Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On Internet Lists and Ruined Childhoods.

Okay, internet, I think it’s time to stop it.  No really, just stop.  Enough with the lists already!

Maybe I should start at the beginning.  I was surfing along the internet when I found this on the comedy website Dorkly: “The Real Stories Behind 9 Disney Movies”.  You know the drill, they list 9 movies and their literary and folk tale counterparts and write a little piece on the differences between the two.  All in the interest in somehow getting a couple of laughs (I’ll get back to that point later).  No big deal, right?  Well, it’s not the only one.  Listverse had a list like this.  Buzzfeed (king of internet lists and countdowns) had a couple.  Cracked (the website of Mad Magazine’s edgier spinoff) had a couple of them as well.  Huffington Post had one with a particularly memorable title: “The Real Stories Behind These Disney Movies will Ruin Your Childhood”.  This seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.  I mean, take a look at my Google search results (click HERE).

So, I get the idea.  People are more aware of the Disney versions of these stories, so people write articles on the internet pointing out the differences.  Now, I’m no fan of Disney and the “Hollywood fairy tale machine”.  I’m also all for getting the original tales some more exposure.  However, I’m not sure these lists are helping.

Every one of these internet lists I read has a tendency towards sensationalism.  The problem with sensationalism is that it can drive people away too.  An outsider may come in thinking “Gee, it’s a good thing Disney came along and fixed these stories” (I’ve encountered that attitude elsewhere online before).  These articles all trade on the notion that something sweet and precious from your childhood was based on something awful and violent and terrible.  However, the original fairy tales are not awful.  They’re fantastic!  I mean, sure, there’s violence in many of them.  However, there’s also violence in the real world.  I don’t want to say that children have to learn to live with violence, because that would be stupid.  If there’s violence in your life, you have every right to try and get away from it and no one should try to hurt a child.  However, children should also know that violence does exist in the world.  Many of these early stories weren’t concocted expressly for children, anyway.  They were created for everybody with children just being part of that greater audience.  Now some of these stories were written for children, like the tales of Hans Christian Anderson and Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.  With these cases, it could go one of two ways.  In one case, they may stem from a time when children weren’t quite as sheltered as they are now.  The truth is that childhood as we know it didn’t always exist like it does now.  For a long time, children were mostly treated as little adults.  In agrarian communities when whole families lived in one room houses, work was often dangerous and wakes were held in the home, it was hard to shield the little darlings from things like sex, injury and death.  It was a change that only really came about with the process of industrialization.  The notion of adolescence as a transition period between childhood and adulthood really didn’t exist either.  The other possibility is that, well, they figured kids could take it.  I mean, children aren’t as fragile as some people seem to think they are.

They leave out all sorts of great stuff, too.  Take, for instance, when these lists write about Pinocchio.  Do they ever mention that despite the darker bits, the original Pinocchio is actually quite funny.  I’ve been telling the story of Pinocchio in installments at storytelling guild meetings for months now and I’ve gotten laughs every time.  Of course, my delivery might help.  However, there is a humor to all of Pinocchio’s trials and tribulations.  Many of them are so over-the-top and ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh.  They also neglect to mention that the characters are more complex and interesting in Collodi’s version.  Geppetto is more of a hothead and originally created Pinocchio to make money, but also tries his best to do right by him.  Pinocchio is equal parts mischievous, selfish and innocent and really does love his father despite being drawn to trouble.  It all reflects a more real and complicated view of family where people are flawed and expectations aren’t always met.  Instead, it’s always just “Oh no, he killed the cricket” (so much trouble over squishing a bug).  Many of these lists get their facts wrong as well.  I don’t know how many I’ve seen that refer to the Grimms’ version of “Cinderella” as the original.  The truth is that Charles Perrault’s version “Cendrillon”, which is very much like the Disney adaptation, predates the Grimms’ “Aschenputtel” by about two hundred years.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I shouldn’t be getting so up and arms over something that’s being posted on comedy websites.  Here’s the thing: these lists aren’t really funny either.  Oh, they’re trying to be.  Most of them have a sort of jokey, wise-cracking tone.  But they don’t really have any laugh-out-loud lines or anything.  So, that kind of just makes it worse.

I don’t know.  I’d just like to see more on the internet about how terrific the old stories are instead of how awful they are.  That’s more or less what blogs like this one are for, though.  Maybe I’m overreacting.  After all, Soman Chainani (author of The School for Good and Evil) posted a similar list on Buzzfeed.  If someone who's so clearly a fairy tale fan can do it, maybe it's not so bad.  I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Post in the comments below on any impressions about the internet, old fairy tales and “ruined childhoods”.


  1. I'm not too upset by these sensational internet lists. I think the nature of Buzzfeed and those other sites is to forget the details of what you read pretty quickly afterwards. On the plus side, more people are being exposed to the fact that Disney movies were based on older stories, although I doubt from these sources too many people are hitting the libraries to see what the stories actually say.

    I think it's just more or less interesting to see the conflicting attitudes of the public. You'll hear some people complaining about how Disney movies are too violent/traumatic for kids, even more so the older stories, and others complaining that Disney movies/fairy tales are too cheesy and simplistic. I imagine that some of the same people might skim a feminist criticism of Disney movies and probably nod in agreement, then later read one of these lists and also find themselves agreeing with the idea that Disney made the stories "better" or at least more appropriate.

    But I also feel like often times we fairy tale folk feel a bit defensive about the negative and childish stereotype of fairy tales and will remind people of the most violent and sexual aspects of the stories. Sadly you can't hook too many people with "it's a beautiful and well written story!" these days-you have to first impress them with shocking elements.

    But yes, I get so frustrated with the dozens of times people say the Grimms are the "original" version of anything. Even more well-researched articles that should know better!

    1. When I'm talking up fairy tales, I usually promote what amazing, crazy fantasy concepts they have. I suppose that doesn't do much either, though.

      As for the "Grimm Fallacy", it has to do with their name being inextricably linked with fairy tales. So, people give them credit even for stories they had nothing to do with (like "Jack and the Beanstalk"). People do the same with parody music, too. It used to be that whenever people heard a parody song, they'd automatically credit it to "Weird Al" Yankovic.

    2. "The Grimm Fallacy" - I like it. Good phrase.

  2. I'm a regular reder of Cracked and the first two listsof that kind I read on the site were "Quick Fixes" a concept that was back then pretty new. Quick Fixes are articles that are between half and a third of the size of a normal racked article. Now they use them to tackle more topical issues (a regular sized Cracked article takes about a month till it gets out), but when they were new, the Cracked staff obviously didn't know what to to do with the concept yet. The result were two badly researched, unfunny articles. For instance the impression is created that "The Girl without Hands ends with the Devil leaving and it's not even mentioned, that "The Death of the little Hen" is meant to be funny. (http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/5-grimm-fairy-tales-you-should-only-read-to-kids-you-hate/, http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/5-grimms-fairy-tales-way-too-dark-to-read-to-kids/) The article you linked is _much_ better in that regard. At least the author is aware that different versions of the same tale exist, even pointing out that the Grimm version of Cinderella came _after_ the version of Perrault and mentioning Yeh-Hsien, which kind of gives it away that he is cherry-picking the darker ones. At least some effort went into that article (The reason I'm reading Cracked is that you can tell that research went into the articles and they link all their sources), making it one of the less grave offenders in the bulk of klick-bait.

    While the intent of such lists is clear (to create "buzz" via sensationalism), in my opinion they can motivate people to read to original tale and hopefully make up their own minds.

    The mindset of "Thank god that Disney changed this" existed well before those lists, these articles being a symptom and not the cause. The true problem if you ask me is that adults nowadays wish for entertainment that their children can be left alone with, rather than telling/reading them stories, minding their reactions and discussing afterward, so naturally they're grateful for the kid-friendly watered down versions. That said those lists could also actually be helpful to parents who after being exposed to Disney for so long, who might believe that handing a complete collection of Grimm's fairytales to their children is a good idea.

    PS: On your last Fairytale Media Fix I left a lengthy review that basically was just an obnoxious request to review "The Salt Prince". Today I noticed that t's not there nd hope it didn't send properly. If you actually had to delete it, I apologize sincerely.

  3. I'm with you on that, especially the issue of violence in fairy tales. The thing about the violence is that fairy tales aren't real (Lüthi's phrase that folktales are "unreal, not untrue"); the violence happens to "types", not "people". When the stepmother-queen in Snow White is made to dance in red-hot shoes, that's not happening to a flesh-and-blood woman, but to an embodiment of evil. And kids know it. Well, I knew it, anyway, and I think I'm no exception. Kids aren't stupid. And it's that very quality of being "unreal", or maybe even hyper-real, that makes fairy tales powerful. I think Disney's queen in Snow White is actually scarier and more violent than the one in the Grimms, because she's more "realistic". So, yeah, let's advertise how great old fairy tales are, not how violent and scary.