How long can fairy tales last?
It’s a strange question for a person who writes a blog about fairy tales, like a chocolatier wondering how long sugar will be in vogue. But both are valid questions. Sugar has become the new taboo white powder with rising numbers in diabetes and other obesity-related diseases.
Now we have increased awareness of how women are portrayed in culture, is it any wonder that I question the validity of fairy tales. I’ve written countless posts about the lack of agency, the belief that all a woman needs is a man to solve her problems, and the general lack of dimension. How can a genre that runs counter to our new “woke” society honestly endorse such a dated view? My answer is Auntie Mame.
One of my favorite old movies is Auntie Mame (1958). It stars Rosalind Russell in the title role of Mame Denis, an upscale bohemian with progressive views who takes in her orphaned nephew and expands his as to now narrow horizons. It’s fun and quotable and Mame is a hero of mine.
But there is a dirty secret in Auntie Mame. His name is Ito. He’s Mame’s butler and the worst version of a stereotype. Whenever he’s on screen I cringe and think about all the old movies I love that have gross stereotypes of Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, and homosexuals. Despite taking such progressive views of unwed motherhood, alternative lifestyles, independent women, restrictive country clubs and “zoned” neighborhoods, it still falls back on an offensive representation.
So how do I keep calling it my favorite? Well, uncomfortably and I think that’s how it ought to be. I won’t dismiss it out of hand because that’s like erasing it and things that are erased can be forgotten. And I won’t forgive it for those cringe-worthy moments because it means ignoring how hurtful stereotypes can be to everyone. I suppose the same goes for fairy tales. I’ve always read them with a sense of unease and will continue to do so. Fairy tales, like Auntie Mame, will stay in our collective consciousness, but hopefully we’ll collectively read (or watch) them more thoughtfully and challenge ourselves to address our discomfort. And that will ensure they last forever.