Sunday, March 25, 2012

Seriously, Guys.

            As this week’s theme was Cinderella (and similar stories), we of course discussed the many motifs present in the story, about some of which (I’m looking at you, Bettelheim) I am quite skeptical. With that off my chest, I am pleased now to write about a motif in Cinderella the presence of which is undisputed. Of course, this is the obvious motif of “rags-to-riches” that is evident from even a cursory reading of the tale. I find this to be a very feel-good motif for many children, as we read for class, and thus the reader can easily associate with the story. However, I personally find that the idea of getting rich via marriage or, for reasons both obvious and not, magic to be ridiculous.
            I suppose I will start with the easy target, magic. Of course it is simple enough to write off magic entirely since, to the best of my knowledge, it does not exist (or at least not in the way that it does in most fairy tales, but this is a dangerously divergent topic for any blogger hoping to stay on topic). However, I will play along, and grant that magic exists in the tale, and so can be examined within the reality of the tale. Magic is basically what the tale uses to advance the “rags-to-riches” motif, and it is hard to imagine the story without it. My assignment is not to preserve the integrity of the tale, however: it is to assess the ability of magic to truly complete this motif. I say that it does not, but to understand why, we first look at the second supposed purveyor of the motif, high marriage.

            I find the idea that marriage can bring one riches to be foolish not because it is entirely untrue—it is undoubtedly a fairly secure long-term benefit if one marries rich (I will attempt to ignore here my cringe at the thought of those who use such reasoning), but because focusing on the marriage ignores the beneficial character traits the preclude it. Traits such as diligence, hard work, and tolerance are traits which I cannot imagine a marriage lasting without, and yet the very presence of these traits, in theory, would make marriage not the cause of the attainment of riches, but a symptom. And here is where magic’s uselessness ties in. With the traits that Cinderella has (including those described above) it would have been possible for her to pull herself up without the need for magic. The only thing the magic did in the story, in my opinion, was make the motif almost inevitably successful (and, of course, a fairy tale). Overall, I find that in any non-fairytale setting, inherent character traits are far more important than magic or marriage in seeing a rags-to-riches story come true.
Well, I do hope you’ve enjoyed the latest installment! Tune in next week for a commentary on Bluebeard!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sign that again?

This past week our class had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Rust, an ASL professor here at McDaniel. Though we missed Dr. Rose, Rust did what I thought to be a good job of bringing yet another perspective (I’m losing count now) to bear on fairy tales and folktales: deaf culture. It should seem obvious that the process of telling a fairy tale to a deaf person would be different than telling it to the hearing, but honestly, the thought never crossed my mind, and it was my realization of this that was more interesting to me than the actual methods we discussed. After all, the novelty of the idea to my (and I assume at least some of my classmates’) serious thought says something about society in general. It actually genuinely bothered me when Rust explained that the hearing are seen as the oppressors of the deaf, as I doubt that the vast majority of the hearing give much thought to the matter at all. Indeed, Rust mentioned that the low incidence of deafness in the United States in relation to developing countries stems from our advanced medical care. Thus, the problem is not in any sort of hostility towards the deaf (again, at least not from most people), but rather in the fact that the condition is so invisible in our culture that it gets little attention. That was just something that bothered me though, I’m not suggesting that Rust supports such an idea, only that I would certainly not be content with the label “oppressor.” Moving on though!
Although the above topic was of interest, it does not give you as the audience much feedback on the other points of Dr. Rust’s lecture. He brought up some notable problems when it comes to telling a story without speech, not the least of which is translation! Although ASL seems to have ways to express most words or ideas of the English language, one must keep in mind the fact that the purpose of telling a story is not to express words, but ideas. So, rather than a mere word-to-word translation of a written tale, one must translate based on the idea that is being evoked by the tale. Indeed, translations from one spoken language to another must make the same choice, especially in poetry, where seemingly important components such as rhyming may not carry over to another language. And speaking of rhyming: forget about it when it comes to sign language. While a deaf person can understand a word, the idea of associating sounds with them is probably impossible to grasp. Instead, ASL storytellers use other structural cues found in a tale, such as repetition, imagery, and techniques developed by the deaf community itself. Such techniques include ABC and number stories, wherein the plot of a story is advanced through the progressing sequence of signs, limited hand shapes, and fingerspelling.
Lastly, and most importantly to my understanding of fairy tales, is the idea of limiting influence of one form of sign language on others. To me, this seems to go both against the historical norm for both language and fairytales for thousands of years. After all, both languages and fairy tales developed over many free human interactions. While it is certainly understandable to appreciate the “purity” (as if there is such a thing as a pure language) and beauty (which can indeed be found in language, obviously) of a language, to attempt to limit the free interaction of any language with another does more harm than good to the reputation of the language that one is trying to protect. Furthermore, who is to say that the changes that come from such interaction are any less beautiful than the original? Certainly not some international organization, I would hope. Another point that this lecture made me appreciate is the relative novelty of ASL to storytelling. Although I am not deaf, it made me reflect on my home country, the United States, and its youth relative to other world cultures. There are no fairy tales that I can think of that originated in America. Even with the theory that the archetypes are universal, the commonly known fairytales are nevertheless the products of specific cultures’ expressions of those archetypes. Likewise, the deaf culture is finding its own way to express the ideas inherent in fairy tales.
I do believe I’ve overstayed my welcome (and in my own blog, no less!). I hope that you got something worthwhile out of it—I know there were plenty of opinions in there. Then again, what do you expect in a reflection? Enjoy your Spring break all!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I'm just Sayin'

            I have been charged with critiquing Rachel Hoffman’s “Bloggy and the Beast: The Fairy Tale SIS Blog of Rachel's Dreams” found here:

Thankfully (or perhaps not so, depending on how I look at it) Rachel has made it fairly difficult for me to find points of improvement for her blog, but in an effort to end on a positive note, I shall begin with those. I think that some of the posts could use a little more in depth analysis using what we’ve gone over in class. I came away from her post on Rammstein’s Sonne with the feeling that I was reading more of a summary than a comparison. I think it might give it a bit more of an academic feel, although the whole point of a blog is to approach a topic from one’s own perspective, so take that for what it is worth.

            Now that I have gotten the dreaded part out of the way (why, Dr. Esa!?), I can spend the rest of this post complementing her on what was overall a very pleasurable blog to read through. First, I enjoy the psychological perspective she often takes in looking at fairy tales, as she seems well-versed in tying in such concepts with foreign subject matter, such as fairy tales (though what should I expect from a Psych major?). I think that using this approach will continue to stand her in good stead in this course, as many of the most meaningful ideas discussed in class are brought up by the conflicting Freudian and Jungian perspectives of two authors we are reading, Von Franz and Bettelhiem. Additionally, and this is admittedly a small point, I liked her choice of background for the blog, and wonder whether she chose it before or after we discussed the multiple possible meanings of roses in fairy tales (and if before, then why?). Speaking of pictures, she generally makes good use of them in each blog post, and even goes beyond the requirements in several (her fourth and sixth posts). In fact, when I was reading her third blog post, I was more surprised than worried at the image-less post—she seems to enjoy taking the extra time to place pictures in well-reasoned places for each post.  If she continues to put the effort she currently does into her blog, while perhaps taking into account my one big critique, it is evident that her blog will continue to flourish (yes, bad joke, I know).


Hopefully this will be received without too much bloodshed in my imminent future.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Oh, Rammstein

            The story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as with any fairytale, has been told and retold in varying forms, but when a group like Rammstein takes it and uses it to provoke the audience, the changes seem more dramatic. Rammstein’s “Sonne” goes so far as to replace the innocent, docile protagonist with an aggressive, naughty one. In fact she is closer to what the evil queen is in the fairy tale. The dwarfs, rather than being the short yet industrious men of the tale are muscular and put into a submissive role. In the music video, Snow White is not in any particular danger, yet imposes herself upon the house regardless. The dwarfs, who at the beginning of the video were portrayed as tough men, practically fall at her knees when the see her, and essentially become her servants (including polishing apples, the instruments of her death in the tale). This stands in contrast to the fairy tale, in which Snow White is the one willingly doing the chores for them, and the dwarfs serve the (stereotypically male) role of guardians. The conspicuous lack of a prince or any real love story means that the video does not encourage the idea that women need men to save and complete them. Another character missing is the queen, but in a way Snow White embodies her characteristics…and yet she is so beloved by these dwarfs whom she torments. What I got out of this was that Rammstein was commenting on the idea of beautiful women not having to have any other redeeming qualities in order to be praised. That is not to say that the band itself agrees with this, but it certainly would get a reaction from listeners. Personally, I prefer the classic fairy tale to the video, as the perversion of Snow White's character was rather disturbing to me. Especially the scene in which she snorts the gold: just the thought of what that would do to my sinuses makes me cringe!
You'll get to hear from me a tad sooner for my next post, as it is due Friday. Look forward to it if you wish!