Why Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is not about Stockholm syndrome

I have no idea whether this started as serious feminist critique or as comedic satire, but if you’ve read any Disney-related stuff on the internet in the last five or ten years, you’ve probably heard someone asserting that Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm syndrome. I’m not going to bother with links. This stuff is everywhere. If you’re one of the three people who hasn’t heard it before, just Google it. Now, I don’t mind acknowledging problematic elements in childhood favorites, and I don’t mind “lol, your innocent childhood faves are actually The WORST” satire. But today I’m going to talk about why this particular criticism of this particular movie is seeing something there that wasn’t there before.

To begin, let’s establish what Stockholm syndrome actually is. According to Merriam-Webster, it is:

the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor

Beauty and the Beast fails this basic definition right out of the gate. Belle isn’t a hostage, and the Beast isn’t her captor. Maurice breaks a law, namely trespassing on royal grounds, and is imprisoned for it. Sure, it can easily be argued that he received an excessive sentence without trial and that the dungeon conditions weren’t humane, but “Don’t trespass on royal property” is a pretty reasonable law from a security POV. This would be like finding some random person camped out in an unused corner of the White House, claiming it was because they got a flat tire.

So, anyway, Maurice is in jail because he broke a fairly reasonable law. Belle comes to find him of her own initiative. She knows her aging father won’t last long in the dungeon, so she volunteers as tribute to serve his sentence for him, also of her own initiative. The Beast does not in any way manipulate or intimidate Belle into that choice. He doesn’t expect or consider that she would make such a choice at all. But he decides it’s a fair exchange. He doesn’t care who pays for Maurice’s crime as long as someone does. Sure, the Beast later admits that he considered the possibility that Belle was an eligible spell-breaker, but apparently that didn’t matter enough to him to actively force or coerce her to stay for that purpose. Because he didn’t. In fact, he dismisses the idea that Belle could fall in love with him out of hand. The servants have to badger him into making an effort (a futile one in his eyes) to get Belle to like him.

And the Beast’s efforts are futile at first, because Belle has no reason to trust him. She’s glad to get out of the dungeon, but the opulent bedroom, the wardrobe full of fancy gowns, and the invitation to dine at the Master’s table don’t impress her. She’s not fawning with gratitude that her warden moved her to a better cell.

Belle only starts warming up to the Beast after he’s followed her example and risked his life to save her. I mean, yeah, he was following her because she was running away from his castle (where she was under house arrest because she was serving a sentence for a trespasser, and then she went and trespassed herself). But he could’ve left her to the wolves and saved himself, and he didn’t. And Belle takes this for what it is – an act of basic human decency. She isn’t swooning over her captor because he’s tossed her an extra crumb. She thanks him for saving her life, while maintaining that her life was in danger in the first place because he had frightened her into running away.

What most establishes here, imo, that this isn’t a Stockholm syndrome case or any other kind of abusive relationship, is that when Belle tells the Beast he should learn to control his temper, she gets the last word. The Beast doesn’t retort that Belle shouldn’t have made him lose his temper, nor does he faux grovel and shower her with assurances that it’ll never happen again. They’ve been arguing over whose fault the incident was, and “You should learn to control your temper” is what makes the Beast stop, silently acknowledging that there is no good counter-argument.

And we see over the course of a full season that the Beast does start controlling himself and acting more human. We don’t see a cycle of the Beast losing his temper, Belle threatening to leave, the Beast winning her back only to lose his temper again. We see consistent, long-term change. Belle sees it, too, and that’s when she starts falling for him.

Oh, yeah, we’re going to talk about the library scene. 

beauty-and-the-beast-disneyscreencaps-com-6089

I’m going to guess that, if you were a kid who loved Beauty and the Beast, this was the scene that made you believe in true love. This was the tale as old as time. This was the impossible standard against which all future suitors would be judged. This was the true fantasy. Not being kidnapped and falling in love with your captor. Not finding a “beastly” man and being the one to reform him. Not being given outrageously expensive gifts.

THE BEAST LOVES THAT BELLE LOVES TO READ.

This scene is in such stark contrast to Gaston’s statement that “It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas…thinking…” The Beast gives Belle ALL THE BOOKS! so she can get ALL THE IDEAS! and think ALL THE THOUGHTS! Not only that, he invites her into a dark corner of the castle, in contrast to shutting her out before. I’m trying not to stray too far into speculation and subtext here, but I think it’s a reasonable extrapolation that the Beast had been utilizing the library himself over the last ten years, and that a love of books (or at least literacy) was something he and Belle had in common, unlike pretty much everyone else in Belle’s poor, provincial town.

After all this, Belle asks to leave for the same reason she originally asked to stay. Her father is in danger. The Beast lets her go. He doesn’t force her to stay or manipulate her into “choosing” to stay, despite the fact that he’s fallen in love with her and that his curse is on the verge of permanency. Later, Belle returns to the Beast, not because she misses the (non-existent) abuse, or because she can’t live without him, or because she can’t function as a free person. She does what she always does. She risks herself to save someone she loves, and who loves her.

I can’t wait until the live action Beauty and the Beast comes out next month, and I’m interested to see what inevitable changes are made to the story. I just hope Disney doesn’t try to “fix” the Stockholm syndrome “problem”. In the words of a wise clockwork butler,

If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.

How I Met Your Avatar: The Legend of Korra Series Finale

SPOILER Warning: This blog post is all about the Legend of Korra series finale and is full of SPOILERS. Don’t read this post if you don’t want SPOILERS. Here’s something else you can read – my fangirly post that I wrote in anticipation of Season 3.

“Korra” by deviantART user taratjah

Okay, so. If you’ve been anywhere near Tumblr this weekend, you know that the infamous Korra/Mako/Asami triangle was resolved with Korra being on friendly terms with her ex-boyfriend Mako and…going off on a romantic vacation with his ex-girlfriend, Asami. #Korrasami is canon. The Legend of Korra ended the same way as The Last Airbender – the Avatar gets the girl. Or the girl gets the Avatar. Or something. However you want to put it, The Legend of Korra began with teenage Korra in love with a boy and ended with adult Korra in love with a woman.

There are enough bloggers talking about what a great thing this is for bi representation. All I’ll say on that is ZOMG THIS IS AWESOME FOR BI REPRESENTATION!!!! But beyond that, what really struck me about the way The Legend of Korra ended is that it gave us the story that How I Met Your Mother promised and didn’t deliver. Korra finds True Love, loses True Love for completely legitimate reasons, regains a genuine friendship with her ex-True Love, and finds True Love again in the end. Like I said in my review of the How I Met Your Mother finale, you almost never see this in television. Either the first love turns out to not really be love, or the first love is the only possible TRUE love and you can never really get over them or be as in love with someone else.

Image via SpoilersGuide.com

The Legend of Korra didn’t go either of these predictable routes. Korra was undeniably in love with Mako in the first season. In her own words, she felt like they were meant for each other. And, because I dearly love Korra and want her to have everything she wants, I was completely on-board the Good Ship Makorra. (Seriously, after the Season 2 finale, I was playing “Set Fire To The Rain” on a loop.)

Then Season 3 started. Cue post-breakup awkwardness with Mako. But through the awkwardness, it never went into “I never want to see you again” territory on one hand or “I’m secretly trying to get back together with you because I could never possibly love anyone else” territory on the other. And meanwhile, here’s Asami displaying no lingering feelings for Mako whatsoever and flirting up a storm with Korra, and Korra seeming remarkably okay with that. Season 3 ended with all three points of this forgotten triangle totally single and in no hurry (or condition, in Korra’s case) to change that.

Season 4 revealed that Korra, Mako, and Asami had all been single for the three years between seasons. Mako and Korra affirm to other people that, by the end of Season 3, they’d come to think of each other as friends. In the finale, they affirm this to each other. They share a beautiful scene near the end as two people who sincerely respect and care for each other. But neither one moves toward making their relationship more than that, and I, a die-hard Makorra shipper for the first two seasons, didn’t sense regret on either side.

Then, in a scene mirroring Avatar Aang’s happy ending with his future wife Katara, Avatar Korra gets her happy ending taking the hands and gazing into the eyes of her second True Love. Balance has been restored. A children’s show has given us one of the most mature, adult romantic storylines in modern television. That beauteous rarity known as an emotionally satisfying series finale has been achieved. All is right with the world.

In my opinion, The Legend of Korra succeeded where How I Met Your Mother failed because Korra‘s showrunners could acknowledge that their characters had evolved beyond their original vision. The first season of The Legend of Korra was supposed to be a stand-alone miniseries, so obviously Korra and Mako were originally meant to be together. But, like Ted and Robin, Korra and Mako evolved. Barney Stinson and Asami Sato evolved, too (man, I never thought I would name those characters in the same sentence). I applaud the Avatar creators for letting Korra’s new relationship with Asami follow this path. Seeing these two walk off into the sunset together was, in Korra’s words, “perfect.”

“They did the thing!” by deviantART user KrystalSerenity

But, hey, who the hell is Su Jin Beifong’s father?

Sailor Moon Crystal: Random Observations

Sailor Moon Crystal, the Sailor Moon reboot series that has been emphatically pitched as a new adaptation of the original manga and NOT a remake of the 90s anime, premiered on Saturday.

Sailor Moon Crystal

My overall impression: It feels like a remake of the 90s anime. But a good remake. Here, in no particular order, are a few more particular impressions I had during my first viewing.

The animation is beautiful. My favorite aspect of the original animation, the over-the-top flowery pink girliness, is still there, and this time around there’s a new grace and elegance to it. The opening theme and transformation sequence are different from the original, but they’re just as enjoyable to watch, and I think they’ll soon become iconic in their own right.

Sailor Moon Crystal title card

The boys are quite crushable. Mamoru Chiba/Tuxedo Mask/Tuxedo Kamen has a spark with Usagi from the beginning that I felt was lacking in the original series, where (imho) their sparring often came across less as romantic tension and more as people genuinely disliking each other. This incarnation of Mamoru feels more endearingly awkward than just plain bitchy. I’m curious to see how long it takes this Usagi to figure out Mamoru and Tuxedo Mask are the same person since he was wearing a freakin’ tuxedo when she met him.

Usagi meets Mamoru/Tuxedo Mask

However, despite all of Mamoru’s adorkably romantic charm, Motoki is still my favorite. He’s sweet, attentive, helpful (especially at video games), and he looks like a male Haruka Tenoh. What more could a girl want?

Motoki, surrounded by roses.

Crystal feels more like a cohesive story with an ongoing arc. While I did enjoy Usagi’s episodic adventures in the original anime, it took awhile to indicate that it was telling a bigger story than “random kid gets superpowers and fights a new monster every week.” In the new series, the eponymous crystal is introduced as the Magical MacGuffin right away, we get a first look at Ami (Sailor Mercury) before the end credits roll, and those end credits give us a beautiful image of Princess Serenity and Prince Endymion.

omg it’s the back of Ami’s head!!!

Usagi is still Usagi. Clumsy, a bit of a crybaby, chronically late, and way more interested in video games and shopping than homework. And of course, a hopeless romantic. I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of the Sailor Senshi and watching them fight together by moonlight.

Sailor Senshi

Want to check it out for yourself? Click here to watch Sailor Moon Crystal on Hulu, or watch the pilot video embedded below.

10 Things I Love About The Legend of Korra

The trailer for Book 3 of The Legend of Korra has been viewed about 1,140,000 times, which means people other than me have viewed it about 140,000 times.

The Legend of Korra was my introduction to the Avatar franchise. I watched The Last Airbender after Book 2 ended last fall because I missed my Korra fix. I loved Aang and his story, too. Aang is as different from Korra as humanly possible, and the two shows have very different feels to them, so I can understand why some people who fell in love with Avatar Aang and his team first aren’t huge Korra fans. But Korra was my first love, and I can’t wait to see more of her and her team. Here, in no particular order of favoritism, are ten things I love about The Legend of Korra.

10. LIN FREAKIN’ BEIFONG

I had virtually no knowledge of The Last Airbender when I started watching The Legend of Korra, so I didn’t meet Lin as Toph Beifong’s daughter. Her awesomeness was all her own and not a matter of legacy. I couldn’t remember her name at first, so I just called her Lady Magneto in my head. She quickly became one of my favorite things about the show. Really, how many shows have you seen with a middle-aged gray-haired female action hero? Where her age and grayness weren’t played for laughs or irony? Lin got even cooler for me when I did watch The Last Airbender and Toph became my favorite member of the Gaang. This video is, imo, the perfect summary of the Beifong legacy:

9. MOAR GROWNUPS

Image via deviantART user SuirenShinju

I like it when kids’ stories are well-populated with an active, non-useless adult generation. Lin, as I mentioned above, is clearly middle-aged and drawn with unambiguously gray hair. The Avatar wiki gives her age as 50 in the first book and 51 in the second. She’s far from the only one. Tenzin, Korra’s Airbender mentor, is the same age as Lin. His older brother and sister, Bumi and Kya, get a lot of screen time in Book 2. Their family issues take up almost as much of the story as the actual Avatar’s arc. Also earning plenty of screen time is Pema, Tenzin’s wife and the mother of his four children. Even Korra’s own parents are key players in Book 2. Yes, you read that right – there is such a thing as a fantasy protagonist with two living parents!

8. ASAMI SATO

Image via deviantART user Nortiker

Asami is the resident muggle on Team Avatar, and she’s a very conventionally attractive and conventionally feminine girl. It would’ve been really easy to write her as weak and shallow to make Korra look stronger and more authentic by contrast. Instead, Asami is intelligent and courageous. We quickly see that she’s someone Korra can learn a lot from, and not in a cliched “Girly girl gives the tomboy a makeover” way. Asami is a valuable asset to Team Avatar and eventual friend to the Avatar herself.

7. LOVE TRIANGLES THAT DON’T COMPLETELY SUCK

Love triangles are pretty case-by-case for me. Sometimes I find them entertaining, and other times I’m like, “Why? Just…why???” I have to admit, it could be argued that this story didn’t need love triangles at all. But accepting the fact that they are a big part of this series, I think they’re handled really well. Like I said above, Asami, Korra’s “rival” for Mako’s affections, isn’t portrayed as weak or shallow in contrast to Korra. I put “rival” in quotes because for a long time Asami didn’t even know Korra had asked Mako out, and she and Korra get along reasonably well considering Korra’s secretly in love with Asami’s boyfriend who may be in love with Korra. Or with Asami also. (Mako’s an idiot. I didn’t say it was a perfect love triangle. 😛 ) You sympathize with both girls and want to see them both get a happy ending.

Image via deviantART user dCTb

This is all foreshadowed when Korra confides her feelings about Mako to Pema, Tenzin’s wife. Pema encourages Korra to go for it and tell Mako how she feels. She recalls that, when she fell in love with Tenzin, he was interested in someone else, but that she made a move because she couldn’t stand the thought of him being with “the wrong woman.” Pema is a likable character. She and Tenzin obviously have a happy marriage. I took her words at face value, interpreted the scene as an older woman empowering a younger one, and was interested to see how her advice would serve Korra.

Then it turns out that “the wrong woman” was LIN FREAKIN’ BEIFONG. Who evidently never found anyone else. The story gives no easy answers as to who “deserves” to “win” their love interest. No matter how things are resolved, someone will have every reason and every right to be hurt, and someone else will have every reason and every right to have made the choice that hurt them. And young impressionable viewers will learn the valuable life lesson that love effin’ sucks.

6. THE AIRBENDER KIDS

Okay, so, something a bit lighter. Tenzin and Pema have three little airbenders. Meelo has all of Grandpa Aang’s boyish exuberance and Great-Uncle Sokka’s goofy sense of humor. Ikki is the Keeper of the Baby Sky Bison, and if you don’t think Blueberry Spicehead is best bison, we’re not friends. Jinora…Jinora is everything. EVERYTHING. The next spinoff could easily be Legend of Jinora. Rohan, the baby born in Book 1, is predicted to be an airbender, but personally I think it’d be interesting to see what happens if he can bend some other element, or if he isn’t a bender at all. Time will tell.

5. PRO BENDING

Image via deviantART user Jonie182

I love everything about this. I love that, in this universe, superheroes have turned their superpowers into a competitive sport. I love Korra, Mako, and Bolin as a team (when they are functioning as a team). I love that Korra can learn bending best in the context of a dangerous, high-stakes game. I love the old-timey radio announcer. And I love the Fire Ferrets’ mascot.

4. THE CHANGING WORLD

Even without having watched The Last Airbender, I could tell that Korra’s story took place in a world that had seen a lot of change over the last century. Benders, once the saviors, had come to be regarded with suspicion and fear. A world once strongly divided along nations and races had overcome these barriers only to create new ones, namely benders vs non-benders. After watching The Last Airbender, I could appreciate even more how different the political landscape was in the two series. I think my favorite change, though, is the progression of technology. It’s like The Last Airbender is around the mid-19th century, and The Legend of Korra is circa World War I.

3. ESKA AND HER FEEBLE TURTLEDUCK

Image via deviantART user AtomicMangos

I am a horrible person.

2. “WHEN WE HIT OUR LOWEST POINT, WE ARE OPEN TO THE GREATEST CHANGE.”

This line is really insightful and thought-provoking to me because, in my observation, it’s usually true. Though not necessarily in a good way. The biggest changes in my life were usually the results of decisions that were made at someone’s lowest point. Sometimes they were my decisions. Sometimes they were decisions made by my parents or by other people with direct influence on my pre-adult life. There’s something about being at that low point that makes you open to a level of change you wouldn’t otherwise consider. Sometimes those changes aren’t good, and you find that it is in fact possible to reach an even lower point. But other times you look inside yourself and find a power you’d never quite been able to tap into before, and you finally make that change that lets you save yourself and become what you were meant to be. At least, that’s how it worked for Korra.

1. KORRA

You guys, I freakin’ love Korra! Yes, she’s a hothead. Yes, the writers were playing ping-pong with her mental state for most of Book 2. Yes, she’s Not Aang. But having “met” Korra without the weight of Aang’s shadow, I saw her as an engaging, entertaining, likable, and believable 17-year-old girl. She wants to do the right thing and solve all the problems of the world even though she doesn’t always know how. She wants to excel at her calling even though she doesn’t always have the patience to learn the skills that don’t come naturally to her and polish the ones that do. She does excel at bending and fighting and has since she was a toddler. Her arrogance and brashness hint at years of knowing very few people skilled enough to teach her. Once she knows what she wants, she goes after it right away. She has a joy and enthusiasm that you don’t see in a lot of contemporary YA heroines. She is fire. She is earth. She is water. At last, she is air.

She’s the Avatar, and you gotta deal with it!

Image via deviantART user and illustration goddess alicexz

Steven Universe, aka Amethyst And Those Other People

Let me be very up-front about this: I am reviewing Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe for the same reason I was compelled to watch it in the first place, that being the presence of a character named Amethyst.

My interest was further piqued when I found out creator Rebecca Sugar worked on Adventure Time and had written the episode “Simon & Marcy”. She’s also the first woman to create a show for Cartoon Network.

In the limited observation of a very-early-30-something with no actual kids, kids’ cartoons seem to be pretty gender-targeted. Not to say there isn’t some crossover in fandom (bronies, anyone?), but usually you can watch a cartoon for about 5 seconds and figure out whether it’s targeted at boys or girls. Steven Universe clearly and effectively targets both. Watch the opening theme here:

Nothing about it screams “Boy aisle!” or “Girl aisle!” but it doesn’t try to be devoid of gender, either. It’s at once boyish and girly. The color palette is a pleasant medium between primaries and pastels.

So, how about the show itself? Steven Universe (Universe really is his last name) has taken his late mother’s place in a group of intergalactic superheroes called the Crystal Gems. The surviving Gems – Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl – are like aunts to Steven, teaching him how to use the powers of the gemstone he inherited from his mother, Rose Quartz. He also gets help from his flakey but caring human father, former indie rocker Greg Universe.

What really makes this show fun to watch is the sense of familial affection that permeates it. Rebecca Sugar named the title character after her younger brother, who does background art for the show. I totally see my 10-year-old nephew in Steven. I see a little of myself in all of the Crystal Gems. Garnet’s decisive confidence. Pearl’s cool-headed logic. Amethyst’s unapologetic lack of damns to give. And her name. Her beautiful, fabulous, awesome name.

Most of the shows I watch on Cartoon Network are either outright made for adults (anything on Adult Swim), or ostensibly made for kids but catered to a significant teen and adult fanbase (Adventure Time). Steven Universe does feel like it’s being written primarily for kids. But it’s written well for kids. Which also makes it enjoyable for adults, if you’re the kind of adult who goes to Pixar movies unaccompanied by a child. Will I watch it? Not in its actual time slot, where it competes with Bones and How I Met Your Mother. I will, however, catch up on it online when I feel like watching a quirky, endearing cartoon featuring a superheroine named Amethyst.

Image via Steven Universe Wiki