Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rags to Riches, Cinderella Style

 The rags to riches story is the epitome of Cinderella, but how realistic is it really? Truth be told it is entirely realistic, at least in today's society, to rise from rags to riches, but to do it in the manner that it occurs in Cinderella, specifically through the means of magic and marriage is utterly absurd. People rise to riches primarily through a combination of intelligence, work, and luck, none of which can be attributed to either magic or marriage.

People do not simply become rich, they must do something for it, be that start a very successful company or win the lottery, it does not magically happen. While one might argue that this involves a large amount of luck, and luck is an equivalent to magic, this is simply not true. First of all, luck is very different from magic. Magic is, for one, supernatural, which by its very definition means “That is above nature; belonging to a higher realm or system than that of nature; transcending the powers or the ordinary course of nature.” (Oxford English Dictionary) [1] and thus does NOT occur in nature or the real world. Luck on the other hand, very much exists, and can be placed squarely in the realm of “natural”. Furthermore, luck is non-judging. Magic on the other hand, is very judgmental. In fairy tales, the magic always works out in favor of the kindest, or the hardest working, or even the prettiest one. In Cinderella for example, the magic chooses Cinderella over her step sisters because she is kind, hardworking and pretty, while they are mean, lazy and ugly. Luck in real life has no bias, and is thus in no way analogous to magic.

Only pretty girls get fairy god mothers.

Furthermore, while some people do get rich via marriage, this is a very rare occurrence. The idea that people try to marry rich is one that originated in fairy tales and has little to no basis in the real world. [2] Inter-class marriages are among the most rare, and is not a real source of rags to riches stories.

As said above, the real source of rags to riches stories is personal motivation. The vast majority of the world's wealthiest people have their wealth self-made. They did not, stumble upon a four-leaf clover, or marry the heir to a kingdom, they made their riches themselves. To think otherwise is quite frankly naïve.

[2] Do American Women Marry Up?
Zick Rubin
American Sociological Review , Vol. 33, No. 5 (Oct., 1968), pp. 750-760

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Barnabas' Blog!

Barnabas' Blog!

I would like to start my review of Barnabas' blog by pointing out the ironic fact that on his blog, Barnabas links to everyone other person in the class' blog; that is every other person in the class, except me. Other than this glaring flaw, Barnabas' blog is, in general, quite well constructed an aesthetically pleasing with a interesting, albeit a bit random, use of a baseball theme. In addition to the links, he includes a poll and and picture that help keep the blog lively.
Barnabas' first two post are about why he signed up for the course, and what his favorite fairytale was. The two posts were very different in style, the first, why he signed up for the course, was written in a very informal and humorous manner. He starts off at a very fundamental level; rather than beginning his post with why he decided to take the course, he rather begins his post why he decided to go to college in the first place, and then why he chose to join the honors program. For this he uses an economic explanation, that he does it so he can get a good job, and he believes going to college and participating in the honors program will help him with this. It is not till the very last paragraph (out of nine) that he finally begins talking about the course itself. Here he is very blunt, freely admitting he had no idea what the course would be like when he signed up for it, even quoting himself in the line “How was I to know we would be blogging? “. This paragraph does feel like quite a bit of an addendum, however, despite the fact it is supposed to be the purpose of the blog post. Here he completely drops all connection to the previous thought of going to college in order to have better economic prospects and in no way explains how this course will help with that goal.
The second post about his favorite fairy tale, although from the same assignment as the first, is in a very different style. Barnabas discusses The Emperor's New Clothes, his favorite fairy tale, but does so in a much more formal fashion than the first entry, using formal psychoanalytical terminology such as “the Lake Woebegone effect”. He again likes to talk in abstract terms, looking at the underlying themes rather than specific details, as he did in his previous post were he spent more time on the broader issue of college than the more specific issue of this class in particular. This tendency towards the abstract is a recurring theme I found in many of Barnabas' posts.
This can particularly be seen in his third blog post, in which Barnabas creates a definition for fairy tales. While there are many ways to define fairy tales, Barnabas chooses to do so in a very abstract way. He defines it primarily in three aspects: fairy tales must have magic, fairy tales are adaptable, and fairy tales lack emotion. While most definitions try to define this in abstract terms, Barnabas does this to a degree more than most, avoiding any specifications in his definition, and having his definition be more concepts than actual things a story does or does not include. This creates an effective definition of the genre, as it is an abstract genre to begin with, and Barnabas helps clear up any ambiguity left by these abstract terms by providing good examples of things he would, and would not classify as a fairy tale or an excerpt from a fairy tale. Barnabas definition is also a well suited one, particularly interesting is his claim that fairy tales have a lack of emotion in their climax. This is a very good point and one that is not often brought up, but while it is true in many fairy tales, I do believe something can be a fairy tale with an emotional climax, and thus it is not entirely appropriate for a definition. Even Barnabas' wording of “if the culminating scene, the climax, shows a complete lack of emotion and of detail, you are reading a Fairy Tale”, is a one directional implication, i.e. if the climax lacks emotion, then it is a fairy tale. But a definition should really be a two directional, or an if and only if, implication, i.e. if the climax lacks emotion, then it is a fairy tale, and, if it is a fairy tale, then the climax lacks emotion.
In his fourth post, Barnabas shies away from his tendency towards the abstract and gets into specifics in is discussion of psychoanalysis of Freud and Jung in fairy tales. While he does talk about the larger structure of the two psychoanalysts theory of the human psyche, Jung's self, shadow, anima and animus, and Freud's id, ego and superego, he also talks about more specific instances of their theory such as the archetypes of Jung. He goes on to list and evaluate several of Jung's archetypes and how they are present in and reflect upon fairy tales. He also talks about Freud's stages of consciousness and even gives example from himself in explaining Freud's theory. These specific examples are very effective in this post as Freud and Jung are both famous for their general theories of the psyche, but its the specifics of the theories that are really the most applicable to fairy tales. By going into these specifics, Barnabas is able to directly show in what fairy tales each element of their theories plays a role.
For his fifth post, Barnabas analyzes a Japanese commercial that uses Little Red Riding Hood as its base. For this entry, he returns to the humorous and informal style of his earlier posts, first of all choosing a sexual and humorous clip, and then analyzing the sexuality of the clip and why the company would want to use Little Red Riding Hood for such humor. He claims that Little Red's innocence, and subsequent transformation into a sexual object, makes the clip even more provocative and effective as advertising. He goes back to general abstractions, mentioning the general themes of Little Red Riding Hood, like the loss of innocence rather than any specific parts of it. To me the clip is very reminiscent of scenes in many version of the tale where the wolf tries to seduce Little Red in the woods, and discussing these scenes in his analysis would have made it more rigorous.
Barnabas' next post is actually one highlighting other blogs in the class, and adds a nice break to the string of assignment prompted blogs. After that one he does an analysis of the tale of Cupid and Psyche. In this entry Barnabas gets very specific, comparing the story to that of Urashima. He actually compares them in specific detail, including elements such as mortals marrying immortals, and not being allowed to open a box, while contrasting them in more general terms, explaining how Cupid and Psyche has more of an ancient Greek mythology feel to it, while Urashima has more Japanese style and motifs. This analysis seemed a little trivial, and the comparison contained only events that happened, and not really any analysis behind them, and the contrast really only pointed out what cultures these two stories originate from. Some specific explanation of what made one story seem 'more 'reek' or 'more Japanese' would have been helping in improving this analysis.
Barnabas' final blog entry to date is an evaluation of Rammstein's song “Sonne”. The primary focus of Barnabas' analysis is how many aspects of the traditional story are simply omitted in the song. “Where is the Queen? the King? The hunter? The Prince? All are omitted. ” he writes. He continues on in this manner, analyzing the effect these omissions have on the story, and then considering what elements of the classical story were not omitted, and what purpose that might serve. Here Barnabas takes one abstract concept, which elements of the story are omitted and which aren't and then delves into the specifics of that concept, creating a very effective analysis of the song.
While Barnabas' blog has a clear affinity towards the abstract, his posts do range the spectrum in this manner, providing good examples when necessary to clarify this though. This, along with Barnabas' straight forward style of writing made his blog particularly easy and pleasant to read. This ease of reading is very good, especially for a blog. Barnabas' blog is quite successful, nearly every post has comments on it and already 40 people have voted on his poll. I believe that the easy readability has had a great deal to do with this, and is probably the biggest strength of his blog.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sonne of a Bitch!

 The music video “Sonne” by Rammstein gives an interesting twist on the Snow White story, in which the evil queen and the prince are physically omitted, but whose presence can still very much be felt. For example, in many versions of Snow White, the evil queen is displayed in the 'evil stepmother' archetype, being jealous and angry at Snow White, and while Snow White is not actually her daughter, the fact that many stories end with Snow White replacing the evil queen, narcissism intact, show that Snow White is a daughter figure to her. In “Sonne” however, Snow White herself gets placed in the role on evil stepmother. She clearly acts as a mother figure to the dwarves, ordering and disciplining them, and at one point even spanking them. The evil queen's presence, however, does not get solely placed on Snow White; the dwarves take over the role of poisoner, as they are the ones to poison Snow White, presumably as a sort of a vengeance upon being an evil stepmother, as opposed to as some sort of jealousy motive.

 The role of the prince similarly gets dispersed among two parties, the apple and again the dwarves. In “Sonne”, Snow White is awakened by an apple, and in this sense acts as the prince does in the stories. In one sense, this follows classic Christian motifs of the apple by giving the apple ultimate power, as it both put Snow White to sleep and woke her up. On the other hand however, the apple can be seen as an unconscious entity and can therefore not be seen as what is responsible for waking Snow White up. Rather, in the scenes right before and after the apple falls on Snow White's coffin, the dwarves are seen mining underground. This gives the implication that it was actually the mining that disturbed the earth and caused the apple to fall, and in this point of view the dwarves take the roll of the prince entirely. This is furthered by the sexual aspect of the interaction between Snow White and the dwarves. While Snow White is an evil stepmother, the dwarves are male, not female, so rather than having a jealousy aspect to her punishment, there is a sexual one taking the form of a Oedipus complex. Snow White treats the dwarves as sexual objects, spanking the bare bottoms, and so the dwarves replace the prince as the her sexual object. Looking at it from an Oedipus complex perspective, Snow White is not just the superego of the dwarves, but also their sexual id. In this light the dwarves can be seen as intentionally waking Snow White up subconsciously; they placed her upon a pedestal (atop a mountain), and more precisely above where they are digging, her always being above them allows her to sexually dominate asleep as she did awake.

 The combination of Snow White and the evil queen is not something completely new done by “Sonne”, but rather the same idea as earlier versions of the tale presented in a different way. In many versions of Snow White, Snow White does end up being evil and in fact, transforms into the evil queen by the end of the story; Rammstein, rather started with the two from the beginning, and could even be seen as a sort of epilogue to other versions, as Snow White's return after her transformation, and the dwarves attempting, unsuccessfully, to quell her new narcissistic ways.

 I personally preferred the “Sonne” version of Snow White to the Grimm's version, or any other version I have seen or read, primarily because the dwarves are so much more interesting in this version. First of all, the dwarves have sexuality. In all versions of the tale, Snow White is depicted as beautiful, if not the most beautiful girl in the land. Despite this, the dwarves never seem to display any sort of attraction to her. This causes the dwarves to appear unrealistic, and is many cases dispensable. In many version of the tale, the dwarves simply do nothing of great significance; they'll either only guard her once she's already asleep/dead, or they'll give her warning that she promptly ignores. “Sonne” on the other hand, puts the dwarves in the forefront of the story, they are critical to every aspect of it. As the dwarves are probably the most unique characteristic of the story, they really should be given a more prominent role; I mean, really, how many stories are there with an evil queen, a girl put to sleep, or a tempting apple. I remember as a child I would constantly get Snow White and Sleeping Beauty confused, because, replacing dwarves with fairies, they really are the exact same story, so Snow White tales should play up the dwarves, and their differences from fairies, not hide them as insignificant gimmicks as is in many the case. 

 I also actually liked the fact that Snow White is evil (or as my title my suggest, a bitch) from the beginning. It not only adds a new twist to the story, but also adds a new dimension to the story; who really is the evil one? Snow White certainly seemed evil, but was she really just acting as a strict mother? Did the dwarves have the right to put her to sleep? The story becomes a lot less black an white than the the original.