Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bad Fairy Tales, or Why I Don't Like Wonderpets, Dora, SuperReaders, Sid the Science Kid, Go Diego or Team Umizoomie

First, a caveat : I grew up devouring the Brother's Grim, Greek Myths and every fairy tale I could find.  I loved them and reread them regularly.  While I never thought, "Some day my prince will come..." I did believe that love can last forever and still do.   It's part of being Catholic I think.  The forever after is real and it involves blood and time and fierce courage; it doesn't mean love is always sugar spun and sparkly and effort free, it means the exact opposite, that love stays when life isn't spic and span, timely or without enormous hassle, struggling, suffering and utter frustration; that no matter what, true love stays with you. 

Having fairy tales was part of the magic of childhood, and like myths, they revealed truths without being true; that growing up involves a journey that is fraught with difficulties and requires tenacity; that love requires sacrifice and does bring a joy that the struggle did not and even mitigates some of the past pain and struggles that the hero or heroine might have endured.

These days, with toddlers, I am subjected to a lot of little kid shows when the laundry is piled high. 

These new stories are determined to rewrite fairy tales not only to shed all stereotypes but to eliminate any villains.   At first, I watched it, annoyed but oddly curious as to how some stories which require a nemesis, would be orchestrated to ensure no one did anything for a mean or spiteful reason, or heaven forbid, wrong.  Saying, "Swiper no swiping" wouldn't stop the Jack of the Beanstalk from taking the golden goose, nor would "Teamwork" from the Wonderpets or seven dwarfs prevent the evil queen from poisoning Snow White. Creating an imagination where the wolves only want the cookies or are sad because they have allergies that cause them to knock down houses isn't an improvement over the prior imaginary landscape.

Upon further viewing, I discovered that the protagonists needn't be in any way brave or heroic or plucky; only empathetic. They all have magic bags of holding, backpacks or rescue packs or what have you, that carry everything they might need, so no resourcefulness is needed.  So I wondered what lessons these "educational television" shows were teaching; always have all the resources to begin a journey so everything will work out? How were these tales anything other than "Once there were some kids/animals.  They got stuck.  Others showed up with supplies and everything worked out fine with dancing and a party at the end." The answers are all provided in simple one, two, three step parts; so the journey is a mere procedure to follow, not a task of self discovery and the "shes" in these stories are no more empowered than their helpless traditional counterparts, they only know the psychobabble necessary to discover that these dangers and difficulties were never dangerous or difficult in the first place. 

I'm not sure this massive rewrite of every fairy tale ever written to ensure a sanitized for your protection perfect conflict resolution and danger free world is any less a fantasy than the damsels locked in towers.   It's the satire of A Street Car Named Desire by Matt Groening made real, where a stranger is just a friend you haven't met. Further, to me, teaching children they need no courage in the real world to endure any pain and that even trials aren't really trials, is as big a fantasy as waiting for someone to come to the rescue.  If every show were written by the players of Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer's Night Dream, you might again come up with these content calorie free confections, but they'd lack the sense to congratulate themselves at the end of the non journey.  Upon reflection, that lack of a celebration for the reaffirmation of self esteem for a trial not endured, a burden not carried, a struggle not fraught with meaning, might be an improvement.  They can sing "Congratulations" all day long for creating children's programing that is the equivalent of mental white wonder bread; I'll take my fairy tales with the fangs and the spells and the dark forests and deeper overtones and presume the kids also pay attention to real life and see that all that is, all that has any meaning, and all relationships that have meaning involve time, love, service and sacrifice. 

So today, I pulled out the Ugly Duckling and read it to my kids; for I do believe we are all these sorts, who struggle and suffer and engage in self pity, who endure pain and loneliness and crave acceptance and uniqueness at the same time.   I also believe those things happen in real life and knowing that one can come out of those moments stronger and more beautiful than we could possibly imagine, isn't a fairy tale; it's the way we can come to live happily ever after.


Marisa said...

Fantastic blog. Now to dig out those books of fairy tales that I know are around here somewhere . . .

Maria Fernanda McClure said...

I agree... and yet, I must say that some of these shows have taught my child things I thought she would not understand at her age - in a way that made sense to her. While Sid and Diego may not teach much about resourcefulness, they have certainly created an interest in science, geography, flora and fauna.

PS: My 5 year old taught her kindergarten teacher a new word the other day after learning it from a TV show. Do you know what an aglet is?

MightyMom said...

yeah, and that's why we get sooo bored with them sooo fast! saccharine to the max!

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