Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Folk Music for Folkies Stories For Storytellers.

Folk Music for Folkies Stories For Storytellers.

I had the pleasure of Storytelling for a Fall Festival over the weekend. With the weather being so good there was a wonderful turnout. Loosely Strung played and gave a great performance. Before I started I thought I would go and say hello, I get half way there and they see I am coming so start up with The Battle Of New Orleans, it was a good laugh.

(Photo: Scary Stories Rule)

Can You Play Any Of These?

We all seem to be interested in different instruments around the world and I have come across a very good web site.

Here you will find a large number of plucked instruments to tickle your fancy.

Fear of fairy tales

I think the article below shows how we are shielding our children from the pleasure of an adrenalin rush when we here a scary story. What do you think?

Boston Globe
Probably because she'd expressed a firm interest in fairy wings and dresses made of tulle, my 3-year-old daughter got a plastic Rapunzel playset last year as a gift. It was a collection of bedroom furniture and three small dolls: a girl with a retractable braid, a smiling prince, and another girl, apparently a playmate. And it came with a small companion book, "Rapunzel's Tower Room," which began, "At the edge of a forest village, there was a tower owned by a kind witch."
(Hulton Archives/Getty Images)
Joanna Weiss
September 21, 2008
Fear of fairy tales
The glossy, sanitized new versions of fairy tales leave out what matters: the scary parts
Probably because she'd expressed a firm interest in fairy wings and dresses made of tulle, my 3-year-old daughter got a plastic Rapunzel playset last year as a gift. It was a collection of bedroom furniture and three small dolls: a girl with a retractable braid, a smiling prince, and another girl, apparently a playmate. And it came with a small companion book, "Rapunzel's Tower Room," which began, "At the edge of a forest village, there was a tower owned by a kind witch."
(Hulton Archives/Getty Images)

The book went on to spin the tale of a charmed girl named Rapunzel, who spent her days in the tower sewing dresses with a friend. She loved when the witch came to visit and teach songs, including one that made Rapunzel's hair grow longer. But tension arrived: One day, Rapunzel looked out the window and saw a fair in the village nearby. She wanted to go, but the witch was off tending to her garden and couldn't let her out. Fortunately, a prince riding by in his carriage called up to her, "Rapunzel! Why aren't you at the fair?"

This was not the fairy tale I vaguely recalled from my childhood - the one with the mother who gives up her child, the vindictive witch, the powerless girl trapped high above the ground. This new version was sanitary and safe in a way that modern parents will easily recognize. In an age when some families ban the word "killed" or come up with creative euphemisms to mask the death of goldfish, it's not hard to see why a toy company would reduce Rapunzel's story to its prettiest parts. Real life, presumably, packs enough trauma for children to think about later.
Yet something important is lost when a child's introduction to fairy tales comes in such whitewashed form. It's not just Rapunzel: In toys, movies, and books, the old fairy tales are being systematically stripped of their darker complexities. Rapunzel has become a lobotomized girl in a pleasant tower playroom; Cinderella is another pretty lady in a ball gown, like some model on "Project Runway."

"Fairy tale" may be our shorthand for castles and happy endings, but these classic stories have villains, too - nefarious witches, bloodthirsty wolves, stepmothers up to no good. And scholars have come to see the stories' dark elements as the source of their power, not to mention their persistence over the centuries. Rich in allegory, endlessly adaptable, fairy tales emerged as a framework for talking about social issues. When we remove the difficult parts - and effectively do away with the stories themselves - we're losing a surprisingly useful common language.
"There's a very important reason why these tales stick," says Jack Zipes, a German professor and folklorist at the University of Minnesota, who has written such books as "Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion" and "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the Culture Industry." "It's because they raise questions that we have not resolved."

Scholars say there are no "pure" versions of fairy tales, which began as oral traditions and were adapted to fit different cultures and times. Even the Grimm brothers, who recorded German versions of these stories in the early 19th century, continually revised their own work. But common story lines have persisted over the centuries, and they address themes that continue to preoccupy people today.

Little Red Riding Hood, in which a wolf lures a young girl out of public view, has been taken as a story about sexual awakening and as an allegory about a girl made responsible for her own rape. Snow White, in which a motherless child is hunted by her jealous stepmother, is rooted in concerns about abusive parenting.
Cinderella, meanwhile, articulates the fears children have about blended families: After a girl's mother dies, her cruel stepmother favors her biological daughters and forces her stepdaughter into servitude.

And then there is Rapunzel, a tale that first emerged in 17th-century Italy. The classic versions begin with a pregnant woman who, consumed with hunger, steals vegetables from the garden of an evil witch. The witch demands the woman's unborn child as payment, then locks the girl in a tower with no stairs or door. When she wants to visit, she calls up to the girl, who hangs her long hair out the window so the witch can climb up.

Many scholars view this story through the lens of fertility, a critical issue for Renaissance-era families that suffered from high child mortality rates. This is an allegory, they say, about a woman preparing for birth, knowing that fate might take her child away. And about another woman, represented by the witch, who may be unable to have children of her own.
As for Rapunzel, Steven Jones, a folklorist at California State University-Los Angeles, places her in what he calls the "Innocent Persecuted Heroine" cycle, which deals with the transition to adulthood. This story, Jones says, is a metaphor for sex. Rapunzel is secluded at the brink of adolescence, kept from any contact with men. Her growing hair reflects her growing sexual awareness and desire. And the prince pierces the tower, sneaking up Rapunzel's hair for secret trysts. In one version of the story, the witch discovers the deceit after Rapunzel winds up pregnant. As most of us know full well, a teenager consumed with desire can find ways around the rules.

Some of these metaphors - fortunately - will fly over the youngest kids' heads. But others, scholars say, carry meaning early on. Zipes reads his own Grimm Brothers translations in Minneapolis-St. Paul elementary schools, and says he has seen young kids latch onto the classic, dark versions of the tales. Some of the most disadvantaged students, he says, "really relate to us, because we're telling tales that they experience in their homes."

And even kids shielded from terrible strife find connections to fairy tale worlds. Of Cinderella, Zipes says, "What are we talking about? We're talking about today. How many families are split today?"

The story of Rapunzel, like most other fairy tales, has inspired modern authors, who have reworked it to address the pressing questions of the day. As the novelist and academic Alison Lurie wrote last May in the New York Review of Books, some modern literary adaptations use the Rapunzel framework to address parental abandonment, adoption, and overprotectiveness. Donna Jo Napoli's 1996 novel "Zel" paints the witch as a possessive mother, unwilling to let her child love anyone but her. Cameron Dokey's 2007 novel "Golden: A Retelling of Rapunzel" treats the witch more kindly: She gives up her long-haired child but adopts another girl who is bald and reunites happily with both in the end.

Filmmakers, too, have long used classic fairy tales as jumping-off points to explore timely issues. "Ever After," the 1998 Drew Barrymore movie, retold Cinderella with a feminist message. The dark and violent 1996 film "Freeway" starred Reese Witherspoon as a modern-day version of Little Red Riding Hood, which exchanged the medieval forest for the dangerous big city.
Even Harry Potter, Zipes says, can be seen as a modern take on Cinderella: a boy who faces cruel treatment at the hands of his adoptive family, before he discovers his true and formidable talents.

But while the Harry Potter books and films contain their share of darkness, Zipes points out that many fairy tales become far more sanitized when they meet the children's literature industry - which is increasingly dependent on sequels and product tie-ins, and calibrated to appeal to the lowest common denominator. He is galled at versions of Little Red Riding Hood in which Granny isn't eaten by the wolf, but is conveniently out of the house when Red Riding Hood pops in.
In truth, I think I've told a version of that one to my little girl, putting my own, gentle spin on the story. And there is reason to protect the smallest kids from the violent parts of fairy tales, says David Bickham, a research scientist at the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston. Young kids are already exposed to plenty of violence, he says, in news reports and superhero stories. And children process fear differently as they grow older.
I've seen the evolution in my own home: My daughter, now 4, recognizes that some books and films contain mean ladies, from the sea witch in Disney's "The Little Mermaid" to the Michelle Pfeiffer character in "Hairspray." Her understanding of fairy tales will continue to evolve, Bickham says. Preschoolers tend to take stories literally, and may need protection from the scariest parts. By 7 or 8, they can tell the difference between fiction and reality. By 13, they're able to connect allegory to real situations. (For practical viewing and reading suggestions, Bickham recommends psychology professor Joanne Cantor's 1998 book, "Mommy, I'm Scared.")
But it's fair to wonder when some kids will get to the classic fairy tales, if at all. When the stories intersect with commerce these days - whether in children's books or the endless barrage of toys - they can quickly get reduced beyond recognition. It's easier to sell a Rapunzel playset, after all, as something entirely cheery and safe. And if you simplify fairy tales even further, it doesn't take long before you get to the Disney Princesses.

Disney, of course, has long been a fairy tale re-packager par excellence, turning classic folklore into enduring animated films. And like all fairy tale retellings, Disney movies have reflected their times. The 1937 version of "Snow White" celebrated that era's ideals of American beauty. "The Little Mermaid," from 1989, replaced Hans Christian Andersen's helpless heroine with a spunky redhead - and while the movie didn't shy away from darkness, it softened the edges for family viewing. (In Andersen's version, the evil witch cuts off the mermaid's tongue.)
The Disney Princess brand takes the softening much further, recasting fairy tales for a fully consumerist culture. And it's hard not to admire its brilliance as a marketing stroke. The concept dates back to 1999, when the chairman of Disney Consumer Products attended a Disney ice show, says Kathy Franklin, the company's vice president of global franchise development for girls. He saw how many girls showed up in dress-up clothes, and mused about what might happen if Disney's own fairy tale heroines were packaged together.

At first, the idea was controversial even within Disney, James B. Stewart writes in his 2005 book, "Disney War." Roy Disney, Walt's nephew, argued that the Disney Princesses would betray the fairy tales themselves, since these women didn't coexist in their respective stories. But for small girls, pretty ladies seem to tap into a primal dress-up urge. And what began as an experiment in Disney stores - a few toys featuring Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, striking a sassy group pose - quickly grew into a $4 billion global business, largely aimed at 3- to 7-year-olds.

Today, you can find countless girls in Disney Princess socks and light-up sneakers, and you can't walk through a supermarket without seeing the princesses on diapers and tubes of children's toothpaste. And while Franklin says the characters are based on personalities crafted in the movies - Ariel is independent, Cinderella is a good friend - it's hard to see those differences when you're looking at their pictures on a bedspread. To little girls, these fairy tale heroines are pretty ladies, nothing more. And perhaps to adults, too. Disney has introduced a line of Disney Princess costume wedding gowns, designed, Franklin says, "for women who have always dreamed of their wedding as the day they're a princess."

So there it is: a way to speed straight to the happy ending, without stopping to think about the story along the way. It's a great way to sell just about anything, but it's also precisely the opposite of what makes fairy tales compelling in the first place. The modern, commercial fairy tale contains no conflict, no resolution, no questions unresolved, no larger issues to explore. Once the princess climbs down from the tower, or the ball comes to an end, you're left with nothing to talk about at all.

Joanna Weiss covers television and pop culture for the Globe.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agree. I absolutely hate our world
of Political Correctness and all
the rewriting of history, and
fairy tales, etc. that goes along
with it. This woman has summed it
up quite well and even throws in
the commercially-driven reasons
why such stuff goes on. Thanks for
passing it along to us, John - it's
just more grist for our mill.