Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Fairy Tale of Love Day's Simulation

With the hallmark day of love approaching, there are usually two groups of people that begin to emerge. The first group are those who love being in love, buying things for those they love, and waiting to get that special treat from the person they love; while the second group are the ones who say bah-humbug to another corporatized holiday.

The Disney corporation has most certainly assisted in this holiday’s grandeur with all the “happily ever afters” and “true love’s kiss” ideology—an over-exaggerated romance aimed at young audiences but still capture that “Aw, how sweet” from the adults that continue to buy these films for their children. Disney is also partially responsible for the perceived realities of gender roles, marriage, and love through so many of their early feature length animations—what Jean Baudrillard of course defines as the simulacra. But perhaps it goes back further than Disney, to the beginning of publishing fairy tales—tales of oral tradition that resonated with folk culture making its way into fancy, upper-class parlors and salons merely as prizes of entertainment.

Historically, both oral and literary fairy tales were used to overcome the terror of bestiality and barbaric forces that challenged “free will and human compassion.”  The way the protagonist overcomes, changes, or improves a terrifying villain or situation into fortune, happiness, or tranquility shows the way socio-psychological mechanisms become accepted as ideologies that define what is right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and grotesque. Jack Zipes points out that it is the sense of wonder in these functions that distinguishes fairy tales from other literary works that transform them into agents of ideology. Wonder quoted from The Oxford Universal Dictionary, “the emotion excited by the perception of something novel and unexpected…” can also be linked to a fantasy of utopia that becomes like a memory within the emotions created by these stories (When Dreams Come True 1–4).

Among the first popular publications of fairy tales were the collections written by the Grimm Brothers, and like Charles Perrault, they wrote down folk tales passed down orally over generations. One Grimm story that is interesting to look at for its innuendos on following dominant social practices is “Clever Hans.” This story demonstrates the dominant ideologies working to oppose anything that suggests the grotesque or folk culture—anything acting out of upper class sophistication. The story was written as a dialogue between the characters, which provides a unique view of only the characters without external forces, which exposed more of the childlike innocence Hans’s character brings. Hans is a symbol of what becomes of someone who cannot understand or follow social norms, which presents them as an adult that is not ready to do adult things in society—a character perhaps highly relatable for children.

The dialogue goes like this:
Hans's mother asks, "Where are you going, Hans?"
Hans answers, "To Gretel's."
"Behave yourself, Hans."
"Behave myself. Good-bye, mother."
"Good-bye, Hans."
Hans comes to Gretel's. "Good day, Gretel."
"Good day, Hans. Are you bringing something good?"
"Bringing nothing. Want something."
Gretel gives Hans a needle.
Hans says, "Good-bye, Gretel."
"Good-bye, Hans."
Hans takes the needle, sticks it into a hay wagon, and walks home behind the wagon.
"Good evening, mother."
"Good evening, Hans. Where have you been?"
"At Gretel's."
"What did you take her?"
"Took nothing. Got something."
"What did Gretel give you?"
"Gave me a needle."
"Where is the needle, Hans?"
"Stuck in the hay wagon."
"That was stupid, Hans. You should have stuck the needle in your sleeve."
"Doesn't matter. Do better."

The story continues in the same patter of dialogue that is silly, and the reader is entertained by his “stupidity.” Hans goes to Gretel several more times and returns with items she gives him but always does what his mother tells him to do with the previous item. In the last part of the story, Hans brings Gretel home like a calf and ties her in the barn, because that is what his mother had told him to do that with a calf he had previously brought home. His mother tells him he has done wrong and to cast friendly eyes on her. The last lines in the story read: “Hans goes into the stable, cuts out the eyes of all the calves and sheep, and throws them in Gretel's face. Then Gretel becomes angry, tears herself loose and runs away. She is no longer Hans's bride.” 

Gretel’s character symbolizes the dominant culture, the normative ideologies that expose others who do not learn to docilely follow along, and Hans’s character perhaps represents the grotesque realism of Carnival—a symbol that acknowledges the child and uncivilized. Together the couple demonstrates how these worlds cannot exist together. The last statement shows that working against the “real” social order, one will only be left alone to suffer the loss of a loving spouse—ideology’s mode of interpellation. Hans loses a bride because assimilation is required of an individual in order to exist within the world where social order dominates the average lifestyle. In Hans’s story, he cannot grasp the logical adult order which defines him as more of an outcast or still too childish. His character demonstrates a failure in basic development that society relies on to maintain the dominant culture and the apparatuses that support it. Those who do not accept basic ideologies become laughing stock, the Scrooges or ones who wear black on Valentines day, but this only shows how the judgments of the dominant social order simulate its own aesthetics and ideologies to keep making “true love’s kiss” at the end of “happily ever after” such a desirable thing.



  1. I think you made a very good point at the end, Cristina, that this particular holiday is so saturated in our culture that there is no option for indifference: You're either really into the lovey-dovey aspect of it or you're against it. No one makes this big of a deal for Easter or Halloween.

  2. Great point Meg! Thank you for your comment!