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.

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Halloween 2014 recap

Last year I blogged about my Halloween costume, so I figured I’d continue the tradition.

I made the circlet for another costume a few years ago. The plastic sword was for a Xena, Warrior Princess costume. The belt and the gold slippers are some of my favorites from my actual wardrobe.

Obviously, though, the best part of this costume is the vintage dress. My mom bought it in Germany when she spent a year there in the late 70’s. She doesn’t remember where she found it. I’m going to say it was a charming little boutique because that makes a good story. It’s important to note that she did not buy it for cosplay. For a fantasy-loving flower child, this was an actual formal dress. She kept it all these years and is now graciously allowing me to use it for playing dress-up costuming.

I hope you all had a happy Halloween!

Cindy: The Kardashians Meet The Addams Family at Disneyworld

Image via Cindy’s official Facebook page. Click to go to the kickstarter.

So, I got an email the other day that began thusly:

Larry Wilson here. I co-wrote and co-produced Beetlejuice, co-wrote The Addams Family, wrote and directed for six seasons of Tales from the Crypt.

“Sure you did,” I thought.

I found you through your blog’s review of The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy

“Okay,” I thought. “That is in fact a thing I wrote. But this could still be a creative spammer or scammer.”

and I’m so excited to share my new project with you. It’s a web series called CINDY (youtube.com/cindyseries), that I think will especially appeal to fans of Peter and Wendy.

“Oooo, linkage! And moar literary webness! I’m listening.”

The character Cindy is a foster child (read: maid, unpaid personal assistant and emotional punching bag.) Her “family” are reality TV superstars who make the Kardashians look warm and fuzzy. Then add a Fairy Godmother with a drug problem, a handsome prince who is over twice Cindy’s age, and a young PA who’s fallen in love with Cindy and is determined to rescue her, even if it ends his TV career before it’s really started.

The result is a web series with every ounce of wit and snark a Beetlejuice or Addams Family fan would expect.

“I believe wit, snark, and an intersection of pop culture and classic fantasy are relevant to the interests of Thalia’s Musings fans.” And, based on the trailers I saw, that’s pretty much what Cindy is.

We just launched a Kickstarter to raise money for the post production of CINDY…

So it came to pass that I composed a blog post to bring Cindy to my readers’ attention. Having not seen any full episodes, I can’t tell you much more about the series than what Larry’s email or the Kickstarter pitch have said about it. But the trailer and teasers were a fun watch, and I think the series will be, too, if it makes it out of post production and onto my computer screen. The Kickstarter has just 8 days left, so if Cindy looks like something you want to add to your YouTube literary obsessions, click here and check it out!

UPDATE: Cindy’s kickstarter surpassed its goal! Looking forward to seeing the finished product on YouTube B-)

The Fire Wish: Scheherazade Meets The CW

Reviewing Royal last week put me in a YA fantasy mood. Hence this review of The Fire Wish, a new release by debut author Amber Lough. TL;DR – You’re either going to love it or hate it. I loved it.

The Fire Wish (Jinni Wars #1), by Amber Lough. Click image for Amazon listing.

The Fire Wish is about two teenage girls in a mythical version of ancient Baghdad who switch places with each other. Jasmine Zayele is a reluctant princess who wants to escape an arranged marriage. Ariel Najwa is a Jinn spy-in-training fascinated by the human world and its inhabitants. If this sounds too cheesy to you, abandon hope all ye who enter here. If you’re as much of a sucker for this kind of story as I am, grab your long skinny fork thing and join me at the fondue fountain.

My favorite thing about this book is the Jinni world Lough has created. I’m not as familiar with Middle Eastern mythology as I’d like to be, so I can’t tell how much is adapted from that and how much is Lough’s own imagination. But it’s pretty obvious that the Jinni spy headquarters is influenced by Lough’s experience in US military intelligence. There are intelligence files, security clearance levels, walls filled with magic screens, and, of course, secret missions. Najwa, the Jinn spy candidate, was the more interesting of the two protagonists to me, though ironically she spends most of her time exploring the surface and trying to become Part Of Our World. Najwa could be the only protagonist and I’d still want to read this book.

Not that I don’t like Zayele; it’s just that her story starts out way more familiar. She’s a plucky tomboy in a patriarchal society that wants her to be a proper lady and marry the nice prince her family picked out for her. To be fair, she has some legit reasons for not wanting to get married. She’s still a few months away from her sixteenth birthday, and marriage would mean leaving her blind brother at home without her care. And, hey, it doesn’t matter if a guy is a prince, a musician, a scientist, and a total hottie. If a girl isn’t interested, she isn’t interested. Move along.

Is it really a spoiler that Najwa is interested? Or that Zayele ends up falling for the ripped, leather-clad, Special Ops Jinn-next-door that Najwa totes friendzoned? It’s predictable, but it works. Prince Kamal is a great match for cautious, curious, scholarly Najwa. Atish, the Shaitan warrior, is everything impulsive, decisive, headstrong Zayele could want in a guy.

But, cute pairings aside, The Fire Wish manages to avoid being a romance novel disguised as a fantasy. Most of the focus is on the war between the humans and Jinni, how people think the war started vs how it really did, and both sides’ behind-the-scenes efforts to gain the upper hand. It’s an intriguing setup, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the Jinni War in the inevitable sequels.

If a made-for-the-CW magic carpet ride sounds like your idea of a good time, click the image above or this link to enter A Whole New World.

Twisted: A Very Wicked Disney Musical

Promo poster for Twisted. Image via Do312

You probably know the musical comedic genius of Team Starkid from A Very Potter Musical and its sequels. What? You’ve never seen A Very Potter Musical??? Well, I’ll have to blog about that some other time, because it’s awesome. Draco is a girl in drag and Zac Ephron is a [SPOILER!] and Harry Freakin’ Potter is played by a pre-Glee Darren Criss (aka Blaine Warbler).

But today I’m fangirling about StarKid’s latest production, Twisted: The Untold Story Of A Royal Vizier. It parodies both Wicked and Disney’s Aladdin, as indicated by the promo poster. It’s as affectionate and irreverent a parody as any of StarKid’s other works. Ja’far (not to be confused with the copyright-protected Jafar) gets the Elphaba treatment as the virtuous scapegoat for all the kingdom’s problems. His “scheming” is really applied poli sci, his “sorcery” is advanced science, and his “evilness” is a desire to rid the streets of criminals who steal bread from simple hard-working bakers. He also shares an unexpectedly poignant romance with Scheherazade of One Thousand and One Nights fame. Aladdin, tragically orphaned at 33, is a perfect satire of a douchy hipster trustfund baby who’s too cool to work for a living like everyone else. The Princess is every 16-year-old rich white privilege-checking Social Justice Warrior on Tumblr who dreams of saving the world but has a lot to learn about how it actually works. Since her name is never mentioned, I’m sure she is not the licensed Disney Princess Jasmine.

Want a quick sampler? Watch the opening number, with its profanity-laced classic Disney-style crowd song (the villagers do not greet Ja’far with “Bonjour”):

Or the balcony scene, which references pretty much every Disney moral panic conspiracy theory of the 90s:

Or this title-dropping gallery of Disney’s most fabulous villains:

Got a couple hours? Watch the whole thing!

Is “Princess” a Career?

Last week I blogged about my take on princess culture and why I don’t hate it. Apparently Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor saw my post and thought, “Hey, this sounds like a timely topic! I think I’ll go on national television and address the nation about it.” (A blogger can dream, right?)

Judge Sotomayor comes to Sesame Street to explain the word “career.” She describes “career” as “a job that you train for and prepare for and plan on doing for a long time.” Muppet child Abby Cadabby immediately says she wants a career as a princess. Judge Sotomayor gently breaks it to Abby that “pretending to be a princess is fun, but it is definitely not a career.” She tells Abby that real careers that a girl like Abby can train for in real life include “a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, and even a scientist.” In the end, Abby decides that when she grows up, she wants to follow Judge Sotomayor’s footsteps and earn a career as a judge.

So, what did a self-described lover of all things pink and purple and princessy think of this little PSA?

I loved it.

I loved the fact that Judge Sotomayor did affirm that pretending to be a princess is fun. It is fun (if you like that kind of thing), and it is just pretend. That’s why I don’t think it’s all that big of a deal for little girls to play princess any more than it is to play knights or dragons or zombies or space aliens or whatever. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not that hard for kids to learn the difference between make-believe and reality. You can encourage imaginative play and still make sure children understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

Which is and isn’t what Judge Sotomayor did on Sesame Street. How many little girls or little boys are really going to grow up to become Supreme Court justices? You can only have nine at any given time,  and one of them has to die or voluntarily resign for a spot to open up. So, in a way, Judge Sotomayor just replaced Abby’s completely unattainable fantasy with an almost completely unattainable fantasy.

And I love that.

A kid who’s capable of imagining herself as a fairy tale princess, something that’s not even real, is also a kid who’s capable of imagining herself as an engineer, a scientist, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or a judge. Sure, her imaginings are probably as close to the real thing as her princess fantasies are to the life of The Lady Louise Windsor. But maybe as she grows up and she learns more things about the realities of those careers, she’ll keep the ability to imagine herself in them. The vision will change, but the power to believe it won’t.

When I was young enough for Sesame Street, I loved imagining I was a princess. And a dinosaur. And an alien. And a cowgirl. And a mermaid. And a fairy. And a Bedouin warrior. And a centaur. And an officer on the USS Enterprise. And Laura Ingalls Wilder. And Sacajawea. But most of all, I loved imagining that when I grew up, I’d be able to take all of my imaginings and show them to the world.

Hey, what do you know? Playing pretend did turn into a career.

The Quandary of a High Femme Feminist

[As I’ve said, I’ll be using this blog to talk about random stuff that’s on my mind in addition to Thalia’s Musings stuff. Welcome to the first such post.]

Can I tell you guys a secret?

I don’t hate princesses.

I’m not talking about Kate, Diana, and Grace. I’m talking about the romanticized idea of a princess in popular media. The mythical concept of Princess that never has and never will exist in reality. I love outrageous, opulent ball gowns. Being born to wealth and power sounds like a beautiful dream. A castle seems pretty cool compared to my tiny apartment. There’s something very appealing about being thought “the fairest in the land.” And I effin’ love pink and purple.

I can hear the freakouts already. Herp patriarchy! Derp weak dependent submissive women! Hurr durr pink and purple!!!

Calm down. I believe young girls should be taught to make their own way in the world. That they should be just as conditioned as boys to become assertive, self-confident adults who take on the world themselves and don’t sit around waiting for someone to hand it to them. That their sense of worth should be in themselves, not in a potential or current romantic partner.

But what the hell does any of that have to do with pink and purple?

That frilly pink or purple ball gown I dream of wearing? Maybe I want to acquire it with a fortune of my own making. That castle in the sky? Maybe I want to storm it in shining armor and wear my ball gown at a celebration for my victory. Or maybe I was born in the castle because my mom is a queen in a long line of matriarchs. O Noes! Princesses = patriarchy!!!! :O Well, guess what. It’s my queendom. It exists in my mind.

I can make it whatever I want.

If I want “princess” to mean a woman who holds great power and uses it for good, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who prefers a sword to a scepter, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who prefers a pen to a sword, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who wanted power and worked for it and claimed it, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman whose power was granted to her at birth because she bears the blood of hundreds of powerful women before her, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who doesn’t need a prince, but goes out and wins one because she wants one, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who goes out and wins another princess, it can.

So when you see me in my pink ruffles, don’t assume I’m less driven and ambitious than the woman in a pantsuit. When you see my twirly floral miniskirts, don’t assume I’m waiting for a prince to call me pretty (or call me, period). And someday when I have a daughter and I call her my beautiful princess, don’t assume that I don’t also call her smart, strong, creative, hard-working, compassionate, and brave.

Because that’s my idea of a princess. And if I choose, I can be all of those things while decked out in pink and purple.