The New Archetype: Stupid Males

I wonder if years from now a man will write a blog similar to mine except his goal will be to right the wrong done to boys and men in modern fairy tales? Shall I explain?

I recently watched a modern fairy tale, Disney Pixar’s Brave (2012). I really wanted my daughter to like it because I needed something to balance out her current affinity for Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. For those who don’t know, Brave is about a Scottish princess who wants to buck tradition and not get married off in some contest of strength by men she doesn’t know. It becomes a mother-daughter story of trying to understand one another and lots of magic and mayhem ensues.

That part is fine, but my concern was the father. In short he was ineffectual; never knowing what was happening in his own household and almost killing his wife because he was dead set on catching a bear. It doesn’t sound too bad, but when you think about it, the growing trend for modern fairy tale movies is to cast the male as a dolt. It makes the brilliance of the female characters all the more impressive. But does it?

I know my blog is supposed to concentrate on the empowerment of women by reworking old fairy tales into modern, fully-fleshed female heroines, but a funny thing happened on the way to empowering women. We took away power from men.

I was guilty of it myself. After writing a novel with a strong, independent teenage female lead it was pointed out to me that her love interest was not stupid, but colorless enough to make the reader wonder why she would be interested in him in the first place. Disney’s Snow White, but male. Needless to say, rewrites have fixed the problem.

I understand the push. In order to make the woman more powerful, someone has to play the foil. But does that really mean that men have to become buffoons. It’s like they have to regress in order for us to progress. I cringe every time I see a female powerhouse who constantly has to save her male love interest from one dumb debacle after another. Thank goodness this isn’t a blog that includes sitcoms, or I’d have to make a separate blog. Can’t we have partnerships? Does empowering female protagonists by weakening their male counterparts make for a better message than the weak, helpless female waiting to be rescued?

To men and boys, I’m sorry. I don’t think you should have to become incompetent in order to make us look good. To the sisterhood, I think we should seriously think about what we’re teaching this generation’s crop of kick-ass girls. Soon we’ll come full circle: powerless, ridiculed men and the sexist, overbearing women who patronize them.

For those who don’t remember, feminism was supposed to be about making us equal, about partnerships—not about casting men as the new pretty bimbo.

Here’s the Fairy Tale Partnership Challenge: Look for stories, on TV, in movies and books, where the male lead and the female lead are partners and feel free to share. Both leads should be fully realized characters that somehow complement each other without one or the other having to be a total idiot.

Happy Hunting!

Diversity Fantasy?

I remember being 4 or 5 and going to get my picture taken with Santa. My uncle took me and I didn’t want to stand in the Macy’s line, so we went elsewhere. I don’t think I was concerned with telling Santa what was on my list or even meeting the man, himself. All I knew was that I had on a cute outfit and would get my picture taken. After waiting in a line shorter than the one at Macy’s, I finally had my chance to indulge my vanity. But there was a problem. I had been lied to by my family.

We came home, my uncle and I, with a photo. In it, I was stiff and frowning. When my mother asked why I didn’t smile, I promptly replied “Santa Claus no es negro. Santa Claus es blanco.” My mother and other relatives who heard the story and saw the picture laughed to hear my explanation of how I didn’t smile because the real Santa Claus is white. Inadvertently, I had stumbled upon an idea that led me to this post.

Unimpressed with fake Santa

Unimpressed with “fake” Santa

Later, when I was a little older, I played pretend with a friend. Snow White had just been re-released. It was as good a pretend game as any. It took a turn, however, when I said I wanted to play Snow White. My friend turned to me and without malice said “You can’t play Snow White. You’re not white.” I didn’t know what to say to that, but we moved on to some other game.

Put together, it just sounds like some funny anecdotes from my childhood, but I’m betting I wasn’t the only one to have this experience. Despite myriad options to watch and read in fantasy, it has remained a rather uni-ethnic genre. Like Friends, uni-ethnic! I don’t want to soapbox, but what’s up with that?

Why in fantasy–where the limit is the entire spectrum of imagination–does the world look basically white?

There are exceptions–like BBC imports that practice colorblind casting—but very little to reflect all of us. Is it out of the realm of possibility for fantasy movies and TV to imagine a protagonist that isn’t northern European? I know our collective consciousness is based on fairy tales and fables from Germany and England, but they were meant to reflect the public at large. Now that we embrace revisionist mythology, fractured fairy tales if you will, shouldn’t we revamp the picture?

Rapunzel can be an African-American girl with super strong weave.

Jack the Giant Killer could be strong, brave, and gay.

Cinderella could be looking for the perfect pair of glass shoes to fit her size thirteen feet, supporting her plus-size frame.

Maybe Snow White could be Hispanic.

In that reality, maybe a girl would smile if she sat on Black Santa’s lap.

I would love to hear from other readers and writers about diversity in fantasy. Have you seen a book, TV show or movie that reflects our new world geared towards teens or adults?

Once Upon a Blog Post

My writings have been sporadic at best. I can only blame myself for trying to be so ambitious. It was a little crazy of me to think that I could write two novels and still the time and ability have to come up with original stories for a blog every week. Funny enough, I think my scope was too small. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I should have included other materials within the realm of fairy tales and fables. Perhaps consider the current trend of “revisionist mythology” that is sweeping books, movies, and TV.

I’ll start with Once Upon a Time… on ABC. The show takes place in a fictional town in Maine (please save your Stephen King assumptions) called Storybrooke were all the characters from fairytales and legends have been transported by a curse conjured by, you guessed it, an evil queen.

Specifically the evil queen in Snow White.

The show is now in its second season, so I won’t try and summarize the entire show thus far. Suffice it to say, good tries to trump evil and at every turn craziness ensues. I went into the show with low expectations considering how poorly fantasy shows do in the ratings on network TV (I’ll talk about Merlin in a future post). I have been more than pleasantly surprised by its popularity among other things.

The clichés are self-evident. The woman representing good is blonde and blue-eyed, while the antagonist is a dark eyed beauty with black-brown hair. I was ready for Disney-level simplicity. Good is always good and evil can’t help but be so and must lose. But a funny thing happened when they let go of the obvious. The protagonist has a checkered past complete with a prison stay. The antagonist started out as good, but through a series of unfortunate events embraced the easy way—being bad.

It’s fairytales versus pop-psychology.

“There by the grace of God” club meets Of Mice and Men.

I don’t know if it qualifies as a full-blown guilty pleasure, but it speaks to the child at heart who grew up and wondered what happened to everyone after we closed the book. The child in me gets angry when evil gets the upper hand, but the adult appreciates the realism. Good or evil, I think Once Upon a Time…is a show anyone who loves fairy tales should give a chance.

Look back for more post about this show in the future.