I’m very eager for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast film adaptation! So eager, in fact, that I’m doing a write-up before I even see the movie!
And here’s why I’m chomping at the bit right now – I’m seeing a lot of people pre-judging the film for some silly reasons and I just wanted to weigh in.
THE GAY AGENDA!!!
I wasn’t even going to dignify this homophobic crap with a response, but I just can’t let it slide. For those not in the know – supposedly the character of Le Fou is going to be openly gay – probably pining for his sexy, dickhead friend, Gaston. It seemed to already be a fairly subtle subtext in the Disney cartoon version so it really shouldn’t be a super surprising revelation to anyone with eyeballs or a brain in their head. What the homophobes claim is that by simply allowing gay people to exist in movies, an agenda is being promoted. This makes me fairly insane. The real problem is that THEIR agenda is being thwarted. This movie might portray a gay person in a humanizing way, and THEN their kids may start to see ‘others’ as human and deserving of dignity and respect. The horror! Moving on….
BUT, BUT STOCKHOLM SYNDROME!!!
This is perhaps even more irritating to me than the homophobic response because it typically comes from people who should really know better. Here’s the deal – fairy tales are *ancient* stories that are an integral part of our cultural cannon. They are far too complex to be dismissed with such a surface level analysis. Fairy tales provide children with a critical foundation to understand the archetypes and universal themes that they will encounter for the rest of their lives. Yes, they can be messy and problematic, but I’m going to make the case that this is precisely what makes them valuable!
First, there is no definitive or original tale of Beauty and the Beast so people can stop getting their panties in a bunch about people ‘changing’ their favorite story. These stories are MEANT to be altered. They come from a long oral tradition where stories were changed to suit both the teller’s and the audience’s unique needs. There are stories about animal/human pairings in nearly every culture and go back as far as prehistoric times (before written language). These stories always touch on something integral to the particular society which tells the tale. In some stories, the animal/human pairing is about the stark differences between men and women and how they can find common ground. In other stories, it is about how a young bride can reconcile herself to a marriage with a much older man who might quite literally seem like a horrid, hairy beast to her. The more recent Disney cartoon version reflects the values that are important in our current culture – kindness, intelligence, patience, seeing past the external. The list of deeper meaning goes on and on and I encourage you to explore them for yourself!
So, let’s talk about the Stockholm Syndrome charge/comparison. Stockholm Syndrome occurs when a captive begins to sympathize with his/her captor. Okay, that sounds a bit like B&B, but wait…. What really characterizes true Stockholm Syndrome is the victim’s rejection of their old life and the people and values that used to define them. People suffering Stockholm Syndrome will do things their old selves never would have done – it’s basically an intense survival mechanism (see Patty Hearst). This doesn’t seem at to me like what’s going on with Belle to me. Belle remains steadfastly true to herself and devoted to her family/father. She only comes to love Beast after he begins to show her kindness and respect.
Despite all of that, the truth is that B&B, like *all* fairy tales, is still a complicated, problematic story. Beast DOES hold Belle against her will her for deeply selfish reasons. He is full of rage and violence and perhaps the narrative does imply that women can and should ‘fix’ damaged men. These are legitimate critiques, but instead of rejecting it out of hand, how about we actually use these potential problems as conversation starters? Reading a poky, safe little picture book might be comforting, but comfort isn’t the space where we grow and learn. Sometimes we need to be a little uncomfortable in order to confront life’s bigger questions.
For example, many people reject stories like Hansel & Gretel because it’s painful to confront the cruelty and rejection that the two children experience. The truth is that many children harbor a deep and unspoken fear of parental abandonment. Stories shared in the lap of a loving parent allow children to explore these deep-seated fears in a safe way. In H&G, children will see that the parents’ actions are wrong and are justly punished in the end. They also see that Hansel and Gretel, when confronted with the unimaginable, were more powerful and creative than they thought possible. So what a child learns from H&G isn’t just that parents are sometimes cruel to their children (a sad fact of life), but also that they should expect and demand justice for wrongs *and*, perhaps most importantly, that children are capable great bravery and ingenuity in terrible situations.
I could go on and on about the power and beauty contained with the world’s oldest tales, but I’ll stop for now and leave you with the immortal words of one of the world’s smartest smarties: