the queen in the traditional story in that she dies because Snow White, at her wedding, forces her to dance in red hot iron shoes to death. This ‘dance,’ per se, is the punishment of being so feminine as to be obsessed with oneself while trying to mask it with masculinity by killing off the competition (Snow White). Thus, the queen essentially consumes so much that she is responsible for her death, as is Snow White in the video. 

One major difference between the story and the video is that the queen dies at the hand of a masculine object, the red hot iron shoes. This symbol of male power complements the idea that such a shallow woman can never hide herself under a veil of masculinity; that is, women will never be able to live up to the standards of being a male. However, in the video, no prince comes to save Snow White and prove that masculinity overcomes all. An apple that grows at the tree next to her atop the seventh mountain falls and breaks her glass coffin. The apple is her symbol of power in that she carries them with her and forces her slave miners to shine them for her. Thus, the video perpetuates masculinity in the female role by proving that her masculinity, her overt power, is what saves her from her own greed-induced death. The video essentially parallels masculinity with power and instills it within a woman who, however self-absorbed she may be, will be saved and continue her anschluss against the ranks of meek men. The video reverses the traditional role of women mirrored in both the original Snow White and the Queen to comment on the power and permanence of masculinity.

Seeing such a sexual, perverse warping of a fairytale made me instantly favor Rammstein over the original story. To tower the woman over the men, who most would think of as strong and diligent considering they are miners, and take advantage of their goods and services puts a significant gender role reversal on traditional men and women. Not to mention that the video sides with feminists in showing how a woman does not need a man to complete her; rather, the woman only need consult her inner masculinity, her burning fire, to get exactly what she wants. The video does not tackle the Seven Deadly sins like greed and gluttony; instead, the sinner gets saved by her own means. The video, to me at least, stresses that individuals are responsible for their own actions, but that it is not impossible to get what you want out of life. Take advantage of your surroundings, and nobody will cast a spell on you or come after you. But when you land in a pile of shit, you have to crawl your way out. I love that self-determinism; I love that video.

 

And this one too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEQ6G8fjipA&feature=fvst. It’s not so much the video, more that I just love this song after playing it on Guitar Hero!


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