July 18, 2010

Faerie Tale Theatre

Young people are more well behaved today than ever in history, continuing a trend that began around 1992. And as a result, their lives are more boring. Hardly any of them tell urban legends, sing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall," or indeed have subversive childhood songs at all. TV shows and movies geared toward them couldn't be further removed from the messy real world -- either sterilized like Barney, SpongeBob, and Harry Potter, or so exaggerated and overwrought that you're always conscious that it's fake and just a goof, like the Saw movies and first-person shooter video games.

I wonder how exposed children of the past 20 years have been to the canon of fairy tales, for example, given how unaware they are of even very recently popular urban legends. (And there I mean the "modern ghost story" type, not the broader "I heard a rumor that..." type.) Those tales can be pretty heavy for a small child, and in the age of helicopter parents and wimpy kids, you figure whatever exposure they do get is to Bowdlerized versions. HBO put out a series of cartoons starting in the mid-'90s, but they were politically correct remakes titled Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child -- you know, not just for those white devil children. And Disney and Pixar have become too family-friendly to scare children. The only exception to this worry-wart trend is the recent movie adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia, although that wasn't really a fairy tale.

Fortunately, though, Hulu has the entire series of Faerie Tale Theatre available for young people to watch. Made during the early-mid 1980s when the crime rate was still soaring and parents didn't try to shield their children from every tiny prick of pain, this series did not scrub off much of the harsh picture of reality that the stories paint. I just watched the episode on The Little Mermaid, and it retains the somewhat tragic ending of the original -- the prince falls in love with another human being, not the mermaid (and tells this to her face, breaking her heart), the sea witch offers her a way to return to mermaid form -- but only by stabbing the prince in the heart and letting his blood cover her legs -- and after deciding against this, she vanishes into a spirit form. There's also lots of kissing. You won't see any of that in the Disney movie.

As a toddler I had several episodes that we taped from TV, and I'd watch them over and over again because they actually scared me -- like the tense moments in Jack and the Beanstalk -- or hit me with harder stuff than I was used to -- like when the prince in Rapunzel is tossed from the tower, slams the back of his head on the ground, and goes blind. And they didn't shy away from wicked stepmother stories like Cinderella and Snow White, unlike the cruelty-free Disney movies of the past 20 years. When times are dangerous, parents want their kids to not be so innocent of the outside world, and therefore allow them to take in these kinds of stories. When times become much safer, they feel that these would unnecessarily frighten the poor dears, so we'll just keep them from knowing about sexual awakening, evil step-parents, and acts of heroism against monsters.

Hulu also has episodes from Tall Tales & Legends, a similar series produced by Shelley Duvall, although I haven't seen it and can't vouch for it. Still, given how insulated kids are today from folktales, aside from the recent Sleepy Hollow movie, they'd probably benefit from watching these as well.


  1. http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/kerligirl13

  2. Hey agnostic, when do you predict the next swing toward wild times to be?

    Also, could this very boring time be the calm before the figurative storm? If Roissy's latest posts are any indication the next wild time may eclipse anything the past couple of hundred years have seen (wars notwithstanding).

    - Breeze

  3. It usually takes 25 to 35 years for crime rates to swing up or fall down, so that would mean they could start going back up as early as 2017 or as late as 2027. That would just be the start, though, probably wouldn't be palpable for another 5 to 10 years.

    I don't think it'll be like the '60s-'80s, however. The really big swings seem to hit every 200 years in the middle-late part of the century: mid-late 14th C, 1580-1630, 1780-1830, and 1960-1990.

    So if you got to experience any of the last one first-hand, be grateful -- I know I am! We'll all be long dead by the time the next really big explosion of wildness strikes.

    This is just for violence rates, wild culture, etc. We could still have devastating wars -- WWII happened during a period of falling violence otherwise (except for the lead-up during the '20s and early '30s). The English Civil War and the Fronde in France took place after violence rates had peaked in the early 17th C.


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